Supporting Acquisition of English in a Multilingual Setting

            According to language acquisition theory, success in second language learning requires a solid literacy foundation in a student’s mother tongue (MT). Acquiring English does not replace continued development of a student’s MT; rather, literacy skills in the MT support the acquisition of English and other additional languages and provide the bedrock on which to build. Literacy skills are transferable across languages and therefore EAL teachers highly recommend that every student maintains and builds their proficiency in their MT, particularly in terms of reading comprehension and writing skills. Therefore, it is recommended that students develop and support their MT by:

  • Reading age appropriate texts in the MT
  • Learning the vocabulary of each subject area in both English and the MT
  • Practicing writing different text types in the MT
  • Using the MT to discuss with parents what has been learnt in class.

The English as an Additional Language (EAL) department focuses on promoting language acquisition by exposing students to a wide range of written texts in various genres whilst developing the ability to produce both creative and more formal text types for various audiences. From grades six to eight, students read a range of fiction appropriate to their level of language development and selected to appeal to their imaginations, including short stories, plays, and novels. In order to prepare them for the Cambridge Checkpoint tests, students also complete a number of units of learning which promote development of comprehension skills (reading, listening) and composing skills (writing and speaking). These units are grounded in various topics relevant to students’ lives, such as their family backgrounds and personal journeys as language learners, as well as non-fiction themes which also relate to their other subjects, such as history and science.

In grades nine and ten, students begin preparing for the IGCSE exam, which requires the ability to comprehend and produce texts on a myriad of potential themes and topics. This can include nature and the environment, history, popular culture, advertising and informative brochures, and therefore it is imperative that students continue to expand their vocabulary as well as their ability to speak and write in a more formal style. All EAL students are thus encouraged to read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction texts as well as keep a record of their language learning journey in what we term their “lingo” or language books. This provides students with a platform to build their knowledge of language structures and vocabulary, as well as learn from their mistakes.

The language development strategies outlined above are also applicable to other areas of the curriculum, in which subject-specific academic language is required for success. How does a student learn to write and speak (and think!) like an historian or a scientist? I would suggest, through reading a range of texts appropriate to each subject, learning specific academic vocabulary, and practising writing in various genres. The ability to write effectively requires trial and error, practice, and a growth mindset for continued improvement. It also requires hard work!

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