The term EAL (English Additional Language) describes children exposed to one or more languages other than English in their homes.
In the UK, especially in low-income schools, EAL students face lots of barriers in their education compared to English native speakers. So, how can reading help them overcome these hurdles?
What challenges do EAL students face?
To help EAL students do better in school, it is important to understand some of the challenges they may face. Here are a few examples:
Staying behind the curriculum
Studies show that EAL students will have, on average, lower grades when they first start school in the UK compared to native speakers. This puts them at a real disadvantage and, without proper support, they may stay behind throughout the school years. Later on, it can end up affecting their careers.
Differences in school grades go away by the age of 16 in most cases, showing that having the proper guidance does impact EAL students’ education for the better.
There will be differences, however, depending on the age when the students entered the UK. For example, students who arrived before the age of 4 won’t show any differences in academic performance by age 14, whereas students who enter around the ages 11-14 will still lag behind their peers even at 16.
Not fitting in with their peers
Language barriers can be a big challenge when it comes to interacting with others. EAL students without a good grasp of English will struggle with socialising. This can lead to feeling marginalised in schools.
On top of that, they may face discrimination and bullying from their peers which can greatly affect their mental health. That can have damaging effects on their academic performance and ability to make connections later on.
Not having access to proper support at home or at school
In 2013/2014, about 32% of all foreign-born people in the UK lived in poverty, compared to only 19% of UK-born people. EAL students need extra guidance at first to catch up to their peers, and those that come from low-income families might not receive the necessary amount of support at home.
Not only that, but a lot of the time school staff isn’t properly equipped with the tools to help these students. EAL students may require alternative methods of teaching, such as needing more time to think about answers, using visual and graphic support for lessons, or having access to the learning materials before each lesson.
How can reading help bridge the academic gap between EAL students and their peers?
Making up almost a fifth of the entire UK school student body in 2021/2022, EAL students will become a great part of the country’s future. Because of that, it is important that we minimise the challenges they face in school as much as possible.
Books are one of the most powerful learning tools out there, which is why it’s important that EAL students have access to them through their school libraries. Here are some benefits of reading books on language learning:
Exposure to the language
Reading and language learning are deeply connected. Through books, children get exposed to a large amount of language in a short amount of time. They will learn a lot of new vocabulary, key phrases, and grammar, which can help improve their English comprehension, their writing, and their speaking skills.
Learning through topics they are passionate about
Reading doesn’t just provide a lot of language exposure, it also helps children connect to topics they are passionate about. By learning new things, children will become more curious and even develop new hobbies.
Books can be a great conversation starter
Lots of children read books. By engaging in the same hobbies, EAL children can develop friendships with their peers and integrate better. Improving their socialising skills can also make them more confident in their English skills, even if they don’t speak it fluently just yet.
Books provide a safe space
Multilingual students face lots of challenges especially when they first come to the UK. Books can be a great source of escapism from day-to-day life.
Reading benefits us all, especially EAL children. Illustrated books, fiction novels, poem books, or even children’s dictionaries can be great English reading practice.
By having access to lots of books in their school libraries, EAL students can overcome all challenges and achieve great academic success. You can help make that into a reality by donating books to local schools through the Books2all app.
If you have any books you would like to donate to schools, EAL students will benefit from them greatly. Your help is much appreciated.