There are now more than one million learners in UK schools who speak English as an additional language (EAL). This represents a considerable proportion of the school population, well above 15 per cent.

EAL learners come from very diverse backgrounds. Some arrive seeking asylum, while others follow families coming to the UK as economic migrants or for other reasons. EAL learners also include those who were born and raised in the UK speaking a language other than English. The most common first languages spoken by EAL learners include Polish, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and Tamil.

As a Speech and Language Therapist, parents with children learning English as an additional language often come to me concerned that when their child first starts school that they will be at a disadvantage compared to their monolingual English speaking peers. Parents also often ask me if their child will be confused learning two languages and whether they should focus on speaking English only at home with their child.

While it will take the child some time to pick up English particularly if this language is completely new to them, research suggests that bilingual children actually perform better academically, are socially and linguistically more aware and more cognitively and intellectually advantaged compared to their monolingual peers.

So the take home message is that being bilingual is something to be proud of and can actually be an advantage to your child academically so continue to encourage your child to use their home language/s as well as English as much as possible!
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