English as an Additional Language; why must Educators Recognise Children ’ s Bilingualism and First Language when Working within a Multicultural Pre school Setting?
It seems that young children learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) are often expected to acquire English rapidly and naturally, without any further help. It appears that many settings do not give the role of the child’s first language enough significance. Consequently we could argue, that their language learning needs are frequently being overlooked within the early-years sector. This paper will focus on the aspects that need to be considered by practitioners in order to convey the importance of adequate language assessment and support for EAL learners within the UK’s early-years education sector and beyond.
For the period of a year I was employed as a pre-school teacher working with children aged from two to five in a rather deprived area of South London. To be sure, London is a multicultural city; its population consists of 270 nationalities with over 300 languages spoken (Neather, 2011). For me, I would certainly suggest that the beauty of this diversity was reflected in the class I looked after, which was made up of 20 children from various ethnic and social backgrounds. The pre-school setting I worked in was established in order to focus entirely on providing places to children that were eligible for the Two-Year Old Scheme, a programme designed by the English Government which offers UK families, earning less than £16,190 a free childcare place for 15 hours a week (Watt, 2013). The main responsibilities of my role included providing care, education and support to all children evaluating the effectiveness of the pre-school curriculum. Furthermore, I was expected to keep a record of each child’s progress and achievements.
According to recent research approximately 56% of pupils in inner London do not have English as their first language (Hall, 2015: 5). The T wo Year Old Scheme was initially a reaction to the situations within London’s primary schools, as the evidence highlighted that children from socially deprived areas were often lacking the expected social skills, basic knowledge and language competencies in order succeed at school. What is more, it is worth mentioning that in socially deprived areas of the UK, more than half of the children starting nursery school have delayed language abilities. All children should be able to achieve their potential, whatever their ethnic or cultural background. Nevertheless, often such opportunities are unequal for the majority of the one in eight pupils with EAL, who in the UK commonly come from a minority ethnic background (DfES, 2003).
All of the UK’s early childhood settings are currently required to follow a curriculum called the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which focuses on seven key areas of learning. The EYFS is made up of the three prime areas, namely Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional Development and Physical Development. These 3 prime aspects are coupled with the 4 additional specific areas, which are Literacy, Expressive Arts and Design, Understanding the World and Mathematics (Moylett & Stewart, 2012: 19).
Also, each area of the EYFS defines a set of expected Learning Goals for the child’s age. These learning goals are in turn used as a guideline and assessment tool for practitioners (ibid). Not only should the curriculum be followed and also adjusted towards the individual needs of the children in the setting, nursery practitioners are also required to ensure they perform accurate EYFS profile assessment processes and reports, which are obligatory universally in early-years settings. To concur, returning to the experience I had in my former employment, I often considered whether merely following the EYFS guidelines and assessment instructions actually met the cultural and linguistic needs in practice.
2. The difficulty with EYFS Assessments for children with EAL
Assessments for Communication, Language and Literacy Skills are being done repeatedly during a child’s stay at the nursery, the first so-called “Progress Check” being done when the child is around 2 years old. Further assessments are conducted during the child’s final nursery year in order to review his or her progress. The ‘Record of Achievement” not only informs parents about their child’s achievements but also presents a quick overview for the child’s future primary-school teacher. In both the 2-year-old Progress Check and the Record of Achievement, practitioners need to identity the child’s individual strengths but also map out areas in which the child achieved less than expected (ibid: 47).
In most nursery settings, including mine, the practitioner’s personal knowledge about the child, including information collected during the their stay in the setting through observations, photos, videos, are being used in order to decide whether the expected EYFS learning goals were attained. Children who do not meet the expected learning goals are marked as emerging for their age. Children who manage to meet a few of the learning goals but not all are ranked as developing, and children who do meet all the required learning goals are classed as secure.
It is feasible to argue that a particular problem is that communication; language and literacy skills must always be assessed only concerning English. In order to clarify the assessment, we have chosen one example from the EYFS 2014 guidelines within the area of Communication and Language recitation the early learning goals for a child of 30-50 months:
“The child is beginning to use more complex sentences to link thoughts (e.g. using and because). The child can retell a simple past event in correct order (e.g. went down slide, hurt finger). Uses talk to connect ideas, explain what is happening and anticipates what might happen next, recall and relieve past experiences, ” (EYFS Monitoring Tool, no date).
If the child matched the above criteria, a practitioner could mark the child as falling within the secure category. However, if the child does not meet all the measures and was not able to retell a simple past event in the correct order, the practitioner could judge the child’s learning goals achievements as being emerging (Moylett & Stewart, 2012).
In agreement with the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC), it is apparent that a major difficulty is that the focus is solely on English. For example, a child learning EAL might already be able to retell a simple past event in the correct order or recall a past event in their first language but not in English yet. However, because the EYFS assessment only looks at the child’s proficiency in English it is reasonable to argue that it is standardised on English mother-tongue norms. With this in mind, we may point out here, that this demonstrates as neglecting the process of learning English as an additional Language and as showing a lack of acknowledgement that it is very different from the process of learning it as a first language (NALDIC, 2011).
Thus, these evaluations could potentially lead to the discrimination of children learning EAL and therefore influence the child’s overall learning experience negatively. Recent research has also shown that educators, due to their lack of knowledge about bilingual language acquisition and their expectations of development often misdiagnose children with language impairments in EAL children (Ebert, 2008: 102). Understandably, this can sometimes yield a very negative effect on the child’s wellbeing. It is worth mentioning that this is not only the case in the UK, but is in evidence internationally and has been reported across boarders (Bedore & Peña, 2008).
NALDIC (2011) suggests that apart from making assessments purely in English, practitioners should also assess the child’s first language. The government initiative Every Child a Talker (ECAT), led by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), conducted a study that introduced new tools for practitioners in order to incorporate the child’s first language into their assessments. However, the study showed that amongst the settings that took part, there was a genuine uncertainty towards implementing this important modification into the EAL child’s assessments. Not only was there little communication between setting and parents, issues arose surrounding the practitioner’s perception of the parent’s role in the child’s assessment. Moreover, the research flagged up that practitioners commonly felt that assessments were better off conducted within the setting and that EYFS based evaluations must not be influenced by the parent’s subjective opinions. Overall this research showed that lack of time and resources, in the form of bilingual early years practitioners, were cited as the barriers by most settings. However, the ECAT study showed that a fundamental advance towards a more fully inclusive ethos, where parent-practitioner partnerships are on a more equal footing is required. Above all, perhaps this signaled that a change is needed in setting and practitioner attitudes and dispositions (DCSF, 2009).
3. The creation of positive learning environments
In agreement with Bedore & Peña (2008), we suggest that it is significant to look at studies on cross-linguistic and bilingual language acquisition through the early elementary age, as it is an area that informs patterns of convergence and divergence in monolingual and bilingual populations. We know that a plenty of studies on language acquisition have been based on reports of monolingual acquisition, resulting in more theory than empirical evidence. However, early-years practitioners still need to know of the differences between bilingual and monolingual language development and language acquisition to meet professional capabilities. Before evaluating the main domains of bilingual language acquisition, it worth noting that bilingual language development can either be attained simultaneously - when children are learning two languages at the same time - or, as in the case of EAL learners , sequential bilingual - when children learn one language before they learn the second (Baker, 2006). In the relation to this paper, the second language is of course English.
Practitioners could benefit from being informed of further of the many theories that are central for positive bi- and multilingual learning. The Behaviourist approach, which argues for an equal process of positive reinforcement that influences first-language acquisition, also supports the development of a second language. Contrary to the behaviourist doctrine, there is the Nativist theory excludes the possibility that first-language language can influence second language learning. The Interlanguage Hypothesis features both the psychological and the social aspects of learning a language. This hypothesis highlights the role of the community and learning opportunities, the quality and timing of constructive language input and social status within the dominant culture. Cummins (1984) developed this schema and formulated the Interdependence Hypothesis in order to stipulate that second language competence to a large extent depends upon the degree to which and individuals’ first language has been developed (Ball, 2011: 17).
In lexical development and acquisition, bilinguals use the same strategies as monolinguals to learn words. However, there are aspects practitioners should consider. For example, remembering that exposure to language highly influences the number of words children learn, a bilingual’s lexical repertoire essentially contains both overlapping and unique words that span the two languages. In case of language impairment, recent studies have shown that vocabulary deficits are observed in both languages and therefore the examination in only one language may underestimate children’s language skills. Another important area would be the acquisition of morph syntax. Practitioners know that children begin using single worlds, increasing their knowledge to word combinations up to the use of more complex sentences such as questions. A frequent occurrence amongst bilinguals is that they start mixing up their languages and substitute within lexical classes but also in their used verb morphology (Bedore & Peña, 2008). Practitioners should be aware that so called code-switching can occur when children use the words that they can think of first and that describe their feelings best but with time will be able to distinguish between both languages and only “code-switch” when they want to and know the other person understands both languages (Thomson, 1999: 177). Therefore code-switching may be described as an additional affect of multilingual capabilities and should not be viewed as a deficit.
- Arbeit zitieren
- Sara Penzar (Autor), 2016, English as an Additional Language. Why must Educators Recognise Children’s Bilingualism and First Language when Working within a Multicultural Preschool Setting?, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/343626