Key features for EAL Departments
English has a reputation for being particularly tricky to learn. Its style norms, borrow words and idiosyncrasies have grown and compounded over generations of global proliferation.
Learning English can be easier or harder depending on the similarity of the learner's native language (aka L1). Swedish is one of the closest cousins of English. A Swedish native speaker is likely to find the process considerably easier than a Chinese native speaker.
Languages can be compared in a range of aspects - phonics (sounds), syntax (word order), sentence structure, vocabulary, to name but a few.
Speakers of different L1s will find English challenging in different ways.
For instance, Korean has no capital letters. Chinese has no subject-verb-agreement or tense inflections. Spanish has no auxiliary verbs. Japanese has no stylistic preference against repeating nouns within a sentence.
L1 translation issues
Learners who translate language directly from their L1 will encounter many predictable and natural mistakes.
Meaning is not always impaired, but some cases will create confusion: in Korean, Turkish and Japanese, respondants to a negative question ('Don't you like popcorn?') will use yes to agree with the statement (speaker doesn't like popcorn), and no to disagree with the negative (speaker does like popcorn). Misunderstandings are easy to imagine.
One of the top priorities of English teachers is to enable clear communication of meaning. Stylistic fluency comes afterwards. Both are served by focused, repetitive, and independent practice of common difficulties.
Rollama EAL Challenges
That's why we created EAL Challenges: different curated lists of games which address English skills that are particularly tricky for speakers of specific first languages.
We closely studied academic research (see link below) to identify which games would have the greatest impact for EAL learners of each background.
We are always looking to increase the list of first languages we cater for. Please get in touch if you have a request.
Swan, M. & Smith, B. (2001) Learner English - A teacher's guide to interference and other problems. Cambridge University Press.
Rollama's EAL Provision
I was a teacher in the UK, and International Schools in Malaysia, and China for 15 years, with EAL cohorts of up to 75% of intake.
I found the core subject that students were most confident in was maths, especially compared to English — and it's no surprise when you consider that parents for whom English is an additional language are far more likely to be able to assist in maths.
English results were always significantly lower than maths scores.
My students (mostly KS2) loved using English, and communicated effectively in speech, when meaning could be constructed interactively.
The hardest part was motivating students to persist in practising written accuracy — typical oversights like capital letters and full stops were no surprise, as they are common for all children.
The trickier issues to solve were inconsistencies for English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners: verb tenses, and verb-subject agreement; irregular plurals and past tenses; commas and pronouns. These are the sorts of language features which simply have no equivalent in Korean, Chinese, or Arabic.
I tried everything, but I never found a way to get students truly interested in spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG).
Short exercises in lessons, sure, but voluntary practice? Outside of school? Never!
It’s understandable – writing stories is far more fun than editing them, but as teachers, we know how inaccuracies can affect the flow of a text.
To make an impact, learners — especially those learning EAL — need motivation to keep practising regularly for fluent fundamentals.
That’s why we built Rollama – to engage students with games and a system of rewards which keeps them coming back for regular practice.
We now have 16 game modes and pages covering over 160 language objectives to spark SPaG superpowers in your school.
Don’t take my word for it – try a free 30-day trial and see how it can change the way your students behave towards English practice.