At NAIS Pudong we are rightly proud of our diversity and aim to celebrate each and every one of the nationalities and cultures that, together, form our collective identity. An identity that makes us proud to be together each day. Supporting children from various backgrounds as all international schools do, creates a range of needs in the students that walk through our doors. Most of the children at NAIS Pudong are what we call EAL learners to some degree or another but what does EAL mean?
A learner of English as an additional language (EAL) is a pupil whose first language is other than English:
'First language is the language to which the child was initially exposed during early development and continues to use this language in the home and community. If a child acquires English subsequent to early development then English is not their first language no matter how proficient in it they become.'
Does that sound like your child? For the vast majority of parents reading, your child would be considered an EAL learner at some level. Learners will be at different stages of English language acquisition (from complete beginner to advanced bilingual), but even those at the same stage of English language acquisition will have different backgrounds and needs. For example, they will have had different previous experiences of schooling before they came to NAIS. Some will be literate in other languages and might already have developed concepts in other subjects, such as science and mathematics, through another language. Others will have had little or no formal education and might not be literate in any language. Some will be gifted and talented; others will have learning difficulties and/ or disabilities.
In the Primary school, we run classes using the Cambridge English Qualifications to aid our learners’ development from what the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) terms as basic English development right through to the proficient level required by our successful IB learners at the other end of the language spectrum.
Of course, it is well known that learning a new language is generally quicker and easier when you are younger. Having been at the school a long time, I can still remember a fresh-faced boy called Eric beginning my Year 1 Class with only a rudimentary grasp of the English language. What a joy it was (although it made me feel quite old) to congratulate him on his perfect IB score of 45 when he graduated three years ago!
Even with success stories like this though, the question isn’t necessarily what can we do for the EAL learners? Rather, it is what can they do for us? We are lucky to have children from all over the World, each with a different story to tell. Our job really is simply to give them the forum to enjoy telling it.