By Alan Mills
Working with learners who have English as an additional language can be challenging for teachers. But help is at hand from a group of experienced teachers and local authority advisers who have created EmasUK, a “digital vault of resources” that can be accessed the instant a child who can't speak English arrives in class.
EmasUK has been operating for about a month and charges £100 for annual membership. For that, the member school is provided with two areas of support - printable EAL resources and the ‘talking tutor’, a 'virtual' female (pictured) talking translator who can presently welcome students in more than 20 languages. For an additional £349 they also get CPD (continuing professional development) in music, language skills and creative play.
Membership should be eligible for the additional funding that is available to help primary and secondary schools support the integration and achievement of students who have come from overseas. And EmasUK will contribute £100 towards supply cover on all CPD sessions attended by members.
Currently EmasUK’s subject-specific resources are available in 136 languages ranging from the more familiar French, German, Italian and Turkish to some that many teachers might never have heard of. Take for example Yapese, which is spoken by the 11,200 inhabitants of Yap, one of the Federated States of Micronesia in the Pacific - or the Aboriginal Pitjantjatjara dialect.
Simple 'cute and paste' for translation - voice control next
Using the ‘Talking Tutor’ - a web or server based tool – welcoming a new arrival could not be simpler, and for the first time, teachers will have the opportunity to give instructions and involve the learner in normal classroom activities.
Just type or cut and paste the English text that needs translating (the new software for January 2010 will be voice controlled), choose the language that you want it translated to and press the Translate button. The text appears in the box below and the avatar reads it aloud for the learner or class to hear. If you want a response, and the child is literate, using a keyboard in the child’s home language means they can respond in English. The ‘Talking Tutor’ also makes for easier communications with parents.
EmasUK has brought together CPD specialists to offer practical classroom techniques teachers can use to help EAL learners feel confident and overcome issues that may arise. Apparently, using music is one of the simplest methods to make a new arrival feel welcome, but many teachers feel unsure of its use. So experts will demonstrate how to reinforce phonics and phonemes, create comfort zones and challenge learners to try new words, experiences and sensations in letter sounds through music.
Meanwhile schools can call on other specialists, like Mirela Timo, a native Albanian, to work with teachers to give them the skills and personal understanding to create empathy and passion for the learners’ development. In the end it is hoped that by developing their classroom-based practice, teachers will understand how a new arrival learns a new language while giving learners the space to maintain the positive aspects of their own language and cultures.
The creators of the not-for-profit company acknowledge the usefulness of existing local authority EAL resources by pointing out “many LA’s have created resources for EAL, some with outstanding results”. But they also warn that, although some of them border on genius, others lean towards confusion and disorganisation and “often fall by the wayside because of the needs of the service, time commitments and lack of staff”. EmasUK hopes to bring more coherence, cohesion and effectiveness for teachers at the moments when they most need support.