EAL Learners Need Immersion in Sound and Script

Infographic of an Asian female college student lying on a set of books.

Our CEO, Sarah Ledger and our Sales Manager, Phil Luke touched down in sunny Dubai this week.

Whilst over there, they will be attending the GESS conference and offering free professional development to schools in the area, giving them a taste of Lexonik so they can see the effects for themselves before committing to purchasing.

It’s great that we can put our money where our mouth is by offering a fabulous free demo - we’re equipped to teach learners with English as a second language.

This is down to several things: first and foremost, how our programmes are tailored for EAL learners; the wealth of experience we have here at Lexonik - our staff have a combined 287 years of teaching experience - and our approach to teaching EAL learners; understanding what works for them and adjusting our approach accordingly.

Two of our most experienced teachers of EAL learners are our founder, Katy Parkinson and one of our outstanding Regional Trainers, Farrah Akhtar. We caught up with both to find out how to best teach EAL learners.

When going in to just about any situation, especially teaching, it’s essential to understand the challenges ahead. Specifically, with EAL learners it’s important to understand the unique challenges they are facing.

Katy Parkinson taught for over 20 years and saw many EAL students come through her classroom before starting Lexonik. She highlights one of the key challenges with EAL learners:

“If you haven't been exposed to certain spoken sounds before the age of 2, you will have difficulty replicating those sounds in your own speech. So this can be a challenge for EAL learners when speaking and hearing the English language."

She goes on to give an example on this, drawing from experience in her own life:

“I was brought up on a small hill farm in Scotland. Mum and Dad were both Scottish, so as a young child I had only heard the Scottish accent. Because of this, there are certain sounds I have difficulties with. One sound I cannot differentiate is the “oo” sound. So, my pronunciation of “Luke” the boys name is exactly the same as “look” the verb. It’s the same for EAL learners.”

Sounds and script are the building blocks of learning any language, for speaking it as well as reading and writing it. It’s impossible to teach a learner to do these things without exposing them to this.

Luckily, Farrah Akhtar has a solution. Farrah spent three years as a specialist bilingual teaching assistant, two years as an EAL teacher and speaks three languages herself: English, Urdu and Punjabi.

Her advice for getting EAL learners familiar with the sounds and script of English is to immerse them in the language:

“My first language was English. We were taught English first, but alongside that, my parents encouraged us to learn Urdu. So, they would speak to us at home in Urdu, we'd watch films and drama TV shows at home, which you used to get on VHS cassettes, to try and help us along. Obviously, music was another way my parents used to get us to learn the language, so it was very much about immersing us in the culture of language.”

Crucially, Farrah uses her own experience to make the point that a different approach may be needed with EAL learners:

“So, when people think about language, and especially EAL learners, it's not just about teaching them textbook language sense.”

Immersion in the language is essential for EAL learners in order to expose them to the parts of the language they may not have experienced before.

Farrah makes an interesting point about considering alternative teaching methods. This is especially interesting when combined with the point Katy makes about it being almost impossible to teach EAL students a language while using sounds they are not familiar with.

When we think about how we first teach English to young learners as their first language, we realise how essential it is to have heard the sounds before. A teacher may start off with…

A is for apple.

B is for bike.

And so on. But how do you use this as a method of teaching when a Learner has never heard the word apple before? That is why alternative methods for EAL learners is essential and why immersion in the language is a crucial first step in getting someone to learn English.

When looking to immerse an EAL learner in the English language, it’s not just about throwing them in the deep end and hoping they can swim - you must tailor your approach to your learner.

Farrah recalls her experience in doing this with young learners being exposed to English for the first time, and speaks of how this approach can be made even easier in the modern day:

“I used to encourage my learners to watch cartoons and then to change language from their native language into English. So, start off with things like Peppa Pig in English if they're able to do that.

Netflix is brilliant for that purpose, because it enables you to basically translate into almost any language. It’s a good way to expose them to that language which they perhaps otherwise may not get at home.”

This approach is simple and accessible due to technology. Find what your learner is interested in and immerse them in that and English at the same time. It won’t be Peppa Pig for all learners. EAL learners can be of any age and from anywhere. So, for some it will be watching Peppa Pig and for others it will be Casablanca. Some learners might not be interested in watching anything at all, it could be music or video games. You need to get to know your learner and from there you can get them more involved in the language in a way they enjoy.

But you can’t monopolise a student’s free time and there is still the issue of how to approach the school day for an EAL learner. Some schools take EAL learners out of the classroom to focus on reading, writing and spelling until they feel that learner has caught up enough to fully follow what’s going on in the classroom.

It’s an approach which prioritises English but fails to consider what else the learner may miss out on in the classroom i.e. lesson content and that all-important immersion.

It can be tough to handle, as Katy says:

“They miss out, they miss out on the chatter, they miss out on the teaching. So, they need to be educated in the classroom and they need to get caught up on English, I think there's got to be both.”

Out-of-classroom intervention definitely has its place, but it must be combined with the fact that EAL learners can’t be taken out of the classroom for huge amounts of time. This is where Lexonik Leap comes in.

Leap is an intervention programme that rapidly progresses reading, spelling and oracy. Based on an initial diagnostic assessment, the programme can be adapted to allow for an individualised learning pathway, meaning the duration of the programme is dictated by the level of need, which is perfect for EAL learners.

Farrah, who has experience both with teaching EAL learners and Lexonik Leap, says:

“The beauty of Leap is that you take the student and drop them in any part of the programme depending on the need. So, it's recognising that EAL learners do know their stuff. Once they have those tools to understand how that language works, they then can make progress, which sometimes goes above 2- 3 levels than other children in mainstream lessons.”

Lexonik Leap is not only effective and adaptable but is best delivered in frequent, 15–20-minute sessions, three times a week. Because of this it means the EAL learner doesn’t miss out on the classroom, and they are able to be immersed into the language while catching up.

If you’re interested in Lexonik Leap then contact us here. Or check out our other interventions programmes here.