Stop saying “EAL”

Is it time we stopped using the term EAL?

EAL is a very stretchy term and so incredibly diverse. What does it mean?

EAL is where children with a home language that is not English are taught through the medium of English. But is it helpful or a hindrance?

Professor Victoria Murphy at the University of Oxford thinks that using ‘EAL’ as a category is problematic and speaking about it in general terms is reckless.

In a Tes Podagogy podcast she said,

The way it is defined is so general, it really just highlights children who have another language in the home,” she explains. “It does not speak to whether and to what extent the child is exposed to English since birth or any other context, and it doesn’t say anything about their proficiency in English. And, importantly, it does not say anything about their knowledge of their home language or proficiency in that language.

Professor Murphy also draws our attention to the way EAL can be used as a deficit term and seen as a negative attribute.

The problem we have is that there loads of terms being used and the picture can get very confusing.

As British Council research notes, in the UK EAL is the most common term but in the USA its equivalent is English Language Learners (ELL). Elsewhere researchers and teachers will say English Language Teaching (ELT), English as a Foreign Language (EFL), limited English proficiency (LEP), English as a Second Language (ESL), and English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

Leung and Creese (2010) remind us that these different terms act as descriptive labels and inherent within them are particular ideologies.

The debate around the best pedagogy for EAL students also includes “translanguaging” (the use of different languages together).

What term do you use in your school?

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