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There are so many varieties of what an International school’s classroom looks like.  At the International School Bangkok (ISB), the classrooms look similar across pre-k-12th grade.  They are rich with students whose home language is NOT English, and they have students who are new to English and then there is everyone else (native English speakers, Learning Resource students, Speech-Language students, high-flyers, intervention etc..)

  • ELL:  English Language Learners (not in official program support)
  • EAL: English as an Additional Language (official program support)
  • EAP: English for Academic Purposes (official program support)

Provided is a visual for the EAL support program in the Elementary school at ISB.  As all students have Academic language needs, some students have more demanding English needs, and these students receive extra support with the English as an Additional Language Program (EAL). When there is a most urgent need for English language learners (these are the zero English beginning speakers), and extra class is provided to support their language needs outside of the classroom in place of one of their world language choices (Students take Thai or Spanish or Mandarin or English).

The goal of the EAL program is to meet students needs inside a push-in support co teaching model, and a pull-out academic based English language support class.  With the partnership of the amazing language rich experiences provided by the mainstream teacher, and the extra support from the EAL teacher inside-outside the classroom…the EAL students are able to succeed with learning English and academic content throughout the day.

How do parents play a positive role in fostering good language habits for their children?  Can schools influence what language parents speak to their child at home?

As an EAL teacher, I work daily with young non-English speaking learners and help support their English language acquisition.  As the school language is English, about 60% of the students speak another language other than English at home.  What should parents do?  Speak their home language or their non-fluent English to their children?  Parents want the best for their children, and they want their children to be successful at school.  Many parents feel responsible to teach their students English.   My view?  NO!  Parents please speak your mother tongue and start at the birth of your child!!  Speak your native language at home, and leave English (or other target language) to the system at school.  When non-English speakers teach English to their children, this can present an array of problems for the learner:  confusion of identity; poor grammar; and lack of mother tongue.

Each family situation in unique.  An important role at my school is educating and fostering communication with parents. Meeting with parents and setting up educational workshops is an effective means to help educate parents on current research,  school expectations, and ways they can support their child’s home language.  Research shows: “The level of development of children’s mother tongue is a strong predictor of their second language development.” Jim Cummins.  This means….if your first language is strong, chances are the second, or third language you learn will also be strong.

Here are a few examples of how languages look in different families:

Mai is a girl who speaks Thai at home with her parents.  They read in Thai daily.  She has a good vocabulary and can express herself in Thai very well.  When Mai learned English, she was also able to express her ideas and use a good vocabulary. The strengths of her home language transferred into strengths in her second (…third etc.) language.  A strong first language foundation for Mai was established.

Elan speaks both Hebrew and French at home.  French only with mom, and Hebrew only with dad.  The family language is French and Elan learns English at school.  Elan knows what is expected of her in each speaking context and has little problems speaking the appropriate language for the situation.  When asked what language she thinks in, she says mostly French.  She has the potential to be a successful multilingual, multi-literate citizen and she is 6 years old.  Parents have a clearly made family language plan.

Bryce is Korean.  His parents do not know English very well, yet decided to speak to him in both Korean and English.  The English goal was to help him get ready and have “head-start” in his English speaking school.  Bryce does not read in Korean and has learnt to read in English, yet has difficulty.  Bryce cannot express his ideas clearly in Korean nor in English.  Bryce mixes the languages in context and gets frustrated.  He is weak in both languages.  He faces a deep challenge with understanding his academics.

The lack of a strong first language foundation can have profound effects for learners.

Parents, talk about goals for your children and be consistent 🙂