Should schools teach EAL children their home language?

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a while, after reading a comment on social media some weeks ago, claiming that the lack of attention to home languages in schools is degrading to that language. Could or should schools take more responsibility for teaching a child the language of their family? In my opinion there are arguments for and against.

The most obvious reasons against is that a child who has arrived in England and started school with no English needs help to learn English for both social and academic purposes. Without additional help with English, they are likely to fall behind their peers in the other subjects because they are unable to access them. And this additional help inevitably means they miss out on some of the other timetabled activities. If they were to have lessons in their home language on top of this, it would mean missing out on even more of the other timetabled lessons. This would probably lead to their English suffering because they weren’t practicing it in the classroom as often. Factor in the cost of finding teachers for all of the different home languages of pupils in a school, and it’s quite easy to see why schools feel that their responsibility ends with teaching the children English. After all, if their families want them to continue learning their home language, that’s up to them to sort it out, right?

On the other hand, if children are spending Monday to Friday in school and then all day Saturday having language lessons, they’re going to get tired very quickly. It’s already exhausting for them having to concentrate so hard because teaching is not taking place in their first language, and then at the weekends instead of having time to switch off, they are spending several more hours in a classroom. I have seen children struggling to stay awake because of the extra mental effort they are using. There is a definite advantage to bilingualism, and if they were given lessons in their home language during the school day, they could take full advantage of that later in life, and still only have to learn for the same number of hours as other children their age.

There is also the self-esteem issue to take into consideration. If they are not as good at English as their classmates, and are struggling to keep up in the other subjects because of the language, it could give their self-esteem a boost to spend some time during the school day doing something they are better at than their classmates.

Another thing the comment I saw bemoaned was the fact that EAL children rarely get to achieve qualifications in their home language. This is another tricky area. Of course it would be lovely if all children who could speak another language could get a qualification in it. Many schools already do their best to do this, and I often see pleas from other language teachers asking for speakers of various languages to assist with oral exams. However, there is a cost to exam boards to produce exams, and at a time when languages in general are in decline, there is little incentive for them to write and mark exams in minority languages.

What’s the solution? I’m sure I don’t know! One possibility for the qualifications would be for each country to take responsibility for its own language. So for example, English children living abroad would take an English GCSE, provided and marked by this country; Polish people living in England would take the equivalent qualification in Polish that their classmates would be sitting in Poland. It would need lots of agreements between the governments of the different countries, but in theory it should be possible. As for who should take responsibility for the teaching and, when and how they should be taught… Maybe somebody else could come up with a plan!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Endangered Languages

Update: Since publishing this post I have come across this one about the pros and cons of weekend language schools that seems to tie in well with what I have written.

Languages, Dyslexia and Free CPD!

On the first day of my summer holidays I headed off to Shropshire for a Dyslang event, having decided that anything that combines my two big interests – languages and dyslexia – had to be worth giving up a day of my holidays for.

It was about the problems faced with teaching multi-lingual individuals who have dyslexia. Difficulties in even diagnosing dyslexia can arise because of the influences of the individual’s first language (for example they may use a different script, their language may be read from right to left, there may be sounds in English that don’t exist in their first language). I don’t want to write a whole post about Dyslang because they have a website which will tell you all you want to know about they do – you’ll find it at

Dysland e-learning modulesWhat I do want to do is to tell people that there are 12 e-learning modules on their website which are completely free – all you have to do is register. Free CPD – what more could you ask for?

The other thing I want to do in this post is to share a fascinating nugget of information that I discovered on the course:

Our brains function differently depending on our first language and culture! The brains of people whose first language is English have a phoneme-grapheme correspondence function, but because not all of our words are phonetic their brains also have a word recognition function. The brains of people whose first language is a phonetic one, such as Italian or Spanish, have only the phoneme-grapheme recognition – because they don’t have any non-phonetic words, they don’t need to recognise words that don’t follow the pattern, so the word recognition function just doesn’t exist. Amazing!

International Mother Language Day

Today is International Mother Language Day. On this date in 1952, a group of students were shot because they were demonstrating for their language to be recognised as an official language. The day is now used to promote the importance of different languages and cultures – a subject very close to my heart.

It’s not often I wish I had my own class, but on days like today I do.  If I had my own class and my own classroom (and if it wasn’t half term), we’d be going off curriculum for at least part of the day. There would be posters on the walls in a multitude of languages. EAL children would be allowed to write in their home language instead of struggling with English, and they would all have the opportunity, if they wanted it, of teaching the rest of the class a few words in their mother tongue. We’d have poetry and story-telling in different languages, and listen to music from all over the world. There would be dual-language books around the classroom so that everyone could see what their classmates’ mother languages look like in print.

If I had my own class and my own classroom….but I don’t.  I hope though that activities like these are happening all over the world today. If you have done anything to celebrate – let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.