Developing Literacy for EAL learners

Literacy is one focus of OFSTED in the UK from the start of this month.  First let us be clear what Literacy means…often these words are used without much thought about what it means… Literacy in education is how we help children enjoy reading and writing, with focus on three areas speaking and listening, and reading and writing.

With EAL learners John Foxwell Director EMASUK suggests we look at how to use Pip to support the parents reading to the children in either language (bi-literacy will also be improved when used effectively), use this lovely book to allow them to read to their siblings and new arrivals in English. Pip itself is bilingual so can be used to develop vocabulary by using the first language as a bridge. There is also the advantage of the picture book being part of the range, so that the parent/teacher and child can see how they have progressed in their development of their reading skills.

He further suggests starting points for conversations, and when linked to the computer programme it scaffolds writing by giving word lists.  It encourages story boarding by linking up pictures and words and develops personal awareness by making children think and discuss how they feel.

And so to OFSTED themselves.

OFSTED Inspectors report that they have found  that the factors that most commonly limited pupils’ learning included: an excessive pace of a lesson; an overloading of activities; inflexible planning, and limited time for pupils to work independently. In some schools teachers concentrated too much or too early on a narrow range of test or examination skills and few schools give enough thought to ways of encouraging the love of reading in school and beyond the classroom.

OFSTED have themselves suggested the following as good examples of how to develop good reading practice to support literacy development.

To get the reading habit integrated straightaway, in the first term of Year 7, the English homework for all students is to read independently at home. The school launched a joint parent/child reading group, attended by a local author, which inspired parents and pupils. Family Review Days held in the library give parents the opportunity to talk about books with the librarian and with students. They can drop in anytime to discuss how they can help their child choose a suitable book and offer support and encouragement.

The school annually updates and sends out a list of recommended reads to reflect current trends in reading as well as classics. It also produces ‘Reading Matters’ leaflets for parents, with useful hints and tips to support their child’s reading, which include the following.

• ‘Read aloud with your child, or try reading the same book they are reading and talk to them about it.
• Let them see you reading, whether it is a book, a magazine or a newspaper. Lead by example!
• If they enjoy movies or TV shows based on children’s books such as Tracy Beaker or Harry Potter, encourage them to give the books a try.
• Encourage them to read to younger brothers and sisters. We have a ‘babysitting’ box in the library with great books they could use.
• Encourage them to join the school Readers’ Club. They can then get involved in all kinds of extra-curricular activities, from drama workshops to meeting the illustrator from Beano!’

John Foxwell reminds us that Pip is available as a picture book or English only, or bilingually in  English and Polish, Albanian, Chinese Mandarin, Chinese Cantonese, Czech, Dutch, Russian, French, German, Nepali, Kurdish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Hebrew, Latvian, and Romanian  Add storycreator to make a truly useful inexpensive package for all language learners whether learning English, MFL Languages or bridging from their home language.

Being able to bridge the language barrier can save lives and money

Whether you speak one, two or more languages in critical situations it is more important whether you understand one, two or more languages and can communicate.  Whether this is by using the support of translation engines like EMASUK, or interpreters, the most important factor in my view will always be the safety of the child or patient. This is clearly easier to see within the world of  medicine where being able to find with clarity the problem to diagnose quickly and correctly is critical. This is also appropriate in schools where safeguarding, disclosure and again medical information needs to be transmitted from one person to another.

It was therefore nice to see this comment in the Red Orbit News:

Having bilingual staff to serve as medical interpreters can help prevent unnecessary testing and misdiagnosis. And clear, culturally sensitive communication can help produce greater patient compliance, satisfaction and improved health outcomes,” said Firoozeh Vali, PhD, NJHA’s vice president of research.

Gwent spend the equivalent of 31 officers wages on translation services

If Gwent are a small force and they are facing these costs how many police stations have other forces lost or not employed? Clearly they need to communicate with their suspects and need to find which are guilty to get them off our streets, but maybe they need to look at more innovative ways of talking to their suspects.  I asked John what he thought about this.

‘Maybe a change of thinking and giving the desk sergeants and beat officers the skills to talk to these suspects like using relatively cheap, yet effective hand-held devices and when there is access to a computer, Talking Tutor or Two Can Talk. With these the police officer only needs to speak English as it will translate and speak aloud in  many languages’ says EMASUK’s founder John Foxwell

‘Or’ said John Foxwell ‘by using the text translator create documents in Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Czech, Vietnamese, Turkish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Slovak, Albanian, Spanish, Latvian, Cantonese, French, Hungarian, Nepalese, German, Hindi, Italian, Portuguese, Tamil and Welsh, every day of the year, 24 hours a day instant access. This would allow innocent people to be released carefully,and speedier enrollment of suspects’.

If you are interested on finding out more you can contact John at

GWENT Police spent more than £700,000 on translators over the past six years.

The force needed to employ translators for dozens of different languages in this time, including Welsh, and spent a total of £717,493.

Translators are brought in to talk to suspects in crimes, as well as witnesses and victims.

In 2006/07, the force spent £75,225 on translators; this more than doubled the following year to £160,899 and peaked in 2008/09 at £172,247.

In November 2009, the Wales Interpretation and Translation Service (WITS) was set up, supported by the Welsh Government, other Welsh police forces and councils.

WITS finds bilingual people close to where they are needed, carries out security checks, language assessments and training and helped reduce costs to the police.

Languages translated in this time were Polish, Lithuanian, Bengali, Urdu, Romanian, Punjabi Indian, Czech, British Sign Language, Vietnamese, Kurdish Sorani, Punjabi Pakistani, Turkish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Slovak, Albanian, Spanish, Sylheti, Pashto, Latvian, Cantonese, Farsi, French, Hungarian, Nepalese, Swaheli, Algerian, Dari, German, Gujerati, Hindi, Italian, Krio, Malayalam, Portuguese, Somali, Tagalog, Tamil, Tigrinyan and Welsh

In 2009/10, the amount spent fell to £127,796, £83,529 before the introduction of WITS and £44,267 after, this fell to £95,348 in 2010/11 and £85,978 in 2011/12.

Between 2009 and 2011, Gwent Police paid a fixed rate of £36 an hour to translators.

Chief Inspector Tony Wilcox said: “All Police Forces have to comply with legal requirements to provide investigations in a language which people can understand. Without quality interpreters it  would be impossible to conduct investigations involving victims, witnesses or offenders whose first language is not English or Welsh.”

As well as languages one might expect translators to be needed for, such as Polish, French and Spanish, there was call for languages including Sylheti, spoken in North East Bangladesh, Krio, from  Sierra Leone, Tagalog, spoken by people in the Philippines, and Tigrinyan, which is spoken by people in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The force said it only kept a record of the list of languages it used translators for in 2010/11, when 41 translators were needed for 41 different languages

How would you feel if you could not communicate?

I empathise with this totally. I often hear people being disparaging about translations, interpretations and the irony is that whether using human or machine translations/interpretations or not they miss the point that communication is happening at the right level and at the right time. This at the end of the day is the most important thing for children and adults in classroom situations. For frontline officers in council offices, general offices, police, health authorities if you are the person at the desk and do not speak the language you immediately feel small and helpless. At this point help for both parties is required. This reminds me did you hear R2 a few weeks ago when John Foxwell from EMASUK talked about their hand held translator – wouldn’t it be good in these situations?–i-can-talk-to–brand-new