Special Words and children with EAL - Our Blog

September 5, 2018

It has been said that the beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you. Developing new skills and acquiring new knowledge is one of the most exciting things about our academic life. However, what about if your native language is different to everyone else around you? Just how do you develop in an environment that is speaking foreign to you?

Max, a native Russian speaker, using Special Words

Many children are now arriving at English-speaking schools only able to speak in their native language with a non-existent or limited range of English vocabulary. This in turn means they are unable to communicate with their classmates and teachers, hindering their social and language skills, educational development and ability to adapt to the culture around them. Their language learning needs are sometimes overlooked within educational texts, as well as in the wider school environment. It becomes assumed that these young children will simply "pick up" English naturally and be fluent in it in no time at all. These are high expectations to have for children, particularly when learning English comes with not only developing their linguistic ability but understanding how to socially converse within this new social and cultural context.

This is where Special Words and Special Words Pro can enter to help the child develop their language skills and sight word vocabulary. Special Words currently includes 26 languages and we are continuing to add to our translations across our apps and on our website. Special Words, as well as its Pro edition, provides you with an initial list of 96 written words with correlating pictures and audio. From this, you can then add fully personalised content to match the child's development, adapt to their language needs and expand their current knowledge to coincide with the curriculum.

You are then able to use six different activities, each of which aim to strengthen specific areas and levels of a child's ability. For example, the activity Match Words relies on visual strength and reinforces language and literacy skills. This activity is not so much about being to read the word but about being to identify the length and shape of specific words. Word to Picture develops a child's receptive language skills whereas Picture to Word strengthens sight word vocabulary and understanding of words. We also have two sound matching activities, added as requested by speech therapists, which help to support and develop expressive language.

In parallel to this, these apps can also allow you as a teacher, therapist or professional to assess the knowledge of the English language that the child currently has. This pre-assessment will provide you a foundation on which to base their learning on before pushing their understanding and learning of new knowledge within the curriculum guidelines. It can also help you to identify areas of weakness and key aspects to work on in the short term, such a conversational language, which will help the child integrate socially into the class. After all, a large proportion of the language we all learn comes from our social interactions.

As an teacher, this would also be a great opportunity to educate the rest of your class. Being bilingual or multilingual is something that should be celebrated within your classroom. These children can teach the others about their language and culture, universally developing everyone's language skills. Even if the other children only ever learn a few simple words, it's more than they could all converse with before. It's a great way to develop every child's social skills, of accepting other cultures and being open to the wider world around them.

Learning the English language is not about replacing a child's native culture. It is about retaining their native culture while developing their understanding of their new adopted culture. It is about breaking communication barriers and nurturing an inclusive environment in which everyone can converse.

We would love to hear from those of you who have used Special Words with a children who is learning English as an additional language (EAL). How did the app help them to progress? What ways did it allow you as an educator to assess their language skills? Is there anything else that helped you to develop their English language alongside our app? Whatever the case, we'd love to hear from you so feel free to send us an email (support@specialiapps.org) or contact us on our social media channels (@specialiapps).

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