One of the key principles of teaching in the Early Years is that bilingualism has an advantage and that as the first language it has a continuing and significant role in identity, learning and the acquisition of additional languages.
In the Early Years Department of our school, 90% of new students to FS1 and their parents are EAL in the same home language (Arabic) and are taught by a majority of overseas hired teachers who have no prior experience of this home language.
In FS1, where we accommodate children between the ages of 3 and 4 years, it is very important that we acknowledge their home language not just pay lip service to it. We do this by providing bilingual teaching assistant support and encouraging parents to continue to use their home language especially during bedtime stories and everyday life experiences. These children are still in the early stages of cognitive and academic development. Language acquisition goes hand in hand with this development, building on the skills and experiences they encounter within the setting.
The home language should be valued and we do this quite successfully at our school by having Arabic taught in the early years’ classroom as opposed to moving to an Arabic only classroom. Having displays of children’s activities and photos of them working in Arabic lessons displayed prominently in the class and encouraging the Arabic teachers to use a similar form of early years pedagogy has had a very positive impact on children’s English language acquisition. The children see daily the interactions between the English and Arabic teachers; the rapport, respect and camaraderie for each other. The use of our Early Years topics to inform Arabic planning enables children to make connections with their learning. Also using similar approaches to synthetic phonics in both languages and displayed alongside each other. This shows our EAL children that we value them, their culture and their community; the results of which are that children in foundation stage at our school grasp English more confidently and securely and at a quicker pace.
Tools to support this development:
• Circle Time and small group activities
• Visual stimulation
• Props and artifacts
• Choral assemblies
• Rhyme and repetition as in songs and stories
• Real life experience and connections
• A secure and non-confrontational environment
• Daily interactive language practice
• Home/school connections
• Shared Home language/English assemblies and award ceremonies
• Home language displays not just translated labels on objects
Head of Early Years
Cairo English School
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