How to identify SLCN in a child with EAL

English as an additional language (EAL) is where children will learn their home language alongside English. Both languages will be used in their daily lives. This is different to English as a second language, where the home language is fully developed and they learn to use English later in life as a secondary language for communication. Research shows that learning English as an additional language at a young age is the best time to do so as children have the capacity to learn two languages alongside each other. Learning two languages at the same time does not hold your child back in any way and can actually provide many benefits.

Not all children with EAL will have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), however this does not make them immune and some children with EAL may have SLCN. Speech, language and communication needs is just as common in children with one language as it is in children with EAL.

It can be difficult to know when a child with EAL has SLCN. It may take a child with English as an additional language 2 years to become a fully competent communicator in English, it can therefore be difficult to identify the language learning needs of a child with EAL when they are still learning to communicate effectively. It is also important to remember that although the children may have fully developed social communication skills, they will need longer to acquire the complex language needed to learn in school. If the child has SLCN, this will occur in both of the child’s languages (home language and additional language), this is the main indicator to remember when attempting to identify SLCN in a child with EAL.

As speech, language and communication difficulties will occur in both of the child’s languages they must be assessed in each language. If a speech and language therapist can fluently speak and understand the child’s home language this would be the most ideal situation as they could assess the child’s skills in both languages. Unfortunately, it is rare that a speech and language therapist would be available in that speaks both the child’s languages. A trained interpreter is the next best option to formally assess a child’s language in their home language.

Another method of information gathering is to ask the child’s parents / carers. If you have any concerns regarding a child’s language in English it is important to gather information from the home language to see if they share the same concerns. They will be able to identify if their child is having difficulty with certain aspects of language as they are experts in their own language and their own child.

Another important aspect to consider when identifying SLCN in EAL is the cultural differences. Before assessing a child with EAL we must research their culture to ensure we are culturally aware of any differences in social communication that we may not expect e.g. differences in eye contact or body language. This will help us to guide our information gathering and decision-making. As well as culture we must value the importance of all languages that the child speaks.

If your child or pupil has English as an additional language (EAL) and feel that they have speech, language or communication needs (SLCN) do not hesitate to contact us on or 0330 088 2298 to talk to one of our speech and language therapists or to book an appointment.

About Nadia

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