Teaching an EAL child to read

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maizie
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Teaching an EAL child to read

Post by maizie » Wed Sep 17, 2008 11:06 pm

If it weren't already enough to have a record number of Y7s with poor reading skills to deal with this coming year, we have admitted a child who has only been in the UK for a few months, has a smattering of spoken English and cannot read any English. I do not speak the child's language.

I have volunteeered to teach the child to read and could do with some advice on the very early stages from all you experienced EAL teachers out there.

It seems to me that we need to have a few phoneme/grapheme correspondences learned very quickly so that we can start working at word level, both for reading and vocabulary learning. I can see that I will have to do a lot of linking words to pictures, objects and actions, but my main worry at the moment is, how fast can I intrduce discrete PGCs?

Teaching a native speaker to read would involve introducing PGCs one at a time over the course of a few days, but then, the teacher is able to do all the listening for phonemes and looking for graphemes that help to consolidate the learning. Of course, I don't have the language to explain this with, nor is the child likely to discriminate phonemes in words she doesn't even know are words! But I don't think that 30 minutes of solemnly saying /s/s/s/s and wriitng the grapheme is going to be the way to go!

Can I introduce, say, 3 or 4 phonemes in one lesson, so that we can start blending into nouns (with pictures to explain what they are) straight away, so making the lessons meaningful from the start?

I am told that in the child's native country reading is taught through phonics, so I am hoping that she understands what we are trying to achieve. The child is 12.

I am meeting with the Ethnic & Traveller Service people later this week, but I suspect that if they offer any help with teaching reading it will be 'look & say'

JAC
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Post by JAC » Wed Sep 17, 2008 11:41 pm

Perhaps check out some of the EAL sites, of course Peter Warner's and David Lisgo's to start with!
I have a similar student this coming holiday, aged 13 who cannot speak or read English, just agreed to take him on yesterday.
My sketchy plan at present is to spend some time on labelling and categorising, perhaps a few helpful phrases, all oral, then for reading starting with BRI with the same approach I use with 5 year olds.
I shall also be grateful for advice from this thread

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Post by maizie » Wed Sep 17, 2008 11:52 pm

then for reading starting with BRI with the same approach I use with 5 year olds.
That sounds like a good idea, but would it develop vocabulary (both spoken and written) fast enough?

Perhaps I 'd better pop off to the BRI board :smile:

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Post by noor_warda » Thu Sep 18, 2008 3:04 pm

Teaching of synthetic phonics to EFL students has to be done alongside of teaching them the sounds of the language. When I teach the simple code to my students, I consider that I am teaching them the 44 sounds in English and I do a LOT of work on getting them to recognise and pronounce each of these sounds. The most difficult sounds for EFL students are the ones that are not in their language but are very similar to sounds that are in their language. For example my students who speak Arabic find distingushing the sound /e/ and /a/ extremely difficult because these are the same sound in Arabic (one is Gulf dialect the other Levantine/Egyptian dialect for the same vowel mark) , and there are several other vowel pairs they struggle with for the same reason, and the difference between the consonants /b/ and /p/ - I do activities with them that include pointing to or holding up the correct flashcard as I say the sound (both in isolation and within words - ensure you include the letter in different positions within the word), also I teach pronunciation by getting them to watch my mouth as I say the sound, and even drawing diagrams of the mouth and tongue on the whiteboard.

Some teachers prefer to teach correct pronunciation/phonemic awareness before introducing any graphemes. I find - with my students who are teens and adults and literate in their first language which is alphabetic and has similar blending rules to English (albeit using optional vowel marks rather than letters for short vowels) - that the presence of a grapheme gives them the indication that this is a new sound, distinct from the other ones. This makes them attend to the difference between the sounds that sound the same to them. Adults and teenagers find it very hard to hear the difference between sounds when one is a sound in their language and the other is one that isn't in their language but sounds similar to one that is, and if you don't focus their attention on the difference between the sounds they never hear this difference, and so attempting to teach phonics without doing this will cause confusion for the students. However many EFL teachers never draw their students attention to the different sounds in English and just accept poor pronunciation and serious difficulties in reading and spelling as inevitable. However I find this attitude regrettable and consider teaching good pronunciation an very important part of EFL teaching, because it can lead to difficutlies in communicating, for example last year before I had introduced SP one of my lower intermediate students said "I told my husband not to bark in the street" which is quite a serious miscommunication from just changing a single sound in the sentence. I find that presenting the meaning of similar sounding nouns with a picture next to the word (decodable), or by showing the objects that the words mean, highlights to the students the importance very early on of learning to distinguish between similar sounds.

If you don't know the student's first language, you'll have to find out by trial and error which sounds they find particularly difficult, however this shouldn't be difficult if you simply introduce simple code in a systematic way, keep on reviewing the sounds he knows already and checking that he can distinguish between all the vowels, between voiced and unvoiced versions of the consonants and between other similar sounding consonants. Also listen carefully to his pronunciation of the sounds and the words, this will also highlight any sounds he's having difficulty with. Remember that if a student is pronouncing a sound wrongly that it could be because he can't distinguish the sound from another similar one, or beccause he can distinguish the sound but doesn't know how to make the sound, or a combination of both. So its very important to include work on distinguishing the sounds as well as on prounciation.

Your exact approach at teaching pronunciation and SP will depend on different factors - the age of the student, because younger children find it a lot easier to hear and imitate different sounds just through listening to speech than teenagers and adults do (I also find the older the adult the harder they find this) but may find blending and segmenting a lot more difficult than adults and teenagers - the language background of the student also, including whether the language is alphabetic or not, because if the language is not alphabetic they may not have learned how to break language down into individual phonemes - also whether the student is literate in their first language, I've not come across any information about teaching SP to EFL students who are not literate at all in their first language, but I find that as my students already know how to blend and segment in Arabic, they can apply this to English easily. The only difficulty (which is fairly easy to remedy) is getting them to realise that short vowels can't be ommitted like they can be in Arabic. So presumably students who are not literate in their first langauge will need to have a lot of focus on blending and segmenting as is done for young children.

I think that teaching spoken langauge alongside phonics is important for students' overall language development and motivation as reading incomprehensible text gets boring very quickly (although students like the fact that they can read long and fancy sounding words), but the language learning should be done without text initially and then only with decodable text. When it comes to complex code, I try to tailor the introduction of complex code to the vocabulary the student understands and can use orally, and the vocabulary they are learning at the present time. This makes it a lot easier to combine phonics with their instruction in langauge learning and each can support the other. However I'm in the position of teaching both to the same students, it sounds from the above posts like the students are being taught English by one teacher and reading by another. This means you will need to keep in close communication so you can work together, also the teacher that is teaching English needs to initially teach it text free and be fully clued up about the importance of only including decodable words.

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Post by noor_warda » Thu Sep 18, 2008 3:10 pm

one big advantage of using SP when teaching EFL,is that once students have mastered simple code, it can help you teach correct pronunciation of new words, for example one of my students who struggles quite a bit with pronunciation, was having difficulty saying the word "vegetables" the other day, I tried initially having her copy me saying it, the usual way to teach pronunciation but she was struggling with this, then I wrote "vejtublz" on the board for her and she read it and pronounced it perfectly straight away. When I do this, and when I introduce new complex code sounds and words, I draw a small picture of a pen next to the correct spelling, and put the simple code sounds of the words in a speech bubble, so they can see exactly how its written and how its said. I do this with complex code graphemes, e.g. aw (pen picture) = or (in a speech bubble) then a list of aw words and a speech bubble next to the first in the list.

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Post by maizie » Thu Sep 18, 2008 10:01 pm

Thanks, everyone, for your help so far.

Mary, she is Thai, and I am told by the person who is supporting her in school for a few hours each week (who is also Thai) that in Thailand the children are all taught to read with phonics. So she should understand the 'idea' of what we will be doing.

I am worried that the EAL people will want me to do 'look & say', but as I know nothing about the local EAL service I could be way out in my assumptions.

But I still really want to know, can I start by teaching her more than one PGC in a session?!

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Post by JAC » Fri Sep 19, 2008 12:17 am

I too appreciate the advice. I have another question, regarding children who are some way along the road to learning English, spoken and written, but whose spoken English is inaccurate, mostly missing off verb endings which indicate past or present tense, missing off plurals, iinacurate with irregular verbs and so on. I have 2 or 3 students like this. Their parents are (misguidedly?) providing a model that is itself inadequate. I think it is syntax errors primarily althugh vocab. is also limited, but more easily remedied.
Any good books with a nice clear systematic programme laid out suitable for primary aged chldren?

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Post by chew8 » Fri Sep 19, 2008 8:23 am

Maizie -

If reading has been taught by phonics in this child's own country, I suspect that it's more likely to have been a letters-to-sounds approach than sounds-to-letters - this is actually fairly normal in non-English-speaking countries with alphabetic writing systems. For this reason, and because her spoken English is probably too limited for the idea of distinguishing phonemes in spoken words to work well (especially if her pronunciation of the words is inaccurate), a letters-to-sounds approach would make the best sense, I think - e.g. teach her a few letters and a clearly-pronounced sound for each and get her sounding and blending simple words for everyday objects for which you can provide pictures, e.g. as in the 'Jolly Phonics' manual.

It seems to me really important to stress the reading side of things with someone like this. The sooner she is able to read English, the sooner she will start increasing her vocab. through reading.

Jenny C.

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Post by Susan Godsland » Fri Sep 19, 2008 12:27 pm

I'd like to recommend Act-Ed's DVD 'Understanding Synthetic Phonics' for this situation. There's a very good demonstration of teaching SP to EAL children done by Jolly Phonics trainers Celeste Musgrave and Tina Di Mauro:

http://www.act-ed.co.uk/sp/introduction.html

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Post by maizie » Fri Sep 19, 2008 5:53 pm

Thanks again, everyone.

I met the child today; thankfully, her spoken English is better than I had been told it was, so following instructions won't be such a headache. It seems to me that I have three areas to work on; teaching her to pronounce the 'missing' phonemes, teaching her some vocabulary and extending her PGC knowledge. She is able to read simple correspondences (tried her with Jelly & Bean 'Dog on a Log') but seems to have no idea how to work out words she doesn't 'know', so I suspect prior 'sight word' teaching.

I'm afraid that the EMATS (Ethnic Minority and Traveller Service) lady wasn't a huge help. She suggested that teachers used cloze sentences and writing frames with her, but did understand our logic when we pointed out that she probably wouldn't be able to read, or know the meaning of, words in cloze sentences! It was us who suggested that a Thai/English, English/Thai dictionary might be a useful thing for the child to carry with her. EMATS lady thought this a novel, but good, idea :???: Much of the material she had with her was very 'sight word' ish...

The child had a subject exercise book with her, which showed that, although she didn't know the meanings of many of the words she had copied from the board, she did at least have beautiful handwriting and can form alphabet letters well...

I am looking forward to working with her.

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Post by chew8 » Fri Sep 19, 2008 6:55 pm

I'm sure that her spoken English will come on in leaps and bounds just from rubbing shoulders with the other children.

I know a pair of twins who started school a year ago speaking only Arabic - they picked up spoken English in no time at all.

Jenny C.

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Post by chew8 » Fri Sep 19, 2008 7:17 pm

Marylennox write 'I don't think it matters at all if the teaching has been letter to sound - I have not found it a problem'.

Of course it's not a problem. I think it's a great pity that the sounds-to-letters case has been presented in a way that makes letters-to-sounds seem inferior. It's worth bearing in mind that the Austrian approach, on which UK synthetic phonics is based, is letters-to-sounds to the extent that Austrian researchers (well, at least one prominent one that I spoke to) are vague about how many phonemes they are dealing with and that spelling by segmenting spoken words and selecting letters to represent them is not encouraged (see Wimmer and Mayringer in 'Journal of Educational Psychology' 94/2, 2002).

Jenny C.

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Post by noor_warda » Sat Sep 20, 2008 12:17 am

JAC wrote:I too appreciate the advice. I have another question, regarding children who are some way along the road to learning English, spoken and written, but whose spoken English is inaccurate, mostly missing off verb endings which indicate past or present tense, missing off plurals, iinacurate with irregular verbs and so on. I have 2 or 3 students like this. Their parents are (misguidedly?) providing a model that is itself inadequate. I think it is syntax errors primarily althugh vocab. is also limited, but more easily remedied.
Any good books with a nice clear systematic programme laid out suitable for primary aged chldren?
If the parents speaking to them in bad English at home is really the source of the errors, I think someone should tell them its best not to and explain why. However I suspect this may not be the reason, at home usually parents would speak to the children in their own langauge, so they'd only hear their parents speaking bad English for a minimal amount of time, e.g. when speaking to people outside the home, compared to hearing it correctly all the time at school. If their brains are still wired up like very young children, this exposure at school should be enough to be able to speak English accurately in due course. If they have passed through this critical age (I think around 6-7 years on average) they will need to be taught more like adults, in which case my advice about this is to teach the grammar explicitly, explaining the different tenses, how to make them and how to use them.

There is a trend in modern language teaching to omit this kind of grammar teaching - the result is students who speak with the kind of grammatical inaccuracies that you describe. It is important to do this kind of grammar orally. If grammar practice is done only through writing - as it was often done in the past - the the student isn't learning to use it at speaking speed, and the result is students who can understand grammar well but can't use it when speaking and have a lot of difficulty speaking the language. The new "trend" of omitting explicit grammar instruction comes from people believing that too much emphasis on grammar has a negative impact on the students ability to speak confidently, but I find that doing oral grammar exercises is very effective in helping students to both understand the grammar and be able to use it naturally when speaking.

you should set the language in context, e.g. talking about "what did you do yesterday?" for past tense etc. This can be introduced with a story that the students can understand which uses past tense, or just start by asking them what they did yesterday and move on to teaching how to talk about yesterday and past tense. Start with regular past tense verbs (add "ed" pronounced as /d/ /t/ or /ed/ depending on the sound at the end of the verb) because these are easier and more universal - then move on to teaching the commonly used irregular past tense verbs. Start by modelling the correct forms, then have the kids repeat them (initally) then make (as they get more confident) short present tense and past tense sentences using the irregular forms, I find this is the best way to get them to memorise them - e.g. "Every day I go to school. yesterday I went to school." Do lots of work where they use present and past tense forms very closely like this. Future tense - do the same thing "every day I go to school, tomorrow I will go to school" Model the sentences first and have the students substitute different verbs and other words in the sentences. For the tenses and irregular verbs that have different forms depending whether its first person, second person etc, the oral practice needs to include conjugation, e.g. I am, you are, he is, she is etc. Kids can recite these like times tables as an aid to memory- but they need to be putting all forms into sentences as well right from the start.

For contrasting the present simple and present progressive the following sentence structure is good (emphasise the "now/today" of the present progressive and don't move on to present progressive with future meaning until they get it as a "now" tense) - "I usually wear trousers but now I am wearing shorts" or "Every day I walk to school but today I am riding a bike" etc.

you can make this kind of sentence making into games, or challenge them to come up with silly (but gramatically correct!!) sentences "e.g. I usually eat cornflakes for breakfast but today I am eating curry and bananas" - or have them mime actions and the other students in the group have to say what they are miming, e.g. "you are riding a bike" (present progressive) - or draw a picture of what they did yesterday and other students say "you went to the park, you played on the swings" - that kind of thing.

Plurals, just emphasise that if there is more than one, there is a /s/ or /z/ or /iz/ sound at the end - do lots of practice "a cup" "two cups" etc. You can combine this with numbers/counting and "how many...?", include lots of examples where there is just one, emphasise that where there is just one, you say "a pen" and where there is more than one you say "two/three/etc pens" or "some pens" - this kind of thing can be easily made into a game (e.g. guess how many (object)s there are in my bag.)

For advice about the order to teach grammar in, if there are no good books for teaching kids, get an EFL adults grammar book as a general guide, this will include ideas of how to explain the usage of different grammar and structure, but the activities and examples will need to be made age appropriate for the kids. "English Grammar in Use" by Raymond Murphy published by Cambridge is good, its actually a self study book for intermediate students but its excellent for getting ideas for lessons and its very systematic, and is full of novel ways of explaining grammar (timelines, mini stories etc). but remember that beginners/near beginners will go at a much slower pace than an intermediate student doing self study for revision, and that beginners/near beginners will be doing grammar alongside lots of vocab work, and this vocab work needs to include lots of work on irregular verbs. You don't need to include all the rules about each tense in one go either, just stick to the most common uses of the tense to begin with there's plenty of time to revisit it later on for more detailed usage.

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Post by JAC » Sat Sep 20, 2008 10:05 am

Many thanks Noor, for suggestions to concentrate on oral, and for the book.
I have 2 students at present whose parents are not speaking in their native language but speaking in poor English thinking this is helpful. I believe it is not uncommon. I have a couple of German friends who both spoke to their children in English, consequently cutting children off from ease of conversation with German relatives. A centre near us which deals with children's developmental problems advises parents not to use two languages at home, and to concentrate on English.
So what are parents to do when they get conflicting advice. In families where both parents have different native languages it is more of a problem.
Where both parents speak the same language it is probably more likely that the child will become bilingual, with one language in the home and one outside.
Of course there is also the possibility that my students would have had delays whatever language they were exposed to and the second language is a secondary issue to compound existing difficulties!

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Post by noor_warda » Sat Sep 20, 2008 12:54 pm

I have looked into this in detail, because we live in an Arabic speaking country and we want our daughter to speak Arabic as well as English. What I found out, reserach wise, is that it is best if they hear the same langauge from the same person or people consistently, and an additional language consistently from a different person or people.

This is the same when both parents speak a different native language: Back in the UK we knew a family where the father was Lebanese and the mother was English, each spoke to their son only in their first language, the result was that at the age of 3 he was fluent in both languages and switched instantly between them as he switched between speaking to each of his parents - for example, he'd say something to his mother in English, then turn to his father and say the same thing in Arabic. With young children, confusion can arise if the same parent switches which language they use to speak to the child, the child may think its all one languge. Although in Algeria, French and Arabic are constantly mixed up even within the same sentences and Algerians seem to figure out which words are French and which are Arabic as they grow up. Algerians mix the two languages frequently and switch rapidly between them when speaking among Algerians, but are able to speak just in either French or Arabic to someone who knows just one of the langauges.

We speak English to our daughter at home, and ask native Arabic speaker friends to speak to her in Arabic. All the other children she knows speak only Arabic, and she speaks Arabic with them quite happily. She speaks in full sentences in English, and in 2-3 word phrases in Arabic. (she's 26 months old) One of my former colleages at the language school grew up speaking English at home and was sent to an Arabic speaking school to learn Arabic - she's completely fluent in both languages. I know a family in the UK who came to England with six children speaking no English at all, after just one year of speaking Arabic at home and English at school, all speak English fluently and the three youngest (age 4, 5 and 8 upon arrival to the UK) have accents that are like a native speaker's. Given both the studies I've looked into and my experience, I find it quite worrying that families are being advised to speak bad English at home with their children. I think this is not only hindering their progress in English by getting them into bad habits, in addition like you said there is a danger that they'll lose the ability to speak confidently in their native language. I find it particularly worrying that a centre is advising parents to do this!!! I'm not in favour of having non native speakers teaching a langauge, unless they are extremely proficient and have near perfect pronunciation, because its is very difficult to undo bad habits in students and if they are taught poor pronunciation as correct then their ability to understand native speakers is very badly hindered, sometimes to the point that they cannot understand native speakers at all.

There are better ways to help children to learn English quickly - send them to age appropriate English classes (you can teach kids as young as 2 or 3 using age appropriate methods) - give them plenty of opportunity to interact with native speakers (both adults and children) and send them to nusery/school with native speakers. Even having the kids sitting watching TV in English helps alongside having opporutnities to speak and not just listen. Parents should be advised to speak their native langauge to their children at home and find other ways to increase their children's exposure to English. Parents should also be taught about the advantages of being bilingual, and that bilingualism shouldn't be sacrificed in an attempt to get children speaking one language as quickly as possible.

The reserach on children growing up in bilingual environments is that their langauge development in any language is slowed a little initially - because they are processing twice as much linguistic information - but that once they are fluent in both languages they have an advantage in language learning for life. I did my teacher training in Wales, where is it said among French teachers that you can tell which children speak both Welsh and English fluently and which only speak English, just by observing how quickly they learn French. There have been some studies in the past that suggested that bilingualism is "bad" for children, but these only concentrated on the very early stages of language development not on any advantages gained later on. My husband spoke two different langauges before he was three, the second he started learning when he was two - he now speaks at least 6 and learns new ones very rapidly. He speaks Arabic better than I do despite having spent a lot less time studying it than I have.

Regarding bilingualism and other learning disabilities, I taught a boy in Wales who had various learning disabilities, he was below level 3 in science (which I was teaching) in year 9, but was completely bilingual. In fact he found it hilarious that I didn't know the Welsh words for things and would speak to me in Welsh just so he could laugh at me, which was quite a boost to his overal self confidence it seemed! I don't have a huge amount of experience of this, but I would advise finding out what is done as best practice in the Welsh speaking areas in Wales, because the majority of children in these areas are bilingual from a young age, and they ought to know what is best practice for children with learning disabilities in a bilingual environment.

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