It's about more than language...

Family in Jersey

I’m really excited to say that my new book about supporting children learning English as an additional language (EAL) is out today. I wrote this book in light of my experience teaching reception in a mainstream primary school in Jersey, where a large proportion of the population is of Madeiran origin.

One of the biggest challenges for me was being able to communicate with parents. Many of the Madeiran children in my class were born in Jersey or moved over as babies and some had attended pre-school settings and nurseries where they had already acquired a fair amount of English. Their parents, on the other hand, having only lived on the island for a few years and spending most of this time within the Madeiran community, spoke very little English.

Unfortunately, during my career I have been privy to the opinion, ‘If they come here they should make the effort to learn the language.’ In response I would reply, ‘It’s about more than language’.

Moving to a foreign country can be a daunting experience for anyone, even terrifying for those who are less outgoing or confident. Obviously it is going to be tempting to gravitate towards an established community of people who speak the same language and share the same culture. However, those with children will at some point have to navigate the education system of their new home and inevitably this means overcoming the language barrier.

Working with children who are learning EAL is not just about language, it is also about identity and culture. We need to ensure that these children and their families feel comfortable, secure and proud of their linguistic heritage. As educators we have a responsibility to provide a welcoming environment, where all children and their families feel respected and valued.

It is up to us to help families from other countries integrate into our community. It is part of our job to ensure that children do not miss out because we cannot communicate with their parents. Doing something as simple as creating a multi-lingual welcome display and learning a few key sentences in a child’s first language can make the world of difference when welcoming a child learning EAL into your setting. It delivers the message that you are willing to make an effort and want to establish a relationship. What’s more, it will make parents who do not speak English feel accepted and included and instead of shying away they will want to communicate with you.