How to maximise your child’s academic potential if their mother tongue is not English!

Your child might be the greatest scientist, mathematician, author or engineer, but if most of their lessons are taught in English and that is not your child’s mother tongue, he or she, is unlikely to maximise their potential without the correct support. Just imagine, you move away from your home country to the UAE and do not speak any Arabic. How many British and American, or other Commonwealth nationals would be here if everything written and spoken was in Arabic?

English speakers have a massive advantage when working outside the UK – their language is (apart from a few exceptions) the business language across the globe. This is why numerous nationalities strive for competent or exceptional skills in written and spoken English even where their “mother tongue” is not English.

English as an Additional Language (EAL) is a term used to identify students such as these to see if they might benefit from receiving support in English, so as to unlock the language shackles that may be holding them back from achieving their potential. A by-product of such support is of course happiness at school or in the work place. For those EAL adults receiving support, their opportunities of self-development and promotion at work suddenly become boundless.

As an educationist I am passionate about maximising all students’ potential and not allowing language barriers to reduce students’ confidence and opportunities in life.

Are EAL learners unique to the UAE?

No! The UAE is not unique in this sense. Children from all round the world are moving from country to country and from one continent to another with their parents. They bring with them their individual ethnic, religious, political, social class backgrounds and in the case of parents their own experience of an education system and their mother tongue. If English has been adopted by the country and the child’s (or indeed the adult’s) mother tongue is not English then EAL support maybe required wherever you are in the world. In some cases, countries such as the UAE have recently adopted English as a co-language alongside the national language, consequently EAL children within the UAE could also be UAE nationals.

Can EAL children be fluent in both their mother tongue and English?

Yes they can! The term is only referring to fact that the child has the access to more than one language both at home or at school. It does not tell you anything about the academic ability of the child. Consequently there are very fluent and able EAL children across the globe and it should not be seen as barrier to achievement, even if initially their English skills have to be improved. Furthermore, having the ability to fluently speak different languages is an advantageous life skill.

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What are the good practices when teaching EAL children that need to be adopted in the learning environment to support EAL children?

Common sense approaches. However, a word of caution is needed as some common sense approaches are not optimal. For example, using pictures and diagrams so that a beginner EAL child / adult can understand what is happening in a lesson is an obvious thing to do and it is also good practice. On the other hand, telling someone that they should speak in English all the time and never use their first language at school may seem to be common sense, but it is not regarded as good practice and is not likely to motivate the child.

As a teacher with experience of teaching EAL children both in the UAE and the UK for in excess of 30 years, I have identified some of the key strategies which I believe make a positive difference to ensure the children in my charge maximise their academic potential and are equally successful as non EAL students. My key strategies are as follows: –

  • Ensuring I have fully assessed the students’ level of ability and have identified their areas of strength and next step targets so they have quick wins and their progress and development can be tracked over time
  • Providing students with real life opportunities for communication, including fun activities and collaborative work — getting the balance right between success and enjoyment produces confidence and a desire to succeed in English
  • Actively encouraging students to” have a go” and not being afraid of mistakes. I believe in using lots of praise and focusing on the positives as well as ensuring the students feel safe, comfortable, welcome and valued.
  • The learning experience is suitably “scaffolded” so it meets the specific requirements of the individual learner so as to achieve development
  • Whilst recognising that students do not all learn in the same way and at the same pace, they still need to be able to read, write, speak, listen and spell English as well as being able to pronounce the words correctly and use grammar and punctuation correctly

As a parent of an EAL child that is struggling to master the English language, how can you provide the necessary support?

My recommendation would be to send your child to a KHDA licensed centre after school that provides all these key strategies, and ensure that it develops strong relationships with your child and yourself. Ultimately your child has to be at the heart of the learning experience!

This blog is contributed by our guest blogger:

Janette Smith, M.D. Excellentia Foreign Language Institute LLC

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