English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) learners

EAL/D learners are plurilingual

EAL/D students come to school with a complex set of language skills for learning, and English is a developing part of this repertoire (Busch, 2012). Their knowledge of their multiple languages is interconnected and integrated, even if they have different degrees of proficiency and literacy in Standard Australian English and their home languages or English dialect varieties (Stroud & Heugh, 2011).

The term ‘multilingual’ is often used to describe different languages. In current literature, ‘multilingual’ refers to communities or texts in which more than one language is used, while ‘plurilingual’ describes the integrated set of different linguistic skills that one person can use in order to learn or communicate (Ollerhead, Choi & French, 2018).

For example, a multilingual newspaper might contain the community language and English. An EAL/D learner who is plurilingual ‘is able to integrate their knowledge of multiple languages in a way that enriches their communication and learning in all languages’ (VCAA, 2019). A plurilingual approach towards teaching EAL/D students recognises that language learners use more than one language in many aspects of life.

Using a plurilingual approach, EAL/D students learn by understanding and analysing content and language. A plurilingual approach connects to EAL/D students’ entire repertoire of meaning-making. This includes:

  • prior knowledge

  • knowledge of language

  • metalinguistic skills

  • different ways of perceiving the world.

Functional and plurilingual approaches complement each other to support EAL/D students’ learning 

Students use language to achieve a range of personal, social and academic functions, for example, telling a story, retelling what they did on their holidays, or persuading an audience of a particular point of view. It is important for EAL/D students to learn explicitly about the functions of different types of texts that they will encounter in different learning areas such as English, Science, History of Mathematics.

Model texts are used to teach students about:

  • the context of culture

  • the purpose and audience of a text

  • language choices in expressing ideas, interacting with others and structuring texts

  • language features at the levels of text, paragraph, sentence, group, word and sub-word (Derewianka & Jones, 2016).

The focus on the functions of different text types can be enhanced through a parallel approach that connects with students’ multicultural experiences and their ability to use all their languages to communicate and learn.

EAL/D students can use their shared linguistic resources to negotiate meaning with others (Heugh, 2018), for example, when the students use their shared language to clarify meanings in a text that they read. This supports classroom learning and strengthens the personal, social and academic benefits for the students. Both the functional and plurilingual dimensions “are necessary for education and most particularly for learning” (Heugh, 2018, p. 360). Teaching practices that combine functional and plurilingual approaches are effective in building on students’ existing capabilities and developing powerful skills in English.

Some plurilingual skills and knowledge that EAL/D students develop through formal and informal education include:

  • knowledge of text structures, grammar, vocabulary, and phonology of different languages

  • the ability to compare linguistic features of different languages

  • cross-cultural and cross-linguistic interpreting and translating skills

  • cultural knowledge

  • conceptual knowledge learnt through different languages

  • understanding multiple ways of learning and being a student (Cummins, 2009; Saxena & Martin-Jones, 2013, p. 287).

EAL/D students can transfer knowledge of their home languages to learn the English language and develop their literacy across different subject areas in the Victorian Curriculum. Teachers assist students to do this by:

  • formalising the use of skills in different languages for learning

  • supporting students to learn through explicit instruction in different genres (French & Armitage, forthcoming).

Home languages support content learning

Research shows that newly arrived EAL/D students can take two years to develop English for social interaction. EAL/D learners who have received age-equivalent schooling in their first language take at least five years to develop the language to engage with age-appropriate curriculum. Students with disrupted or limited prior schooling take an average of seven to ten years (Cummins, 1996; Cummins, 2008). EAL/D students’ home languages can support them to learn new language and content.

Students engage positively and learn effectively when they see themselves reflected in the content of the curriculum (Cummins, 1996, p. 147; Adam & Harper, 2016). Using plurilingual practices in the classroom helps teachers to understand the range of skills their students bring to learning, and subsequently to raise the complexity of tasks for EAL/D learners (D’warte, 2015).

Purposeful use of plurilingual strategies activates the prior knowledge and experience that is encoded in students’ home languages (Cummins et al., 2005), so that students can be encouraged to transfer content, linguistic knowledge and academic skills between their languages. Home languages are valuable for brainstorming in oral and written activities (Cummins, 1998, de Jong & Freeman Field, 2010, García, Flores & Woodley, 2012 & Liu, 2010).

Teachers do not need to speak their students’ languages to use plurilingual teaching strategies. They can support concept and vocabulary development by facilitating students to ask and answer questions in multiple languages (Hardman, 1999), to label vocabulary in the home language (Schwinge, 2003), and to discuss instructions and ideas in same language groups (de Jong & Freeman Field, 2010; Hardman, 1999).

Teachers can also:

  • learn aspects of students’ languages

  • display vocabulary charts with multiple languages in the classroom

  • acquire plurilingual resources such as bilingual dictionaries or home language books (de Jong & Freeman Field, 2010)

  • encourage the use of multiple languages alongside English in classroom activities by strategically grouping students for collaborative tasks (Goldstein, 2003; Mohanty, Panda, & Pal, 2010). For example, grouping students with shared languages (Chau, 2007; Goldstein, 2003; Liu, 2010) for a group writing task so that they can brainstorm ideas in their shared language and discuss how to communicate the ideas to the class in English

  • encourage students to generate ideas or discuss work in home languages (Goldstein, 2003) and English as appropriate for the purpose of the task.

Home languages support English language and literacy development

Together with functional approaches, plurilingual pedagogies support EAL/D students to learn English and communicate effectively. Students translate new words, check comprehension (Chau, 2007; de Jong & Freeman Field, 2010) and formulate English sentences (Chau, 2007).

Teachers can teach students to transfer linguistic knowledge from one language to another (de Jong & Freeman Field, 2010) by:

  • comparing expression and meanings across languages

  • modelling experimentation with different languages (García et al., 2012)

  • asking students to teach and explain aspects of their language (Skilton-Sylvester, 2003)

  • sharing feedback and explaining corrections using English and home languages in peer conferencing activities (de Jong & Freeman Field, 2010; Hardman, 1999).

Using home language in all modes contributes to developing EAL/D students’ English language and literacy skills. Teachers can provide home language realia (i.e. objects and material from everyday life used as teaching aids) or plurilingual books to help students engage with reading (Schwinge, 2003).

Fine motor skills such as handwriting are transferable across languages, so practising home language writing is also valuable (Skilton-Sylvester, 2003). One example of using multiple languages in written tasks is the creation of home language speech bubbles and comments to accompany English language stories (Schwinge, 2003).

Speaking and listening and EAL/D learners
Reading and viewing for EAL/D learners
Writing and EAL/D learners
Multilingual multimodal texts and EAL/D learners

For more information on the benefits of developing both English and the home language, see: Information on multilingualism

For posters on the benefits of home languages and more information on free workshops on raising children in more than one language, see: Speak to your child in the language you know best and raising children in more than one language

For additional resources and examples of using the plurilingual approach, see: FUSE EAL and the City University of New York website


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