British society is multilingual, with around 360 languages being spoken across the nation. A lot of people who speak multiple languages in the UK are English second language speakers, and some of the children at our nursery have English as an Additional Language (EAL).
It is important that children are supported in all the languages available to them in order to continue being bilingual or multilingual. Research has shown that learning and speaking multiple languages can be an advantage later in life with academia, and learning even more languages is easier as the brain processes language in a different way to someone who only knows a single language.
Children are encouraged to communicate with parents or carers in the language most dominant in the home, whether that is English or another language. To help children settle into English language dominated settings, it is important for parents and staff to share information about routines and keep an open dialogue. This is also helpful as information can be translated for the child to understand, as well as getting them used to the routines they can expect in a setting.
The best way to help children understand English in a nursery setting is to allow them to hear English being spoken in multiple contexts. It takes time for more complex spoken English to develop, but it will happen over time after listening to adults.
Learning English can come from listening and repeating too. Using repeated phrases such as reading stories with clear introductions and actions can be helpful for this. It also helps to have visual references with stories, such as props, actions, and using picture books. All of these elements help children to develop English language skills in and outside of nursery.
It can be helpful to have an adult who can speak the child’s dominant language in the setting, however that is not always available. At Angels, we help to bridge gaps by providing flashcards in different languages, tailored to the specific children. These not only have the words written in a language the child will be more familiar with, but they also have images on them to aid understanding.
Flashcards that are only provided in English will also have images. Imagery is a vital part of helping children to understand in general, but it is especially important when the child is dealing with EAL. Images help to give context to the words that the children are hearing in a way that is easier for them to understand.
Another important factor can be non-verbal communication. This can be just as helpful as verbal communication and can help to bridge any gaps of misunderstanding that may open up. Using gestures, such as pointing or mimes, helps both adults and children to communicate with each other without having to use languages.
It is beneficial for children who have the opportunity to remain multilingual to do so, and we hope to help with this at Angels.