Inclusion Week Blog – ‘Why we must focus on EAL learners’ wellbeing’ by Jess Gosling

This week we are celebrating inclusion in all of its forms for National Inclusion Week! #Unitedforinclusion

Our special edition blog is from Jess Gosling who discusses how we can support the wellbeing of children who are learning English as an additional language.


Working as an international teacher in Taiwan, the context is a society with little or no English communication. Therefore, a majority of children enter my class with English as either a second or third language. The language most commonly spoken is Mandarin. Often, the children enter the provision with no spoken English and very basic comprehension.

Research has shown before a child can learn they must feel comfortable in their environment. When children experience emotionally supportive environments in the early years their achievement increases (Bullard, 2017). To support EAL children socially and emotionally, it is imperative that:

1. Children feel they are entering a ‘safe’ space

To create a welcoming, safe environment, it must have a sense of familiarity for the child. It is important that the interests, developmental levels, and cultural and geographic backgrounds of the children in the classroom be considered in establishing environments (Bullard, 2017). Prior to the start of term, I will connect with parents to ask what their child’s interests are, to encourage ‘belonging’ within the new environment through resourcing or activities.

Our first theme focusses directly on the children; in an attempt to connect the child’s worlds of home and school. This is established early in the year to encourage children to bring in pictures of their family. We will display these along with pictures or actual significant items to them, such as a special item or toy. We share these pictures with the child first, creating a dialogue in their native language. This discussion will be interpreted for me, as necessary, to show I am actively interested and part of the conversation.

2. All staff show empathy

It is extremely important to put oneself in the position of a child. A child, attempting to navigate a space completely different to their home, in a completely different language. All staff therefore respect the child and support them when they struggle. We are especially aware of this when a child first enters the environment. To help establish trust in us, whenever a less-confident or quiet child attempts to communicate, a bilingual colleague will be at their side to support them. If I know a child will experience difficulty responding to me in English, I will ensure the question is translated for them, applauding an answer in their home language just as much as English. If a child becomes upset, they are always communicated with in their native language, to show we are empathetic, and their wellbeing is our priority.

3. Children understand that their native language is valued

Therefore, children are encouraged to use both their native language in addition to English. They need to feel secure in their first language before attempting a second. We slowly introduce English in a non-threatening way, for example, responding by giving vocabulary in English in a natural way, such as ‘water bottle’ when they retrieve it from their bag. We reply to a question, directed by the child in Mandarin, using a little English. Most children play and explore in their first language. We support this as we know the native language must develop well before they can excel in a further language.

When I lead a circle time, with support of my teaching assistant we bridge more challenging words in both English and Mandarin, as well as showing images to support understanding. It is evident that this system works for us, as the children show little stress within the environment.

Further, we ‘front-load’ basic vocabulary, by teaching individually or in small groups words required for the following week. These words are also contained in a blog, sent home to parents. That way, when the child hears certain academic vocabulary in a taught session, it will not have been the first time they have heard it. This then raises their ability to comprehend more of the spoken language, helping both their self-esteem and ability to grasp the learning.

4. Build an accepting culture of the different language abilities within the class

Though my dedication to PSE (Personal and Social Education), during our circle times we discuss our respect for one another and how everyone has the right not to contribute, should they not feel comfortable to do so. We also emphasise if a child wants to use their native language, this is perfectly acceptable. Often I position my teaching assistant close to a group of children who require a little translation or support. The children feel secure as they know they will not be forced to try to speak to the whole class, but should they wish to, they can communicate their understanding to the teaching assistant. Their answers are then often communicated to the whole class, to ensure they are included in a discussion and their thoughts are heard.

5. Learning is scaffolded in both languages

Children develop when they experience secure, consistent relationships with interested adults and positive relationships with peers (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). Therefore, educators must be very sensitive to the feelings of EAL children when it comes to question/answer times in small group, adult-led tasks. In these situations, I differentiate, requesting children who struggle with English speaking to the greatest extent work with a Mandarin speaking colleague who can ‘bridge’ between English and Mandarin. As the child’s English improves, I then work with them in a small group. In this group I will model answers first, then request the most confident children to answer. As each child answers I will release them from the group. I then finish with the least confident speakers and EAL children, so I can work 1:1 with them, ascertaining if they understood the language used. If they do not, they are provided with further support, using their drawings and a phrase they can repeat with me. I feel this preserves their self-esteem and possible embarrassment.

6. Form an attachment with the child

Educators must make every effort to get to know the child and their interests, so that they experience a sense of belonging in the classroom. Joining in their activities (when accepted) or playing alongside them, endeavouring to find that perfect resource to excite them or extend their learning, will all help to build a bond. As language is the issue, it is even more important to make time to connect with them in non-verbal ways. You can narrate what you are doing in a basic way as you play, to help develop vocabulary. I have also found that all children love picture books, this is another method I have used to connect with children with very little English. As unusual as this may seem, from my observations I see many children play without using language, therefore playing in this way is very much accepted by the child, if we just ensure we make the time to do it. Jess Gosling is an international school teacher. She can be contacted via her website or Twitter @JessGosling2


Bullard, J. (2017) Creating Environments Birth to 8. 3rd Ed. (University of Montana Western: Pearson)

Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. (Washington, D.C., National Association for the Education of Young Children).

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