EAL Learners Need Immersion in Sound and Script

Infographic of an Asian female college student lying on a set of books.

In 2022, Lexonik CEO, Sarah Ledger, and our Senior Sales Manager, Phil Luke, attended the GESS conference in Dubai, offering free professional development to schools in the area. We wanted to give the schools an opportunity to see what our programs are all about and show how we’re equipped to teach learners with English as an additional language.

We have a wealth of teaching experience here at Lexonik — a combined 287 years in fact! So we understand the challenges that EAL learners face. That’s why our programs are designed with EAL learners in mind.

Our founder, Katy Parkinson, and one of our outstanding Regional Trainers, Farrah Akhtar, both have extensive experience working with EAL learners. So we caught up with both of them to deliver these tips on how to best teach EAL students.

Unique Challenges EAL Learners Face

With EAL learners, it’s important to understand the unique challenges they are facing. Before starting Lexonik, Katy Parkinson taught for over 20 years and saw many EAL students come through her classroom. She highlighted one of the key challenges with EAL learners:

“If you haven't been exposed to certain spoken sounds before the age of two, you will have difficulty replicating those sounds in your own speech. So this can be a challenge for EAL learners when speaking and hearing the English language."

She goes on to give an example of this, drawing from experience in her own life:

“I was brought up on a small hill farm in Scotland. Mum and Dad were both Scottish, so as a young child, I had only heard the Scottish accent. Because of this, there are certain sounds I have difficulties with. One sound I cannot differentiate is the “oo” sound. So, my pronunciation of the boy’s name “Luke” is exactly the same as the verb “look.” It’s the same for EAL learners.”

Effective Teaching Solutions for EAL Learners

Sounds and script are the building blocks of learning to speak, read, and write any language. So it’s impossible to learn a new language without extensive exposure to it.

Farrah Akhtar spent three years as a specialist bilingual teaching assistant, two years as an EAL teacher, and speaks three languages herself: English, Urdu, and Punjabi. Her advice for getting EAL learners familiar with the sounds and script of English is to immerse them in the language.

“My first language was English. We were taught English first, but alongside that, my parents encouraged us to learn Urdu. So they would speak to us at home in Urdu, and we'd watch films and drama TV shows at home, which you used to get on VHS cassettes, to try and help us along. Obviously, music was another method my parents used to get us to learn the language, so it was very much about immersing us in the culture of language.”

Crucially, Farrah used her own experience to make the point that a different approach may be needed with EAL learners.

“So, when people think about language, and especially EAL learners, it's not just about teaching them textbook language sense.”

Immersion in the language is essential for EAL learners in order to expose them to the parts of the language they may not have experienced before. When we think about how we first teach young, English-speaking learners, it’s easy to see how essential it is to have heard the sounds before. For example, a teacher may start off with . . .

A is for apple.

B is for bike.

And so on. But how effective can this method of teaching be when the learner has never heard the word “apple” before? That is why alternative teaching methods for EAL students are essential and why immersion in the language is a crucial first step to learning English — or any language.

Out-of-the Box Approaches

Immersing an EAL learner in the English language is not just about throwing them in the deep end and hoping they can swim — you must tailor your approach to your learner.

Farrah recalled her experience doing this with young learners being exposed to English for the first time and spoke of how this approach can be made even easier today.

“I used to encourage my learners to watch cartoons and then to change the language from their native language into English. So start off with things like Peppa Pig in English, if they're able to do that.

Netflix is brilliant for that purpose, because it enables you to basically translate into almost any language. It’s a good way to expose them to that language, which they perhaps otherwise may not get at home.”

This approach is simple and modern technology makes it highly accessible. Find what your learner is interested in and immerse them in that and English at the same time. It won’t be Peppa Pig for all learners. EAL learners can be of any age and from anywhere.

So for some it will be watching Peppa Pig, and for others it will be Casablanca. Some learners might not be interested in watching anything at all, preferring music or video games. You need to get to know your learner, and from there, you can get them more involved in the language in a way they enjoy.

Of course, you can’t monopolize a student’s free time, and there is still the issue of how to approach the school day for an EAL learner. Some schools take EAL learners out of the classroom to focus on reading, writing, and spelling, until they feel the learner has caught up enough to fully follow what’s going on in the classroom.

It’s an approach that prioritizes English but fails to consider what else the learner may miss out on in the classroom, such as lesson content and that all-important immersion.

It can be tough to handle, as Katy says.

“They miss out. They miss out on the chatter. They miss out on the teaching. So they need to be educated in the classroom, and they need to get caught up on English. I think there's got to be both.”

Out-of-classroom intervention definitely has its place, but you also have to consider that EAL learners can’t be taken out of the classroom for huge amounts of time. That’s where Lexonik Leap comes in.

Flexible, Rapid Intervention with Lexonik Leap

Lexonik Leap is an intervention program that rapidly progresses reading, spelling, and oracy. Based on an initial diagnostic assessment, the program can be adapted to allow for an individualized learning pathway, meaning the duration of the program is dictated by the level of need, which is perfect for EAL learners.

Farrah, who has experience both with teaching EAL learners and Lexonik Leap, says:

“The beauty of Leap is that you take the student and drop them in any part of the program, depending on their need. So it's recognizing that EAL learners do know their stuff. Once they have those tools to understand how the language works, they can then make progress, which sometimes goes 2- 3 levels above other children in mainstream lessons.”

Lexonik Leap is not only effective and adaptable but is best delivered in frequent, 15 to 20-minute sessions, three times a week. This means the EAL learner doesn’t miss out on the classroom, and they can be immersed in the language while catching up.

If you’d like to learn more about how Lexonik Leap can help you support your EAL learners, we'd love to hear from you. You can also check out our intervention programs here.