What is EAL?

What is EAL?

Although there are many acronyms associated with learning English, including EFL, ESL and EAL and much debate about the exact definition of their meaning, EAL (English as an Additional Language) recognises that the learner has already acquired one language and has decided to learn another language.  In our setting, English as an Additional Language refers to students who are learning English to be able to use two languages in their daily life, to become bilingual.

How does EAL work in a bilingual setting?

In our setting, the bilingual programme works as Chinese knowledge is built on and introduced in English in a variety of themes through play and exploration.  Our programme has a Chinese immersion day followed by an English immersion day.  On a Chinese day the concepts are explored, discussed and reinforced to ensure the children have understanding in this area before they are introduced in English.  Bilingualism offers children the opportunity to become both bilingual and bi-literate in two languages.  Research shows that bilingualism has positive effects both linguistically and educationally as children gain a deeper understanding of language in practice and are able to use it effectively. Studies have shown that well-balanced bilinguals have advantages over monolinguals in thinking and academic achievement.

The EYFS supports additional language learning through a variety of activities.  Music is a valuable way of learning a new language. Simple songs, rhymes and stories chanted rhythmically are a way for children to feel comfortable making first attempts to use an additional language.  Illustrated stories read bilingually can be useful by introducing a story initially in Chinese and then reading it in English so the children can transfer their understanding. Stories are also a fun and allow children to develop their imagination, helping children to develop a wide range of ideas and feelings. By sharing the same stories, children also gain confidence to join and repeat the story, even retelling it to each other.

What is the key to teaching Chinese children?

There are certain challenges for all children learning an additional language. Research has shown that the best age to learn an additional language is between 3 to 4 years. When children are immersed in an additional language through play and exploration they will learn it easily as they are natural learners.


Chinese is a monosyllabic language — each character has only one syllable. Each character is clearly pronounced. Challenges may include:

  • English sounds such as /v/, and /th/ are not found in Chinese (Students may pronounce /v/ as /w/ and /th/ as /s/ or /z/)
  • English consonant clusters such as /tr/, /dr/, /st/, /pl/ may require a lot of practice to blend the sounds
  • Pronouncing each syllable in English words
  • Adding a vowel after some consonants (adding /ə:/ to consonants “s”, “x”, “t”, “d”, “k” for example after “t” and sometimes “ll” in “football” /fʊtbɔːl/ as /fʊtə:bɔːlə:/ and after “ll” in hill /hɪl/ as /hɪlə:/)


By children learning English from a young age and in a similar manner to learning their first language, through play and exploration in a comfortable environment it is hoped that they will learn the sounds naturally when they are ready. This is the reason why we do not teach the alphabet letter names to children.  If they learn the letter names first, it becomes very confusing when we introduce the letter sounds and the letter sounds are important in developing phonics.

What is phonics?

Phonics instruction teaches children the relationships between the letters (graphemes) of written language and the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language. It teaches children to use and write words. The goal of phonics instruction is to teach children the most common sound-spelling relationships so that they can decode, or sound out, words. This decoding ability is a crucial element in reading success. In this way, phonics enables children to use individual sounds to construct words. For example, when taught the sounds for the letters t, p, a and s, children can build up the words “tap”, “pat”, “pats”, “taps” and “sat”.

In our setting, we follow the DfES Letters and Sounds programme which allows children to build up their phonics knowledge and skills systematically. In EY2 we begin Phase 1, the emphasis is to allow children to develop their listening skills, prior to beginning Phase 2 phonics in EY3.  Phase 1 phonics develops children’s awareness to sound discrimination, tuning into sounds, listening and remembering sounds and talking about sounds. The programme will progress based on the children’s individual ability and at a rate that suits their level and skills in the ultimate hope that they become happy speakers and readers of English.

Jane Williams
EAL Coordinator
Wellington College Bilingual Shanghai