Eal Observed In A Primary School

Learning a second language is one adaptation skill that proves to be necessary when diverse cultures come together.  For example, children from diverse linguistic backgrounds study English as a bridge to better education.

The Rationale for Planning for Children Learning English as

an additional language (2008) advocates that in planning for children who are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL), the following key principles must be observed: that bilingualism is an asset instead of a liability for children who know more than one other language other than their mother tongue or primary language.  This first language is essential not only in learning another language but also for one’s identity formation. The EAL provider should keep the learner challenged cognitively with the continuous provision of linguistic and contextual support.  Lastly, the acquisition of another language should go hand in hand with the student’s cognitive and academic development within the same school environment and the student would not need outside support. It is already integrated in the inclusive curriculum given to the learner.

Cummins (1984) came up with a matrix to explain the dynamics of second language learning development. One axis represents the BICS or the Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills while the other axis represents the CALP or the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency.  Baker (2006) explains that students engage in BICS when they communicate with contextual supports and props such as face-to face “context embedded” situations where they read the other person’s non-verbal gestures, hand movements and sounds to support verbal communication. On the other hand, CALP happens in “context reduced” situations requiring higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis or evaluation. This is usually encountered in more academic learning and communication where language is “disembedded” (Baker, 2006).

This paper will report observations in a primary school that embraces multiculturalism and multilingualism and analyzed according to theories and to its compliance to standards and policies for implementing English as an Additional Language (EAL). Observations were done for key stage 2.

The physical environment of the school and classroom

Upon entering the school, a large map welcomes people with the sign that

read: “Welcome to our school.  We come from all over the world and we speak

27 languages”.  For each language, it was connected to the country of origin as

indicated in the map.  This sign gave a very warm welcome to anyone who

visited the school no matter what culture he or she comes from.

An IT room is available for any EAL learner to use whenever one needs to

consult a computer for spelling or grammar or anything that pertains to the English language.  This additional resource to support their learning is another indication that the school anticipates learners’ needs and provides them when called for.

The classroom observed had a big inflatable globe which represents a wide range of diversity is accepted there.  The children can freely explore the globe and search for their own countries and link it to their native language.

A trained EAL teacher was employed by the school to help facilitate the cognitive, language and literacy development of foreign children.  Adults play a huge role in the language development of children, as they need someone who uses simple language in correct form and is flexible enough adjust his language to suit the child’s (Clay, 1988).  Having a good second language teacher is essential to learning the language more fluently.  The researcher does not discount the fact that imitation of proper pronunciation and intonation is necessary. Hence, learners should have attentive ears and retentive minds, and of course, cooperative tongues to be able to speak fluently in such language.  Children also need opportunities to practice speaking and listening to the second language outside the language lessons, so that means they need a support system of learners to interact with.

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The school acknowledged and respected the children’s different cultures. As an example, the school held a Polish mass celebrated by a Polish priest on Tuesdays. Cummins (1986) contend that children are empowered when their cultural roots are celebrated.  Usually, when schools and teachers do not seriously consider foreign students their native culture, these children feel unaccepted and unworthy to belong to their classes, hence display inappropriate behavior.  They become lost in terms of academic achievement and develop insecurities about their skin color, ethnic characteristics or language accents.  Such embarrassment develops stress or anxiety during class. The students’ family may likewise seem withdrawn or non-participative in their children’s schooling and feel the same sense of not belonging to the new culture they have joined. 

In view of this, culturally-relevant teaching must be learned by teachers.  Such teaching takes into consideration the cultural background of the students at all times.  It also keeps in mind cultural aspects in all interactions with students on both personal and educational levels. (Edwards & Kuhlman, 2007).  Students’ cultures, languages and experiences need to be acknowledged, valued andused as important sources of their education because they deserve the best that society can give them.  This involves teachers learning about students’ backgrounds and personal experiences to use as tools to make connections with these students.  Some strategies that teachers can employ are the inclusion of the various histories, contributions, perspectives and concerns relevant to the diverse backgrounds of students (The IRIS Center for Training Enhancements, n.d.).  Incorporating these in the curriculum makes learning meaningful to these students.  Multicultural education using literature from various cultures engages such children in reading and writing and makes them eager to learn the social or cultural contributions made by various groups of people.

Observations of the children

It was learned that the children in the school were not allowed to speak their native language within the classroom but they are free to speak it outside with their peers.  This is part of their learning the English language in the classroom. This may be considered by the school as an effective way to immerse the children in the English language, however, the Rationale for planning for children learning English as an additional language (2008) recommends that children have free access to their primary language (L1) in order to fully understand their second or additional language (L2), so the classroom teacher should be more lenient in allowing children to use their L1 in class as a tool to learn their L2.

There was quite a number of foreign students enrolled in the school.  The researcher approached some and asked them some questions regarding EAL.  Two Portuguese children were observed to be peer-teaching.  One was already fluent in the English language while the other was still struggling so the more adept one was helping him translate some words. Vygotsky (1962, as mentioned in Clay, 1998) emphasizes the value of children’s talk and their growing ability to articulate their understanding of their world orally and in writing.  Taking part in negotiating meanings is part of the educational process, and Vygotsky believes that just being with others helps children learn.

In observing the two Portuguese children, some theories may explain why the more English language-adept child uses their native Portuguese to teach the less knowledgeable child. Swain & Lapkin (2000) conclude in their study that the first language is by default, a tool used by students to learn their second language.  Collaborating with other students in tasks for learning a second language, students try to make sense of the requirements and content of the task, focusing their attention on language form vocabulary use and overall organization, then turn to their native language to process and discuss before finally getting back to completing the task.  Swain and Lapkin point out that without the use of their native language, they might not be able to accomplish the task effectively or it might not be accomplished at all.  They argue that the insistence of not being allowed to access their first language in a linguistically and cognitively complex task of decoding a second language task would deprive them of an important cognitive tool.  They stress that bilingual programs that allow for the development and maintenance of the first language while learning the second language are successful in both goals.

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The researcher interviewed two students who both spoke Spanish.  When asked if they speak to each other in their native language, they admitted they only speak it at home with their parents.  They did not speak it in school and said they were more comfortable speaking in English because most of the time they were in school and with friends who all spoke the English language.  In this case, Lambert’s (1977) subtractive bilingualism seems to be taking place as the children’s first language is being extinguished by the second language which is English.  Otto (2010) elaborates on Lambert’s  theories on bilingualism. One issue in second language acquisition is its effect on the first language of the individual.  The immense concentration necessary to learn a second language may create a negative impact on the first language. This is known as Subtractive bilingualism.  When a child becomes fluent in a second language due to immersion in that language, there is a strong tendency to forget the first language, causing disruptions in communication with family members who only know the first language.  Transmission of cultural beliefs and parenting interactions would need a shared language for it to be successful. If not, social relationships with families or other members of the community who are monolingual may break down.

On the other hand, in learning a second language, a child need not forget the first language, but can be fluent in both.  This is called Additive Bilingualism which means that although a child actively learns a second language, concurrently, there is continued development in the home language (Lambert, 1977; Otto, 2010).  The goal is to enhance language skills in both languages.  In view of this, the case of the two Spanish boys interviewed by the researcher may also display additive bilingualism because they continue to speak L1 at home even if they are gaining competence in L2 in school and with peers.

Two boys from Ethiopia do not speak the same language even if they come from the same country. In the different parts they come from, different languages were also used.  One of the boys speaks three languages – French, English and Portuguese because his mother came from Portugal and his father from Ethiopia.  The other boy speaks Amharic which is similar to Arabic, but he is from Ethiopia.  Leon (1996) has outlined the need for migrant workers and their families to be supported in gaining English-speaking competencies to enable them to live more satisfying lives in English-speaking environments. He said lack of bilingual support for students impedes their motivation to learn, as they could not cope with other English-speaking peers, so they feel unwanted, and just skip school.  Gaining English language competency for these children will also raise their self-esteem so they get to be more confident to develop more personal and academic skills.

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Although the observations were limited to what has been reported, it already gave the researcher a good picture of how the school upholds the EAL program.  The foreign children seem to be comfortable in the school setting as they have settled in well in a welcoming environment.  The government consultation document ‘Aiming High: Raising the Achievement of Minority Ethnic Pupils’ (DfES 2003) states that “the particular needs of bilingual pupils are best met through a coordinated whole school approach led by headteachers and senior managers.” (DfES, 2005, p. 14).  The ethos of the primary school observed reflected a clear respect for the multicultural perspective.

Otto (2010) contends that one of the main challenges posed by the English as a Second Language (ESL) approach is the development, selection and implementation of effective strategies and instructional techniques to suit the diverse learners since they come from various backgrounds.  The Rationale for planning for children learning English as an additional language

(2008) takes upon Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of “scaffolding”.  As the term implies, scaffolds are temporary supports in the process of learning which are gradually taken away when the student is already capable of learning without them.  In EAL, scaffolding comes in three forms, One is scaffolding by adults by making their expectations clear by sharing learning objectives and criteria for success with the students by way of modeling and demonstrating the English language, ‘recasting’ of the children’s language from their L1 and providing them with opportunities to use their whole language repertoire to aid them in understanding their L2.  Another form of scaffolding is through collaborative work.  They engage in small group talks or work in pairs, usually with children who are more adept in the language are paired with children who are less adept, such as the two Portuguese boys observed peer-teaching in the school. The teacher may also use scaffolding through visual support, via pictures, props, models, frames and language prompts, graphic organizers, diagrams, maps, plans and essentially all the print and picture cues they put up in the environmental setting (Rationale…, 2008).  Most of these scaffolds were observed in the school.

The numerous issues on second language learning, especially English, only prove that it is creating much impact on the development of children from diverse cultures.  More and more people consider its advantages and possible disadvantages.  Such amount of attention is worth it because people think up of ways on how to maximize its benefits.  Learning another language apart from one’s native language helps children be ready to be highly competent in an increasingly globalized world.  However, although they become bilingual, it should not be forgotten that they also become bicultural, and learning of one language and the culture that goes with it does not mean forgetting their original one. Teachers should take into consideration that their non-English speaking students should learn English in both its context and language elements so the students gain a better understanding and appreciation of the English language.

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