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Last updated: 06.01.17

Education and immigration: Language barriers and how to deal with them

The integration of children from other countries into the UK school system can pose challenges, including language barriers. Here we take a look at how education professionals can deal with this.

In the past decade, the number of children who have English as an additional language (EAL) being placed in schools within the UK has increased noticeably. This is in-line with changes to school population and the number of pupils being enrolled in education. According to the Guardian, EAL students now form a majority in one in nine schools across England, a number that has risen by 20 per cent in the last five years.

While the UK prides itself on being a diverse and multicultural country, language barriers can sometimes prevent children from learning and getting the most out of their education. It goes without saying, that the best way to learn any language is to be immersed in it so that students must communicate in the same way. Nevertheless, teachers and other education professionals must be careful in ensuring that one pupil learning is not at the expense of another.

In some classrooms, teachers are having to cope with pupils that speak as many as 20 different languages, with various cultures coming together to study. Although classrooms like this are a relatively new challenge for most schools, others have more experience of working with EAL children, which has allowed them to develop tried and tested approaches. Here we take a look and the many ways schools across the UK are learning to deal with language barriers and cultural differences.

Pupils with little to no English

Until EAL students understand and can speak basic English, trying to integrate them into the class will be difficult. This is why many schools welcoming children with no English, place them into intervention classes. Here, specially trained teachers focus on teaching the children practical, everyday English.

Teachers in these types of classes will put a strong emphasis on speaking, listening and vocabulary, and children are paired with each other to help them check their understanding. There will also be a focus on pronunciation and writing. Despite this, it's easy for teachers to overlook gaps in knowledge. Often, a child will be able to read, but perhaps won't really understand what it is they are reading. This means it is crucial that teachers do not make any assumptions about what the children know.

Varied learning techniques

While being sure on which learning techniques are best for EAL students, one thing that is certain is that numerous approaches are better than just one. Instead of just speaking to students and expecting them to listen, both teachers and EAL students benefit from the use of blended learning. This means incorporating visuals, student discussion, translated key words, sentence and writing frames, interactive learning games and so on, into lessons.

EAL student will be a mix of visual, kinesthetic and auditory learners so it's crucial that education professionals engage with students in each of these ways.

Supporting and getting parents on board

Many EAL students being introduced to schools in England come from families that are either new to the country or speak little to no English. Sometimes, a child’s parents may be able to speak English, yet choose to converse in their first language in the home. This is why it is important for schools to engage with parents and encourage them to help their children with English outside of the classroom.

In some areas of the UK, schools are introducing outside of standard learning hours, time for families to come in and understand about how the education system works. While this can be challenging, it is often enriching for all parties. Asking parents for advice and input can also prove to be useful and helps to build strong relationships between parents, teachers and students.