The Ultimate Guide to SLCN

Part 1 - Background

Page 25-33: Supporting EAL Pupils

Supporting EAL Pupils

English as an additional language (EAL) is the term used in education in the UK to refer to the teaching of children whose home or first language is not English. SaLTs will generally use the term ‘bilingual’ to refer to the same group of children, and the use of this term does not imply that children are equally fluent in all of the languages they speak – it simply means that the child speaks and/or understands more than one language to some extent. Although teaching a group of children who have widely differing experience of English can present challenges for a teacher, it’s important to remember that being able to speak more than one language is an advantage. Bilingual students are likely to learn other languages more easily, giving them not only an academic advantage, but also an advantage socially and in their future employment prospects too!

The term EAL is used very broadly to describe many different groups of children – these children will vary in a number of different ways including their ethnicity, the languages spoken at home and the amount of exposure that they have had to English. As with all learners, children with EAL will demonstrate a range of ability levels and they may also vary in terms of the level of education that they have had before entering the education system in the UK. Some EAL learners may have additional or special needs such as hearing impairment or dyslexia, or they may be gifted and talented. A bilingual child is equally as likely as any monolingual child to present with SLCN, but it is important to note that bilingualism is not a type of SLCN and there is no evidence that bilingualism causes or contributes to any SLCN.

“A student does not have a learning difficulty or disability solely because the language they are taught in is different from a language which is or has been spoken at home.”

SEN Code of Practice

Most EAL learners acquire a good level of fluency for everyday conversation within two years of exposure to English. However, it can take between 5 and 7 years for these children to catch up with first language speakers on measures of cognitive and academic language proficiency. This means that although some children who have EAL may be able to understand language in conversation and chat informally, they may need additional support in learning the language necessary for thinking, learning and educational attainment because these are different kinds of language skills to those which we typically use for everyday conversational tasks.

Myth Busting

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Should parents of EAL children use English at home to help their child learn English?

There is substantial evidence to suggest that home language development does not in any way hinder learning English, but in fact supports the acquisition of English. Having a well-developed first language can speed up the acquisition of additional languages. It’s therefore crucial that parents are encouraged to speak to their child in their home language, as this is the language in which they are best able to provide a good model. In cases where the home language is not maintained (i.e. when parents have chosen to encourage their child to speak only English) the child can lose proficiency in their first language very rapidly, sometimes within just a few months, and this process of language-loss is irreversible. As you can imagine, this can have significant ramifications for the child’s language development and their social integration. Parents should always be encouraged to maintain use of their home language.

Top Tips

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Bilingualism should be celebrated as a positive thing. Allow children time to ‘teach’ the class some words from their language.

Speech and Language Top Tip Icon

Finding out what EAL learners know and are able to do can be difficult and schools should focus on a child’s strengths to identify what the child can do rather than what they find hard. Children who have EAL should be supported to take part in activities that provide an appropriate cognitive challenge and should be allowed to use their own language to scaffold their learning.

Developing English as an Additional Language

The following table describes the stages of development when acquiring a new language. Children in your class are likely to be at different stages along a continuum of experience of learning English.

Pre-Production This is often referred to as the silent stage. The child may have up to 500 words in their receptive (understanding) vocabulary but may not be speaking the new language yet.


The child may be silent in class or may copy everything they hear. They may use their first language, or they may not speak at all.


A silent period of approximately 1 month is normal, and this can sometimes be longer.

•      Do not put the child under pressure to speak

•      Provide lots of visual support, e.g. pictures, gestures

•      Focus on building vocabulary and listening comprehension

•      Provide opportunities for lots of repetition

•      Pair up with other children who speak the same language if possible

•      Remember they will be tired from concentrating so hard all day

Early Production


Children in this stage begin to increase their receptive (understanding) vocabulary to about 1,000 words. They will usually begin to produce some single words and two-word phrases.


Children may also use some short, learnt phrases. It is usual for children to use code switching, mixing and lexical borrowing:

Code switching: where a speaker switches between languages part way through an utterance – so a whole sentence/clause may be in Punjabi and the next in English.

Code mixing: where a speaker mixes the two languages up in an utterance.

Lexical borrowing: where a speaker borrows one word or phrase from a different language.

•      Accept one-word answers

•      Use closed questions that require just yes or no answers

•      Give the child choices where vocabulary is modelled, e.g. ‘Do you need the ruler or the rubber to measure the line?’

•      Continue to build vocabulary using visual support and pre-teaching before tasks

•      Use sentence planners for oral and written work

•      Modify your language to match the child’s level of understanding in English

•      Continue to provide lots of opportunities for listening


Speech Emergence Children at this stage will be communicating using simple phrases and sentences. They will have a receptive (understanding) vocabulary of 3000+ words. They will be able to ask simple questions and initiate short conversations. They may still be making a lot of grammatical errors.

Children will now be understanding simple stories and some class-based tasks; however, they may still have difficulty expressing ideas and feelings. Children may still be using lexical borrowing, code switching and mixing.

•      Continue to work on vocabulary building by using visual support and pre-teaching before tasks

•      Use sentence and story planners for oral and written work

•      Modify your language to match the child’s level of understanding in English

•      Provide good models of speech and grammar

Intermediate Fluency

(usually this is within 2 years of learning English at school)

Children at this stage are using more complex sentences both orally and in written language. They are beginning to express feelings and ideas and will have a vocabulary of 6000+ words. They will be able to ask questions to seek clarification.


Children will now be able to tackle most classroom tasks but may continue to need support especially during tasks that require reading comprehension.


Children will be able to use learning strategies from their first language to support learning through English. They may make lots of grammatical errors because they are trying to produce more complex sentence structures.

•      Continue to provide clear models of language

•      Use more open questions that require longer responses

•      Encourage the child to develop learning strategies

•      May need continued support for written work

•      Check understanding as you go by asking the child to explain or show you what they have to do

Advanced Fluency Children at this stage will be using and understanding English nearly to the level of native English speakers.


It can take between 5 – 7 years to reach this level.


Academic English can take much longer to develop than conversational fluency and therefore needs to be planned for and explicitly taught.

•      Continue to provide clear models of language

•      Encourage the child to develop learning strategies

•      May need continued support for written work

•      Check understanding as you go by asking the child to explain or show you what they have to do

•      Acknowledge that more advanced EAL learners need continuing support

Top Tip

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Use a simple questionnaire to find out about the child’s home language proficiency.

Bilingualism and SLCN

A child with EAL is just as likely as any monolingual child to present with any SLCN, however, these children can be more difficult to identify. If a child has Language and Communication Needs (LCN) or Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), this would be apparent in all of the languages spoken by the child. Because of this, it is essential to speak with parents to find out whether there is any concern about the child’s home language skills before any SLCN diagnosis can be considered.

Being bilingual is not a disadvantage for individuals with SLCN. There is a commonly held, but mistaken, belief that learning more than one language can be ‘too much’ for children with additional needs such as DLD, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Learning Disability etc. Extensive research has found no evidence to support this view – indeed, there is some evidence that bilingualism has a positive impact on the communication skills of children with ASD.

Stammering is equally prevalent in monolingual and bilingual children and speaking more than one language should not be considered an additional ‘load’. People who stammer do often report that they have different levels of fluency in different languages, but they should not be encouraged to give up speaking home languages.

There is a higher prevalence of Selective Mutism (SM) in the bilingual population. Should a child with EAL present with a ‘silent period’ for longer than one month they should be assessed for SM risk factors and actively monitored with this in mind so that appropriate support can be implemented in a timely manner.

Role of SaLT

It is not the role of SaLTs to teach an additional language to a child. Children with EAL should only be seen by a SaLT if they present with a speech, language or communication disorder which is apparent in all of their languages. If the child acquires their home language in the expected way, this demonstrates that they have developed the appropriate language learning mechanisms, and with sufficient exposure to a new language they will be able to acquire the additional language without any specialist intervention. The responsibility for teaching EAL lies with education.

If the child presents with SLCN in addition to learning EAL, then support from a SaLT may be appropriate. A SaLT will carry out a thorough case history to understand the developmental history of all of the child’s languages and can carry out assessment of the child’s language skills in their home language as well as in English if appropriate. Most formal language assessments are not designed for use with bilingual children, and as such a SaLT assessment of a child with EAL can look quite different.

Supporting EAL children in the classroom

The strategies outlined below can be used with any child who has EAL to support the development of their understanding of English. Parents should be reassured that they do not have to speak English at home. It is much more important for the child to have good models of the home language, which will enhance the child’s learning of English.


Early on, make sure the children know your name. Introduce yourself simply (“I’m…” pointing to yourself at the same time) and encourage them to repeat your name.

Do practical activities such as collecting birthdays (although be aware that some cultures do not mark birthdays), favourite colours/foods, measuring finger span, etc. This is good for new arrivals to get to know names and use simple language over and over.

Check the pronunciation of children’s names with a parent, if possible, before they join the class or ask the child to teach you how to say their name. Don’t trust the written form!

First/Home Language and Culture

Convey the message that being bilingual is an advantage and a positive thing. Encourage the child to share some of their language and culture with the rest of the class.

Think about how children can access their first language (taped stories, books, bilingual assistants, parents). Support for the first language will enhance, not hinder, the learning of English.

Rich Environment

Immerse the child in a language rich environment from the start and minimise long periods of time out in special EAL classes/groups. It is easier for the child to learn from their peers.

Extra Time

Give children extra time to respond. EAL children may need a lot of extra time to process new vocabulary and grammar.


Seat children near you so that they can hear everything you say. Make sure they can see your face clearly when you are speaking, e.g. try not to stand in front of the window as this puts your face in shadow.

Think about who the child sits next to. Ideally choose a child who speaks the same first language but is more advanced in English, or a supportive English speaker. Avoid seating the child with children who are not able to provide good models of English.

Be Visual

Send symbols/pictures home to learn vocabulary in the child’s home language alongside English.

Provide visual support for oral language (natural gesture, pointing, facial expression, tone of voice, photographs, pictures, keywords on display).

Involve Parents

Involve parents and siblings to translate key words and discuss key concepts.

Ensure that parents know that they should continue to speak their home language with their child.

Your Talking

Make your language clear, concise and consistent, using natural gesture, to establish and maintain classroom routines.

Monitor your use of idiomatic language to avoid misunderstandings, e.g. avoid expressions such as ‘pull your finger out,’ ‘wash your hands in the toilets,’ ‘he was beside himself,’ etc.

Take The Pressure Off!

Whole class talking can be difficult. It may be easier to give EAL learners the opportunity to practise spoken responses in pairs or a small group before talking to the whole class.

Don’t worry if the beginner says very little at first. Many EAL children go through a silent period. Plenty of listening time is important when starting to learn a new language. There should be emphasis on communication rather than correction until the child is more confident in English.

Further Information

Naldic –

DfE –

The Bell Foundation –

Read more about supporting children with EAL in The Link magazine, issues 1, 3 & 8.

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