English as an Additional Language


There are 30 children in the class. A third have spoken English all their lives and speak English at home. Two thirds speak a different language at home and only speak English at school. Most of the latter pupils have limited vocabulary and poor grammatically structured sentences. Five of these pupils have recently arrived in the country, they hardly understand anything the teacher says, they can’t spell their names, and as a result of the language barrier and huge changes in life circumstances, they are very easily distracted from tasks. Through differentiation, the class teacher has the very difficult job of providing the national curriculum for every child in this class
Caroline Scott, (2009:7). Teaching Children English as an Additional Language.


The UK has a generally open policy with respect to immigration and enjoys a proud reputation as an open and tolerant society. London is one of the world’s leading multicultural cities, one where ethnic whites have recently become a minority. Over 200 languages are spoken in London schools, (and over 300 nationwide according to Webster, (2011) with over half of inner London pupils having a first language other than English. This impacts greatly on the ability of schools to provide effective responses in terms of ensuring that all pupils are able to follow lessons, given that English is the medium of instruction. Washbourne (2011) states that one in eight secondary school pupils speak a language other than English at home. In primary schools, the ratio is one in six. Figures provided by the Department of Children, Schools and Families [DCSF] in 2009 indicated that 15.2% of children in primary school and 11.1% of children in secondary school in England do not speak English as a native language. In 2010, according to Washbourne, there were 900,000 (nine hundred thousand) children categorised as English as an Additional Language learners (EAL). She suggests that the demand for EAL is no longer an inner city issue.

From this, it can be seen that EAL pupils are essentially those who speak a language other than English at home. This is a far from homogeneous group, with some born in the UK and relatively fluent and others very new, with little command of English. Mistry and Sood (2010) point out that the number of pupils with EAL in English schools is increasing, given high levels of immigration from Europe in recent years. For many learners of EAL, language can be a barrier to learning, given that children are leaning English at the same time as as learning through English. In addition, home culture and norms can be very different to those in the school and of peers who are native English speakers (Washbourne, 2011).

It is important to note that EAL students are not the same as students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). This is especially important when assessing pupils.


Source: Washbourne, A. (2011) EAL Pocketbook, page 10

According to Webster (2011:4), EAL children in the UK can be categorised as follows:

  • Pupils born in UK but who speak their own language at home, and English on entry to school.
  • Pupils born in UK who speak their home language but not English on entry to school
  • Pupils newly arrived in the UK speaking languages other than English
  • Pupils in a class in which many others speak their home language(s)
  • Pupils who do not share the language of the teacher
  • Pupils in a class in which everyone else speaks only English.

A number of different terms are used when talking about people who are learning to speak English. Washbourne (2011) provides the following lists. These are useful, given that the provide useful information to teachers about the status of families with regard to their citizenship and right of abode in the UK. People who are refugees or asylum seekers could well have extra stresses and problems in their lives, which could impact of their children.


Source: Wishbourne, A. (2011) Page 11


Source: Wishbourne, A. (2011) Page 12.

Supporting EAL Learners.

For new arrivals in the UK, schools can be intimidating places, given that both the system of education and schools could be very different in terms of the curriculum, teaching styles, societal norms and values, cultural, social and religious issues. These are reflected in the illustrations below.


Source: Wishbourne, A. (2011) Page 21.


Source: Wishbourne, A. (2011) Page 22.


Webster (2011) highlights the fact that Education is a fundamental right, and that support for pupils who have English as an Additional language is and entitlement rather than a need. The Bullock Report (1976) made it clear that no child should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he (or she) crosses the school threshold. This recommendation makes it important for schools and teachers to ensure that pupils are offered every opportunity to develop their English language skills. All newly-arrived bilingual learners have a right of access to the National Curriculum, and that provision for newly arrived EAL learners is integrated into all subject areas. Government regards the learning of English as an Additional Language to promote rapid language acquisition as a priority. Thus, “Local Authorities have a legal duty to ensure that education is available for all children of compulsory school age that is appropriate to their age, ability, aptitudes and any special educational needs they may have. This duty applies irrespective of a child’s immigration status, country of origin or rights of residence in a particular area” (Naldic website, accessed 9/2/2013).

EAL Research

EAL research has been carried out in a number of English speaking countries. It is worth looking at some of these projects and their findings.

Cameron et al. (2004) looked at the writing of what they called ‘advanced’ Key Stage 2 EAL learners (that is, those that been in the UK for at least five years). Scripts produced by 264 pupils for the 2003 English National Curriculum Test (Writing) were analysed qualitatively and quantitatively to identify features of writing that EAL pupils handle less confidently than their English as a mother tongue (EMT) peers. The project aimed to:

  • identify key features of language that pupils learning English as an additional language appear to handle less confidently than English mother tongue speakers.
  • analyse these features according to level of ability in English (as measured by national tests).
  • strengthen existing evidence provided by Ofsted research into older pupils’ writing by adding to our understanding of writing development.
  • inform the EAL strand of the Ethnic Minority Achievement Strategy by providing information and guidance on the teaching of bilingual primary and secondary students (by pulling together both pieces of work).

Key Findings were:

  • The best writers at this age, using English as a mother tongue (EMT) or English as an additional language (EAL), were found to employ the resources of English – grammar, vocabulary, direct speech, punctuation, rhetorical features – with flexibility and adaptability to create strong story characters and plots, and effective persuasive writing.
  • However, many EAL learners, even high achieving pupils, handle adaptation to a variety of genres less confidently than their EMT peers.
  • Two features of language show statistically significant differences between EAL and EMT writing: the use of prepositions and the composition of short, fixed phrases. EAL writing contains more errors in both features, which also caused difficulties in writing at KS4.
  • EAL learners write stories that include more metaphors and similes than EMT stories, for pupils achieving both level 4 and level 5. EAL writing at level 5 used most figurative language, with animal metaphors and similes the most popular.
  • Certain features of language are handled less confidently by lower achieving EAL writers. In particular: use of Adverbials, modal verbs, Subject-Verb agreement, verb tenses and endings, and subordinators to link clauses.
  • In many ways, EAL writing at KS2 was more fluent and more accurate than the writing seen at KS4. These differences would seem to be linked to the teaching that the younger children have received through the National Literacy Strategy (page 6).

Other findings

  • Formulaic phrases: EAL learners made a greater number of errors than EMT learners in the use of formulaic phrases (a formulaic phrase is a group of words that are ‘bound’ together, in that certain words must, or tend to be, accompanied, by certain other words, e.g. his best friend rather than his best of all friend). The greatest difference was found in writing by learners attaining level 4, where EAL stories contained significantly more errors than EMT stories.
  • Prepositions: Overall, and at level 3, EAL writing omitted significantly more prepositions than EMT writing. Both EAL and EMT groups at level 3 used some prepositions incorrectly. EMT writing improved in terms of incorrect use between levels 3 and 4; EAL writing at level 4 contained significantly more incorrectly used prepositions. For pupils at level 5, there was no significant difference in numbers of preposition errors.
  • Use of Genres: Expertise in writing requires learners to develop knowledge of a range of genres and how language is used to create the format, style, voice, purpose and stance that characterise a particular genre, combined with skills to select from and adapt language resources as required for the genre. In some ways, EAL learners handled the genres less confidently than their EMT peers, and this seems to become more obvious in the writing of higher achieving pupils, perhaps because they use word and phrase level features more accurately: -Story endings: For the group of pupils attaining level 5, more stories written by EAL learners had endings that were rated as ‘incomplete’, and fewer had endings rated as ‘original’ or ‘creative’ in some way.
  • Narrative components: For the group of pupils attaining level 5,writing by EAL learners developed the story components of Characters, Problem and Resolution less than stories by EMT pupils. Stories by EAL learners did more development of the Setting.
  • Radio advertisements: Adverts written by EAL learners attaining both level 3 and level 5 were less likely to open with a catchy ‘hook’ to attract the attention of listeners. Instead, a full sentence was often used. Adverts by EAL learners attaining level 5 contained less variety in sentence types and vocabulary than those by their EMT peers.
  • Length and paragraphing: Both EAL and EMT learners wrote stories that were usually long enough and, at levels 4 and 5, were making good use of paragraphing.
  • Sentence grammar: The amount of subordination was not significantly different between groups, other than between EAL writing at levels 3 and 4, where the mean for level 4 was significantly higher. However, type of subordination varied, with ‘advanced’ subordinators (while, until, after etc) being used more in EMT writing and by pupils attaining higher levels.
  • Clause structure: EAL learners attaining level 4 overall showed statistically significant differences with EMT peers in their use of clause slots. They used more Subjects that were single nouns x more and shorter Verb phrases x more and longer Objects / Complements x fewer words in Adverbial slots. Put together, these suggest EAL writing at this level uses more short clauses, in which information is concentrated towards the end.
  • Adverbials: In writing by pupils attaining level 3 overall, the mean number of words used in the Adverbial slot in EAL writing was significantly lower than EMT, as with level 4 (above). At both levels 3 and 4, therefore, writing by EAL learners is likely to be including less information about time, place, manner and purpose.
  • Verbs: EAL learners attaining level 5 made some errors with advanced verb tenses that show the relative timing of two events, such as the past perfect tense e.g. he had queued
  • Figurative language: Use of figurative language was limited to a subset of pupils in each group, with more use by higher level groups. EAL stories used more metaphors and similes than EMT stories, for pupils achieving both level 4 and level 5. EAL writing at level 5 used most figurative language.
  • Spelling and punctuation: EAL learners attaining level 4 made significantly fewer spelling errors than their EMT peers. At the other levels, there was no significant difference in spelling or punctuation errors (Pages 8,9).

The findings provided a useful comparison with previous work done by Cameron on KS4 EAL writing.

  • At both KS2 and KS4, the strongest differences (quantitatively) between EAL and EMT writing were found at word and phrase level, in formulaic phrase errors and the use of prepositions.
  • In many ways, KS2 writing was more fluent and more accurate than the writing seen at KS4. Length and paragraphing were better; there were fewer errors with agreements and articles; commas were used more accurately by KS2 EAL writers attaining level 5 than by sixteen year olds predicted A or B in their GCSE English. These improvements would seem to be linked to the teaching that the younger children have received through the National Literacy Strategy.
  • At discourse level, the lower achieving EAL writers at KS4 had more difficulties with handling genre than EMT peers. The narrative genre at KS2 was handled quite confidently, probably because it is the earliest acquired genre for children and in many ways the most basic. However, some EAL writers at KS2 did not adapt their language to the demands of the radio advertisement genre as readily as their EMT peers.
  • Subordination: At KS2 and KS4, lower achieving EAL learners and their EMT peers
  • made less use of advanced subordinators than higher achieving EAL and EMT learners. In addition, higher achieving EAL learners at KS2 used fewer advanced subordinators than EMT learners (Page 9)

Summary of key recommendations.

  • Schools need to ensure that EAL learners have extensive opportunities to encounter and work with a range of genres of written English.
  • EAL learners might be helped with handling formulaic phrases through a focus, across the curriculum, on phrases as whole units rather than only on words.
  • Higher achieving EAL learners could benefit from exposure to, and direct teaching about, more advanced tenses that show the relative times of events, and more advanced subordinators to create more varied sentences.
  • EAL learners, even those attaining level 5, could benefit from noticing different ways in which well-written stories are brought to an end, and from trying out various story ending techniques.
  • Level 3 story writing is characterised by lack of development of narrative components, and both EAL and EMT writers could be helped to increase the amount of development of story setting, characters, and plot, by thinking about the imagined readers of their stories, what they might want to know and how this could be made interesting for them to read.
  • Explicit attention to certain features of language such as modal verbs, Adverbials and prepositional phrases seems especially important for lower achieving EAL writers, who seem less likely to discover the grammatical patterns by themselves than higher achieving EAL learners.
  • Pupils’ individual vocabularies offer a rich resource for classroom activities, since many of the less common words used by individual pupils may not be known or used by others.
  • Figurative language allows some children opportunities to create vivid images in their stories. Some level 4 and 5 EAL writing makes interesting use of figurative language that could be used as a resource for teaching all pupils (Page 10).

Mistry and Sood (2010) used surveys and interviews with teachers and para-professionals (teaching assistants and bilingual assistants) “to obtain a range of perspectives, experiences and perceptions of provision for EAL children of primary school age” (112). The sample consisted of 48 adults – 20 teachers, 20 teaching assistants, 7 SENCOs and one an Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant Coordinator. An interpretivist approach was used.

The focus was on schools which supported EAL children directly or indirectly, together with schools that had little or no direct experience of EAL, to provide a comparison between the extremes. The study investigated the way that schools were addressing the needs of EAL primary pupils in a number of counties in England, focusing on the challenges faced by teachers. Early indications suggested huge differential practice for EAL provision, support and training, with many staff indicating that they were ‘culturally unaware’ and had little experience of supporting EAL children. The authors highlight the key challenge for leaders, being how best to cater for EAL children, using a diverse workforce creatively, and operating within tight financial constraints and competing school priorities.

The authors highlighted the importance of being sensitive to cultural attitudes and languages, taking into account the importance of building effective bridges between the home and school environment so that the home culture can be effectively understood. They cite the work of Lumby & Coleman (2007), highlighting the importance of nurturing interrelationships and the need to be sensitive in all activities and actions in situations where there is a high level of ethnic diversity. The suggestions of Woolfolk et al. (2008: 221), being the need for clear learning goals, guided practice leading to independent practice, engaging tasks, opportunities for interaction and encouragement from the teacher, were recommended. Mistry and Sood make a case for much greater emphasis being placed on encouraging, facilitating and engaging the wider workforce to collaborate on pedagogical, cultural and linguistic debates to ensure that the potential of all pupils is enhanced. Finally, they highlight the importance of schools taking into account the need of EAL children to feel ‘accepted’ for who they are, regardless of race, religion or cultural back-ground, as highlighted by the DfES (2006: 7).

Other findings suggested that senior leadership teams sometimes failed to listen to their staff, because ‘they appear to be so obsessed with their development plan’ (teacher comment) that meeting the needs of EAL children is not a priority and funding is not allocated. They also found that EAL staff were non-existent in white schools, leading to teachers in those schools being‘afraid to have EAL children’ (comment from a TA) in their class because the felt ill-prepared to meet their needs, especially when it comes to the end of key stage tests.

Mistry and Sood conclude that there has to be a holistic approach in developing a sound policy to promote inclusive practice, and within that, the EAL pupil provision has to be of a high quality. The school leaders and their teams have to promote values of equal opportunity to ensure greater sensitivity to varied cultural needs. This has implications for practice in the way support of para-professionals is organised and implemented. In this connection, it is an important priority that teachers, para-professionals and SENCOs require continuous professional development to develop a comprehensive awareness of cultural diversity in the classroom.

Their recommendations from the project included the need for good staff recruitment and retention, high-quality continuous professional development programmes being made available for all staff and the development of leadership at all levels. They concluded by saying that if the needs of EAL children are to be effectively met, schools need to be more inclusive. They highlighted the need for increased efforts to ensure that an adequate level of funding reaches schools to train leaders in managing for and with diversity, to re-evaluate the needs of the teachers and para-professionals and to adequately support their training to better serve the needs of EAL children.

South Africa provides an interesting setting for EAL research as more and more ‘previously disadvantaged’ people take advantage of provisions previously denied them. Kajee (2011) explored the multimodal engagement of EAL students in an undergraduate classroom in Johannesburg, South Africa. She used a social semiotic framework, and constructions of design and identity to make sense of students’ multimodal engagement. The essential context was one of students from previously disadvantaged and (still) under-resourced backgrounds being asked to talk about themselves to their peers. The research reports on presentations done by two students in a class, the way in which they presented themselves as individuals to their peers, and explores how the students “negotiate meaning through multiple modes and materialities, using digital texts and performance as mediating tools”. The author argues that a pedagogy of multiliteracies and multimodality enables students to cross borders and broaden their scope for meaning-making. Essentially, the students chose modern digital tools (powerpoint) to present their native cultures, showing who they were and how they saw themselves as citizens in a more open and democratic post-Apartheid South Africa.


Traditional Xhosa dress.

Beauty came to class dressed in a pair of jeans and a blouse (typical student dress), changing into a traditional skirt made of colourful fabric and beads over her jeans for her presentation. She added several strings of beads around her head, neck and wrists, and across her shoulders, bared her feet and wore her hair was in a short braided style. Beauty also used technology in the form of a PowerPoint programme to create slides and to record sound. Although she was unable to use personal photographs, she searched the Web for images of Johannesburg which, although second hand, she was able to incorporate into her personal story. The borrowed images became representations of her own lived experiences. While Beauty was not technologically trained, it is through digital technology that she was able to reconstruct and redesign her identity.

Kajee highlights the key feature of the presentations as the use of gesture to convey meaning. The study highlights the way in which multimodality enabled students whose first language is not English to make meaning while employing alternative signs and symbols. “Through digital visual image, performance, gesture, dress and voice, they were able to reconstruct their identities as young black South Africans and, through discussion with other students in class, to communicate a sense of their own social world” (251).

The author concludes that “… caught on the cusp of change from a traditional background to a future world dominated by English, they seized the opportunity to interrogate who they are and where they come from. Multimodality, through a paradigm of social semiotics, has the potential to transform the teaching and learning of EAL by providing students with new opportunities for agency and voice. The multimodal environment facilitates the emergence of shared moments of learner participation, negotiation and renegotiation of meaning within the class-room as a community of practice (251).

There are two important aspect of this study. The first is the way in which the teacher demonstrated respect for the cultural background of the students, valuing the contributions in terms of celebrating the use of traditional dress and (in the case of the second student) the ‘performance’ of a self-written African ‘Praise’ style poem about himself. Much of the literature on effective EAL teaching highlights the importance of schools celebrating diversity and going out of their way to demonstrate that the cultures and values of EAL pupils are valued. The second aspect is the way in which technology was embraced by the two students. Neither of the students owned a computer, yet both had seized the opportunity of making use of the resources at the university and to teach themselves how to use Powerpoint. Much of the research on the use of Web 2.0 applications highlights the affordances of digital platforms such as wikis and blogs, these being the facility to use multimodal approaches (text, images, video, photographs) within digital writing platforms.

Kajee highlights the importance of multimodal narratives, saying:

“Through their presentations, the redesigned meaning-making of the students in the present case enabled them to reconstruct, remake and reshape their own social identities as subjective agents of change through acts of language: written, image, gesture, digital and performed. Variability and agency are two significant aspects of design that distinguish it from more traditional approaches to literacy pedagogy… traditional, rule-governed grammar teaching tends to propose a pedagogy of transmission, ignoring agency and subjectivity, the notion of design is the opposite: agency and subjectivity are crucial in shaping social worlds. This, redesigning accommodates Giroux’s notion of border crossings… As teachers of English we need to acknowledge that different communities value skills others than writing alone, and that our students bring with them a repertoire of social histories which shape them. A multimodal approach gives freer reign to students by providing them with the space to engage and interact through their creativity and agency” (250).

An overview of the literature on EAL suggests that schools and teachers face challenges in providing effective support for EAL learners, as increasing numbers of Europeans and other immigrants move to the UK. The greatest impact in terms of children needing EAL, is felt in Britain’s cities. This has resulted in a range of needs for support, with some areas swamped and others remaining largely untouched. Previous assumptions about the rate of acquisition of high level language skills would seem to have overestimated the impact of strategies. Cummins (1979, in Skinner, 2010) explains that while children give the impression of being fluent after two or three years, this is often not the case. He makes a distinction between basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS), that is, everyday informal English, and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP), being more formal academic English, and says that it can take five to seven years for children’s CALP to develop. Faced by increasing numbers of pupils, new strategies need to be developed and trialled and tested and more teachers prepared to deal effectively with EAL pupils.

Skinner (2010) has reported on developments in Northern Ireland, where nearly all pupils, irrespective of their English language competence, are automatically mainstreamed. The policy of withdrawing EAL pupils from class to be taught by specialists from outside has been phased out and the Inclusion and Diversity Service is now training teachers to take a ‘whole school’ approach to the issue. At the moment, a ‘partnership’ exists, where teachers collaborate with EAL staff provided by the Inclusion and Diversity Service in order to implement strategies that support learning. Thus we see a situation where EAL is regarded as a generalist skill required of all teachers, with teachers currently having to ‘learn on the job’. However, some see the expectation of ‘learn on the job’ by adapting their general teaching skills,without specific EAL training, as too ambitious and unlikely to provide the required skills and understanding required to work successfully with EAL pupils .

Skinner cites a range of previous research to contextualise her work. Costa et al. (2005:108, in Skinner 2010) make the point that ‘good instructional practices alone are not enough for students who are trying to learn in a second language’, while Hawkins (2004,:21, n Skinner, 2010) asserts that teachers need to rid themselves of the invalid assumption that if they teach well, this will result in language acquisition and academic achievement. Murakami (2008, in Skinner, 2010) suggests that this approach is grounded in the idea that pupils will just ‘pick it up’ as they go along. Research shows that this language-learning process can be improved when teachers have the knowledge systematically to develop pupils’ awareness of language structure and functions (Ellis 1994, in Skinner, 2010). Robinson (2005, in Skinner, 2010) speaks of teachers who had received no specialist training but had lots of experience of working with EAL pupils. Despite this experience, only some actively developed their pupils’ subject-specific vocabulary and interacted with them in a way which would encourage their oral skills, while the others seemed to find the reason for lack of improvement lay with the pupils rather than with how they were dealing with them. However, in Franson’s (1999, in Skinner 2010) study of teachers who had received initial training and were continuing with it in a professional development capacity, felt confident in how they managed EAL pupils. Murakami (2008:269, in Skinner, 2010) emphasises that ‘learning on the job ‘is inadequate as, even if teachers are attuned to the fact that it is their responsibility to serve both language development and academic needs, “… they are unlikely to base their practice on any ‘real understanding’ of how to concurrently enhance new language and subject matter learning. In other words they can only act upon what they feel is ‘right’ – even though it may fundamentally be wrong”.

Skinner (2010) concludes that, for ITE in Northern Ireland to improve EAL teaching and learning, the structure, content and delivery of the EAL input needs to be looked at. Recommendations are that:

  • All ITE courses should include a compulsory, assessed (e.g. a case study assignment) EAL component. This should centre on EAL pedagogy and strategies (visual aids, eye contact, gesture, facial expression and integration of host culture) which can help build rapport, enhance two-way communication and make a positive contribution to the children’s English language acquisition. Theory underpinning language learning is also recommended as part of such a module, for example, including “Input Hypothesis (Krashen), acculturation (Schumann) and accommodation (Giles and Smith), Cummins’ (1979) work on BICS and CALP and Gardner’s (1972) work on attitudes and motivation (Skinner, 2010:88).
  • Cultural inclusiveness/intercultural awareness training is recommended, possibly across the curriculum. In the same way that prior language knowledge and learning experience are believed to facilitate the acquisition of additional languages (De Angelis 2007, in Skinner, 2010), so “prior exposure to multilingual diversity may lead to a more positive attitude when working with pupils whose first language is not English. It is suggested that pre-service teachers be exposed to diversity through other curriculum areas, such as foreign language experience, community links, international departments in higher education settings and careful examination of multicultural education and assessed work focused on culturally diverse pupils. Commins and Miramontes (2006, in Skinner, 2010) suggest an EAL component to steer pre-service teachers away from being worried about teaching EAL pupils. To achieve this, they need to understand the importance of celebrating and reflect upon the cultural diversity which exists in classrooms of today. Staff in all main strands of ITE should accommodate this.
  • An optional module/certificate could be made available on each of these courses for those interested in developing EAL knowledge. It should be recognised that gaining an extra qualification like this can enhance employability. The Inclusion and Diversity Service should consider complement their in-service training “by providing specific training appropriate for new teachers in their first and second years of teaching and by working closely with the providers of ITE who may wish to use their expertise (Skinner, 2010:88).

Teaching EAL

Webster (2011) suggests that it is important for teachers to know the variety of languages an EAL pupils can speak in addition to English so as to evaluate their capabilities. Active use of two languages can have a positive effect on learning in general (Baker and Hornberger, 2001:41 – in Webster 2011). This is because knowing how well a pupil speaks and writes in his or her home language enables one to decide on how much English input they need, especially if the pupil’s first language has a different alphabet. Webster suggests that it is best not to assume that pupil will have difficulty learning English simply because they are new to it, because pupils who speak two or three other languages demonstrate a clear ability to learn other languages and usually have good meta-cognition.

Webster (2011) cites research by Cummins (1979) and Baker (2007) as indicating that it takes two years to master basic language and five to seven years to become proficient in more complex nuances of English. Exposed to English, EAL pupils can improve their knowledge of the language and be able to communicate what they need on a daily basis from watching and discussing TV shows, sport and things of general interest, but it will take longer for them to be able to evaluate, analyse, criticise, pursuade and describe with evidence in English.

Webster suggests that there are four levels of capability, which are useful in assessing EAL capability.

Stage 1 – survival language and phrases, little experience of English language

Where is the toilet?
Pass the ball/pen/cup/salt
Please / thank you
Can I have
Swear words
What is that?

Stage 2 – basic sentences that can be understood but may not always be grammatically correct. Vocabulary is extended and there is general communication about things of interest.

Discussion about football,music, etc,
Answering simple questions in class
Some basic ability to justify their opinion about mathematical or scientific findings
Correct use of some technical vocabulary
Ability to describe family and friends and events
Can copy-writing and write basic sentences.

Stage 3 – usually a pupil who has lived in the UK for a while. Able to express some abstract thought.

Answering complex questions in class that require a justification of an explanation
Writing a persuasive argument and taking part in a debate
Understanding the task in the lesson without it having to have it explained again by the teacher
Describing something that they might not have had much (if any) experience of, such as a tube/train ride or the path of a river from its source to its mouth.

Stage 4 – able to communicate as well or even better than a native English speaker of the same biological age. Can converse in jokes and understand cultural conventions of the UK. Being able to understand a joke can be quite difficult for a person learning a language because jokes are often related to a shared culture and requires an understanding of nuanced language.


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
And his winter wasn’t bad either! (Page 5,6)

A child who has not progressed through these stages in a suitable time frame (five years) is likely to need additional support. This could be due to a number of things – poor language ability in his or her home language or a special learning need such as dyslexia. Webster suggests that a diagnostic test in their home language might be appropriate.

Approaches to teaching EAL.

There are two main approaches to the way that EAL is taught, being the immersion and bilingualism approaches. Cummins (2000:34) suggests that children acquire fluency in English when totally immersed and exposed to it. Others favour bilingualism, where both languages are taught sequentially, because it celebrates both languages equally. In some countries (Luxembourg, Philippines), bilingualism is the norm for all pupils. In others, (Canada, New Zealand) it is at the request of the parents.

In 2001, Ofsted analysed both approaches in England and concluded that good quality teaching and learning happened because of good-quality joint working between EAL staff in mainstream schools. Withdrawal of pupils, which is a customary method with the bilingual approach, was less successful than provision in class.

Speed of development.

The speed of acquisition depends on a number of factors, one being how efficient children are in their mother tongue (Cummins, in Webster). This is known as developmental independence, where the development of the second language is dependent on the on efficacy of first language. For example, if the child does not know the names of colours or numbers in the home language, he or she could have difficulty learning them in English. Likewise, if children are able to read and write fluently in in their home language, it should not take long to become fluent in English. High expectations from teachers also has a positive effect on children’s learning.

Baker (2001) believes that the rate of learning is affected by social factors and social interaction rather than proficiency in the mother tongue. Thus, children can be fluent in English if they are proficient in all areas of oracy and literacy – listening, speaking, reading and writing. Of these, listening and reading are regarded as receptive, and speaking and writing as productive. All of these areas need to be taught and learnt in the new language. Fluency is achieved when people are proficient in all areas. To become fluent, learners need opportunities for social interaction and some linguistic input in the language. Without such opportunities to interact with the language, the rate of fluency development is likely to be slower.

Washbourne adds that the time taken to learn an additional language also includes factors like age, attitude, personality, motivation, aptitude, the learning environment, together with the level of fluency in the hope language as emphasised by Cummins. She provides a useful diagram comparing native English and EAL learners acquisition rates of conversational and academic language proficiency (page 14). However, she makes the important point that fluency in spoken English may well mask continued needs in understanding and using more academic forms of English.


Source: Washbourne, A. (2011) EAL Pocketbook. Page 14.

Supporting EAL learners in the multilingual classroom.

Baker suggests two routes to fluency – simultaneous and sequential. Simultaneous routes involve learning two languages together while sequential involves learning one after another. Cummins says that English can be taught using either method, but that children need guidance, especially if the strategy is immersion. Children need experience of particular skills, namely Basic Interpersonal Communication (BIC), and Cognitive/Active Language Proficiency (CALP), to become fluent multilingual speakers.

BIC involves activities such as chatting about things learners have in in common (TV and sport) and organizational language such as instructions.

CALP is where the learner uses language for reflection, evaluation and analysis. CALP involves the higher order thinking that we are trying to encourage in the classroom.


Source: Webster, M. (2011) Creative Activities and Ideas for Pupils with EAL. Page 9

This diagram (Webster, M. 2011:9) shows how children learn CALP and BIC skills and is an accepted way of looking at how to cognitively develop children learning through the immersion method. To achieve CALP, we need to provide activities which fit into the B quadrant. This means that the child understands what to do and how to do something, but finds it challenging on a cognitive and academic level. To achieve BIC, the task only needs to fit in the A quadrant. According to Webster, children need experience of both to achieve fluency in a new language. Furthermore, BIC and CALP should be see of equal value, each having its own set of skills with their own set of challenges to master. Tasks in quadrant B are very difficult, given that it is difficult to understand what is required without a clear context. Webster suggests that too many classroom tasks are of this nature. The challenge to teachers is to find an authentic context when teaching abstract themes. According to Cummins and Baker’s work, it takes between two and seven years for EAL children to reach the same level of proficiency as an English speaking child when their work is context embedded. Without relevant contexts, the task takes between five and ten years.

Using Cummins’ framework

To support EAL children effectively, teachers need to be sensitive to the cognitive demands of a task and to provide relevant contextual support so that the child is aware of what is to be learnt and how to achieve the learning. The figure below illustrates the kinds of activities involved.


Source: Webster, M. (2011) Creative Activities and Ideas for Pupils with EAL. Page 10.

Webster says that higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are considered to be CALP skills because they use subtle language skills. However, because they can be fairly abstract, we need the teaching and learning to be context embedded to support the child to develop the skills. Thus, the learning and teaching needs to be embedded in quadrant B. Other examples from sector B include:

  • Explanation and justification
  • Solution seeking, problem solving
  • Dramatic stories – reading and writing
  • Role play
  • Simple measuring skills
  • Giving instructions
  • Small group work
  • Turn taking
  • Demonstration
  • One-to-one work with a teacher or pupil
  • Interactive teaching techniques
  • Mixed ability groupings
  • Discussion
  • Jigsaws
  • Matching words with pictures and translations
  • Word webs about class topics
  • Journal writing

Webster (2011:11) highlights the importance of effective scaffolding to move children from learning with support (SB) to learning without support (SD). The activities in quadrant B serve to provide a platform for pupil transition to the more cognitively demanding but context reduced quadrant D, where the following abilities need to be evidenced.

  • Reflection
  • Discussion ways in which language is written
  • Relating new information that is read
  • Reading a book and discussing its content
  • Listening to news items
  • Matching words
  • Spelling tests without definitions
  • Definition of English words without translations
  • Interviewing a person or watching an interview
  • Tests and examinations.

(Webster, M. 2011:11)

Webster provides useful strategies for ensuring that learning is context embedded and cognitively demanding.

  • Provide plenty of visual cues
  • Be expressive when you teach
  • Usa a bilingual dictionary
  • Differentiate with mixed-ability groupings,
  • Put EAL pupils in the middle
  • Use mixed ability talk partners
  • Take multiple intelligences into account
  • Use repetitive language
  • Label everything!
  • Find time for one0to-one communication
  • Celebrate differences – their language, their culture
  • Let them be! (provide rest time)Webster (2011:12,13,14.)

References –

Journal articles

Cameron, L. & Besser, S. (2004) Writing in English as an Additional Language at Key Stage 2. Department for Education and Skills (Research Report RR586).

Kajee, L. (2011) Multimodal representations of identity in the English-as-an-additional-language classroom in South Africa. Language, Culture and Curriculum Vol. 24, No. 3, 241–252.

Mistry, M. & Sood, K. (2010) English as an Additional Language: Assumptions and Challenges. Management in Education 24(3) 111-114.

Skinner, B. (2010) English as an Additional Language and initial teacher education: views and experiences from Northern Ireland. Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy.


chris-pimPim, C. (2012) 100 Ideas for Supporting Learners with EAL. Continuum. London.


Scott, C. (2009) Teaching Children English as an Additional Language. A programme for 7-11 year olds. David Fulton, London

Alice WashbourneWashbourne, A. (2011) EAL Pocketbook. Teachers’ Pocketbooks.

Maggie Webster

Webster, M. (2011) Creative Activities and Ideas for Pupils with English as an Additional Language. Longman, London.

Other sources:

Traditional Xhosa dress picture from Yizakubona.
Traditional Zulu dress.


Graf, M. (2011) Including and Supporting Learners of English as an Additional Language.  Continuum.
Van Patten, B. & Williams, J. (2007)(Eds.) Theories in Second Language Acquisition – An Introduction. Routledge.

This entry was posted in Digital narratives, EAL and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to English as an Additional Language

  1. ealhub says:

    Thanks for a very interesting post on EAL research. I thought you might also be interested in our blog – a practitioner-focused research blog on all things EAL. Recent posts include recent (2013) research into the time taken to develop English proficiency and a post on the problems with end-of-courser assessments.

    It’s at EALhub.wordpress.com – comments and contributions from the field are always very welcome!

    Thanks again for your blog.

    Rob (EALhub.wordpress.com)

    • primaryblog says:

      Many thanks for this – very useful!

      I have added your blog as a resource for my students.

      • ealhub says:

        My pleasure. Do encourage your students to ‘follow’ the blog – it’s new and we would love to have input from trainee teachers on what they need and feel is important. They’re lucky to have a tutor who is interested in EAL!

        They can contact us at EALhubBlog@gmail.com if they have any thoughts.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s