The theory of bilingualism

Understanding the theory of bilingualism can assist in the process of deciding which strategies to implement. Each pupil is an individual and there is no 'one size fits all', so consider the pupils attitude to learning, skills and prior learning when devising a personalised approach.


Challenge kept high

Keep the challenge high. The most common error is to underestimate the potential of pupils. Jim Cummins explains the theory of enabling EAL pupils to access cognitively challenging learning experiences, and uses the Cummins Quadrant to illustrate where activities lie on the continuums of high/low challenge and context embedded/reduced.

Chad Manis's website 'Daily Teaching Tools' has a range of effective strategies to ´╗┐increase participation, interest, and motivation. Step-by-step examples for planning, implementing, and evaluating inductive and deductive activities that really work with kids.´╗┐

Catch up to peers

Scaffold learning to enable children to close the gap between where they are and the age related expectation. Usually EAL pupils will make rapid progress in the early stages of learning English as they are developing Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS), often exceeding the termly expectations. Expect a lot and aim for these pupils to catch up to peers as soon as possible, however realise that the developmet of BICS takes place over a period of 1-2 years.

After the initial years of learning social language pupils move into developing Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), which is where they learn the language for expression of higher order thinking such as hypthesizing, predicting, generalising etc. Pauline Gibbons explains the theory of scaffolding in her book 'Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom'.

Curriculum-based content

Pupils will learn English as they learn the knowledge and skills of the curriculum. Whilst sometimes it is appropriate to teach discrete modules such as phonic catch up programmes, by and large pupils with EAL should be accessing the curriculum and learning content alongside their peers, although work will usually need to be differentiated.

Continued use of the home language

Use of the home language should be encouraged as pupils benefit from drawing on their strong linguistic skills in the language they feel confident in. Allowing pupils to converse in the home language for such things as discussing new concepts or creating new ideas can free pupils up to think and talk quickly. They can then slow down as they process the information and report back in English. 

Not all pupils will want to speak in their home language; it is worth perservering with encouraging pupils as sometimes pupils are reluctant because they have always considered the home language to be only used outside school, or they are concerned about what others will think. Showing that you admire and respect their skills will help them to value their language skills. Providing access to dual language books, audio CDs and CD Roms can be a good way of enabling pupils to continue learning in their home language even when the teacher has no knowledge of the language. Jim Cummins explains the theory of transferring skills from one language to another, highlighting the benefit of bilingualism in creating greater understanding of language.