EAL (English as an Additional Language)
Many people, students included are fortunate enough to have a first language other than English. English may be their second, third, or even fifth language. Many children and young people (CYP) take this in their stride and are confidently multilingual. This is to be celebrated as an impressive skill and a great contribution to the wealth of knowledge and culture in the classroom and workplace.
CYP who are EAL progress through stages of language learning at varying speeds but broadly according to the language proficiency stages of Professor Cummins:
BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills): Everyday speaking and understanding skills such as those used in informal exchanges. This is acquired in up to 3 years of being exposed to English.
CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency): The language of the classroom and technical levels of work such as specialist vocabulary, following complex instructions and engaging in abstract reflections. It takes 5-7 years to achieve this level of proficiency in the additional language.
It is easy to assume that because people converse socially in English yet struggle with more formal, academic language that they might lack intelligence. This can be career limiting. In the case of children and young people it might be assume that they have a language difficulty.
Before judging the colleague with EAL’s ability or referring youngsters to a specialist such as a speech and language therapist for assessment it is important to consider:
1. The length of time they have been exposed to English/how long they have been in the country
2. Their proficiency and level of achievements in their home language identified through translations of their CV and in the case of CYP, assessments carried out with an interpreter.
Generally, if there is a difficulty in the home language then problems becoming proficient at English could be linked to an overall language difficulty.
Again, let’s celebrate EAL in education! The unprejudiced provision of resources to help people with EAL access the workplace and classroom at the necessary level is a feature of an ethical organisation.