Linguistic diversity and EAL in schools

Information about the diverse language backgrounds found in classrooms and how to use simple strategies and existing resources in Languages programs in schools.

Language backgrounds in schools

Why is there the need to cater for linguistic diversity?

Because it provides opportunities for children to develop their language potential to the fullest:

  • in a language in which they have some background
  • in a language they have acquired as a second language
  • or by acquiring a third or additional language

In what way?

  • Through language sharing: those with less background can hear the language being used in a natural way
  • those with more background can feel good about their language
  • both groups have the opportunities to communicate with each other in the language

What types of language backgrounds do we find in classrooms?

In a typical language classroom we will find students with many different backgrounds in the language. These include students with English as an Additional Language (EAL). When the language skills and multilingual experience of EAL students are recognised and drawn upon by teachers, there are many benefits to these and other students in the language classroom.

More information about these positive aspects is available in the brochure Languages programs and EAL students: Understanding the benefits (240kb pdf).

The brochure draws on a wealth of research about the positive value of prior language knowledge EAL and other students bring to the classroom. Information about this research is available in Understanding the benefits: References (140kb pdf).

Students in Languages classrooms are likely to have a range of different language backgrounds and experience.

EAL students for instance may know:

  • one or more home languages,
  • English,
  • other languages learnt during their schooling and life, and

the language they are currently learning in a Languages program at school.

Other students may have had more limited exposure to languages other than English, while some may only had experience of English outside of the Languages classroom.

Simple strategies to support EAL students and language diversity in Languages classrooms and at school

There are many simple strategies teachers can use in the classroom and at school – we have collated some useful and effective examples in Effective tools to investigate the linguistic repertoire and practices of EAL students (730kb pdf).

Community resources in language programs

The languages taught in our schools are also spoken by communities in the society we live in. Those communities can provide valuable opportunities for language teachers and students.

Why do we utilise community resources for language programs?

Exposure to a living language outside the four walls of a classroom is the most effective way to learn a language.

Melbourne, with 27% of its population using a language other than English at home, offers an environment rich with resources that lend themselves to language sharing. Teachers should tap into these resources to enhance the learning experience of their students.

What types of community resources can we utilise in our programs

  • Students of mixed background in the community language within the school
  • Institutions and community organisations eg centres for the elderly, social clubs, retirement homes, welfare organisations, church groups, sport clubs where people who speak the various community languages reside or congregate
  • Shops and shopkeepers eg greengrocers, restaurants, cake shops, banks, music shops, christening/baptism shops, etc. where there are visible presence of signs and symbols of various community languages as well as shopkeepers who are native speakers of these languages

Activities have been developed to demonstrate the effective use of community resources in language programs. These activities can be used as models and be adapted to any community language.

RUMACCC is also involved in the compilation of reports on language programs in schools which provide valuable background information and resources, particularly for planning of language programs.

More information is available on the Language education in schools web page.