How to support your child’s learning as an EAL family

If your child’s first language isn’t English, you might be worried about how that will impact them at school. Children who speak EAL (English as an Additional Language) can struggle with the extra work and challenges that come with learning a whole curriculum in another language.

Not being a native speaker can also make it harder for children to be confident speaking up in the classroom, as well as socialising with other kids in the playground – especially if there are only a few other EAL children at their school. It’s very important for your child to build up their confidence because it helps them do well at school, make friends and generally be happy.

While there are extra challenges, being from a non-English speaking background certainly doesn’t mean your child can’t succeed at school. There are many positive stories, such as this one about a young Syrian refugee who came to England speaking no English but got top GCSE results.

There’s a big link between parental involvement and a child’s success at school, so it is important that you support your child’s learning as much as you can. You may feel anxious about your ability to help them with homework if you struggle to read English as fluently as your mother tongue; or find the English school system confusing as you haven’t gone through it yourself. But don’t worry – there are many easy ways that you can help your child do their best at school.

1. Get your child to read to you in English every day

This is a good thing to do together because your own language confidence doesn’t matter – the point is that they’re reading out loud to you. Your own English may even improve just by listening! Talk about the story in more detail in your home language after they finish reading to encourage them to think more about the story without worrying about language.

2. Use your library

If you don’t have a lot of English language books at home, use libraries (both school and local ones) to make sure your child has access to new books regularly. Reading lots of different types of books will improve their vocabulary and make reading more exciting.

3. Socialise with other parents and children

Talking and playing informally is a great way for your child to develop their communication skills and feel more confident. Set up playdates with other children in their class so they have one-to-one practice outside of the classroom.

4. Don’t be afraid to speak your mother tongue at home

Speaking more than one language is good for children’s brain development and being bilingual is a great skill to have as an adult. Read books in your home language with your child or ask them to translate their homework for you so you can work through it together. As long as they’re still practising English too, speaking another language at home is only a positive thing for your child.

5. Make sure they go to bed early

Using a different language all day, on top of regular learning, is very tiring. Your child should get lots of sleep on school nights so that they’re well-rested and able to concentrate all day.

6. Keep in touch with the teacher

It’s important for you to have a clear idea of how your child is doing in terms of their English, as well as their general schoolwork. If you have any concerns or questions, it’s best to talk directly with the teacher – they’re there to help!

If you want to learn more about the English school system and your child’s rights, and how you can get involved in schools to support them, The Bell Foundation EAL Programme has several useful resources for EAL parents.

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