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What is bilingualism?

A person who speaks or understands two or more languages is described as ‘bilingual’ or ‘multi-lingual’. The bilingual child will have the same language abilities in both languages.

What is ‘English as an Additional Language’?

People who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL) are likely to have different abilities in their other languages.

What are the benefits of being bilingual?

Research shows that:

Being bilingual can help the child to think more creatively and laterally;

Being bilingual can help the child to understand how language works;

The bilingual child often finds it easier to understand how someone is feeling or what they are thinking from looking at their face;

Bilingual children often do better in maths;

Bilingual children often understand more abstract words earlier e.g. love, holiday.

Will the child get confused and be late starting to talk if they hear and learn more than one language at the same time?

No. Children who speak their home language well tend to do better than those who have learnt a bit of their home language and a bit of English additional language.

Where the child is learning two languages at the same time, it is a perfectly normal part of development for them to mix up words from the different languages in one sentence.

Should children be encouraged to speak two (or more) languages?

Yes. Children typically pick up language naturally and without much effort and the brain can cope with learning more than one language at the same time.

There is no evidence that bilingual children and or english additional language children have more difficulty with or are delayed in learning language.

What language(s) should parents use to speak with their child?

Parents should speak the language(s) they are most fluent in and feel most comfortable with.

It is important for the child to hear a good language model so that they hear and learn a rich variety of words and well-formed sentences in one language.

It does not matter if this language is not English.

Activities to promote bilingual and english additional language expansion:

Ask support staff to preview lessons to introduce a new topic and vocabulary.

Give copies of key vocabulary/ sentences for the main ideas of the lesson.

Encourage active listening: ask the child to identify the words/ideas as they hear them.

Label activities using diagrams/ pictures.

Use activities such as ‘fill in the gap’ sentences or matching sentence halves.

Set up a dictionary exercise based on the class topic.

Top tips in the classroom…

  • Emphasise key words
  • Reduce the rate of speech
  • Break long instructions into shorter ‘chunks’.
  • Use pictures, gesture and facial expression to aid understanding.
  • Use a graduated approach to questions: from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ as the child’s language proficiency develops
  • Be consistent in class routines and routine class language.
  • Encourage non-verbal responses e.g. pointing
  • Have bilingual resources such as stories, dictionaries, audio tapes

Encourage the child with EAL to use their oral language skills:

  • Group them with children of similar academic ability who will provide good language models.
  • Include children in small group work and encourage interaction with other children.
  • Provide opportunities for talking, in order to support writing in all subjects
  • Dramatize fictional and non-fictional texts.
  • Provide opportunities for them to speak in their mother tongue

For further reading go to http://www.londonsigbilingualism.co.uk/assesment.html

For other speech and language support topics for children: An exploration of the issues with Down Syndrome Children

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