Speaking and listening and EAL/D learners

Speaking and listening in English allow EAL/D students to engage with school - to connect socially, understand what is happening in the classroom, engage with content and build their English language skills, including reading, viewing and writing. EAL/D students spend their school days listening, processing and responding to new language and content simultaneously, and this can take a lot of attention and energy. Using students’ home languages strategically to practise, analyse, reflect on and share ideas reduces their cognitive load and supports their learning.

EAL/D students begin learning English at different points in their lives. Therefore, EAL/D students entering English-immersion schooling at different stages may need to develop foundational skills in speaking and listening.

Foundational skills in listening include:

  • distinguishing the sounds of the English language
  • discovering sound-letter relationships
  • decoding the sounds, recognising words, and recalling or predicting the meaning of those words
  • building understanding of rhyme, rhythm and the sounds of the English language
  • building meaning from words, sentences and texts
  • connecting meaning to context, and making decisions about how to respond
  • building meaning from prosodic features (stress, pitch, intonation)
  • applying these skills to increasingly academic and decontextualised topics (Gibbons, 2002:, p. 102-103).

Foundational skills in speaking include:

  • making decisions about what meanings to express
  • choosing words and composing sentences to communicate intended meaning
  • articulating speech using the sounds of the English language
  • connecting speech with other communication modes including written text and images
  • connecting speech with gesture, action, etc.
  • negotiating meaning back-and-forth with speaking partners
  • applying speaking and listening skills to increasingly academic topics and formal contexts.

A focus on text types combined with the strategic use of EAL/D students’ understanding about their existing languages is important in teaching EAL/D students about English grammar and structure. Developing students’ understanding about the similarities and differences between spoken English and their languages scaffolds EAL/D students to process new language and content. Some strategies are:

  • modelling appropriate spoken language in context, such as giving a speech at school assembly or at a birthday party
  • teaching the structure and content of listening texts prior to a listening activity, such as a news report or an educational podcast
  • providing opportunities for students to revisit the same spoken text, such as creating audio and video recordings of the same text
  • using home language to plan ideas, and discuss how to explain in English
  • rehearsing interactions independently or with same language peers, with feedback provided in English and/or home language.

The teacher can also create rich opportunities for students to interact with the teacher and each other in meaningful ways to practise speaking and listening in meaningful contexts. This may include:

  • discussing lesson topics, instructions and shared class experiences
  • discussing how students think, learn and use languages
  • reducing teacher talk in the classroom
  • introducing and practising protocols for small group or pair conversations
  • giving students time to think and formulate what they are going to say
  • providing sentence or question stems and prompts to help students compose their speech.

EAL/D students have different levels of proficiency in English and in their home language or other languages, which may affect the confidence with which they communicate in their different languages. The teacher observes and understands students’ behaviours and communication competencies to inform and develop learning goals for speaking and listening. The teacher may also learn a lot by observing students’ interactions with Multicultural Education Aides, speaking to them, their parents or others close to them.

For more information about identifying students’ learning needs in speaking and listening, see: Tools to Enhance Assessment Literacy for Teachers of EAL students - Common Oral Assessment Tool


Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding Language Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. Portsmouth: Heinemann.