Online safety for EAL learners

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Online safety for EAL learners

Author: Yzanne Mackay

Everyone recognises the importance of staying safe online – but it’s not always straightforward. For many of us, computing – including social media, information technology and cybersecurity – is a whole new world, with its own conventions and language. Now consider the added element of dealing with all of this quite literally in a different language! That’s the situation our EAL learners find themselves in. Having arrived in a new country, they need to learn English as quickly as possible, for social as well as academic reasons.

Nowadays, however, they’ll no longer be learning English simply from textbooks and flashcards, but from online programmes as well, along with language apps, social media sites, films, YouTube and TikTok videos, and more. For all young learners, digital proficiency is an essential part of everyday life, and it’s perfectly likely that our EAL learners will be sending coherent WhatsApp/text/Instagram/e-mail messages to their new English-speaking friends long before they write proper paragraphs and essays with pen and paper in class.

Recognising risks

All of this is great news for communication skills – and a good teacher will find ways to harness the potential of the online world for their learners. But they’ll also recognise the risks EAL learners can face online.

For example…….
Dear customer,
We’ve noticed some unusual activity on your account. As a security precaution, we’ve place a limitation on your account.
Click here to resolve the problem’s.

What should you do? Should you click? Or is this a scam? And if so, how do we know it is?

For most of us, the poor use of English will be a give-away (‘we’ve place’, ‘problem’s’). The more cyber-savvy among us will also take a look at the greeting (why no name?) and perhaps the sender’s email address. The most cynical will simply bin any email they’ve not been expecting. But a new user of the internet in English might well be tempted to ‘click here’. It’s worth remembering that scams like this come through to mobile phones of users regardless of age – so even the youngest learners with access to a smartphone can be targeted.

And what about this WhatsApp message?
Hey you are really cool
My name is Ellie
I am ten years old
I like cats
can we meet in the park after school
send a picture of you

Is this person really a ten-year-old called Ellie who’s looking for a friend to play with on the swings? Or could it be something more sinister? And how will your learner know?

Working out the rules of social situations

It’s important not to underestimate the sheer level of bewilderment EAL learners can experience as they navigate a new country, school and society. In a world where almost everything is different and confusing, it can be extremely difficult to work out the rules of particular situations. For instance……

Is it OK to take part in a class WhatsApp chat group? Is it OK for your Mum to take part in a PTA class chat group? Is it OK to email your teacher after school to ask about homework? Is it OK to make friends with your teacher on Facebook to show them your holiday pictures?

Added to this social and cultural confusion is linguistic confusion. When so much brain-power is spent simply working out what the language used around you means, there’s little energy left over for other functions, such as trying to determine the precise intent behind an email or text.

Addressing online safety in class

These factors explain why it’s so important to specifically address internet safety with your new EAL learners. The Learning Village flashcard resources from Across Cultures can help here:

Internet Safety 1 (you are safe/unsafe when…) 
Internet Safety 2 (Don’t) 

You can use these flashcards as the basis of a lesson on internet safety for EAL learners. For instance, if your school is holding a Year Group assembly on online safety, it might be useful to pre-teach this content in a small-group EAL session beforehand. As well as delivering vital content, the flashcards introduce the learner to repeated sentence patterns and grammatical structures, helping them use and manipulate these.

The online world is here to stay – so let’s make it as safe and rewarding for our EAL learners as possible!

Across Cultures

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