Effective strategies to support Additional Language Learners

Supporting Additional Language Learners (ALL) students in a multilingual classroom requires tailored approaches that acknowledge their unique linguistic needs and challenges. Additional Language Learners are all those for whom the school language represents an additional language to those they learned or acquired before. Many studies focus on EAL students, i.e. those who have English as Additional Language, but what I am sharing in this post can be applied to students of all languages, i.e. German/Dutch/Romanian/Italian etc. as Additional Language (AL).

By implementing effective strategies, educators can create an inclusive learning environment where AL students thrive alongside their peers.

Here are some proven methods to enhance support for AL learners:


1  Utilize Visual Learning:

Incorporate visual aids such as labeled images, videos, and gestures to supplement verbal instruction. Visual cues aid comprehension and facilitate understanding of new concepts for AL students, while benefiting all learners by providing multiple modalities for learning.


When it comes to using gestures and body language, it is important to know what gestures are used by the students in their respective home languages.


2  Strategic Seating Arrangements:

Seat AL students near the front of the classroom to improve visibility and audibility. Pairing them with proficient speakers can serve as language models and foster peer support.


Make sure that the students know why they are seated in front, and that they can choose their seats and have a say when it comes to peers or language buddies sitting next to them.


3  Promote Group Work:

Encourage collaborative activities to boost engagement and provide opportunities for AL students to practice speaking in a supportive environment. Select peers who exhibit patience and serve as positive language role models for effective group interactions.


Make sure to form a supportive and encouraging group around the AL students, and allow each student to communicate in their very own way – by using their other language, gestures, actions instead of words, should they not be ready to speak yet. For students who struggle with communicating with peers, engaging them in an activity that you, the educator, initiates, can be more motivating. Smaller groups will be less intimidating.


4  Adapt Teaching Style:

Adjust your pace of speech, enunciation, and instructional approach to accommodate AL students. Allow additional processing time, repeat instructions. Try to avoid or provide very clear explanations of idiomatic expressions and culturally specific terms.


Know what pace in speech and intonations the students are used to in their other languages: if they are used to turn takings with clear gaps or rather overlapping ones, they will feel more comfortable with a similar style in the school language. Pacing down doesn't always mean to choose a simplified vocabulary. Depending on the student's level of proficiency, a clearer enunciation – i.e. sounding out all syllables of the word – might be more helpful.


5  Embrace Other Language Use:

Recognize the value of students' other languages as a foundation for language acquisition and learning. Allowing the use of their other languages in group discussions and translation aids like dictionaries can foster confidence and deeper understanding.


Not all AL students are literate in their first languages, others have been schooled in another additional language first.
Some can speak, but not read or write, some can read, but not write, and others can speak, read and write to various level of proficiency. Be aware of the students' individual capacities to avoid making them feel guilty not to be able to do the task in their other languages. 


6  Preparation Prior to Lessons:

Provide learning materials in advance to AL students to facilitate pre-learning and comprehension. Advance access to articles, videos, or key vocabulary enhances readiness and boosts confidence.


It is advisable to involve parents whenever possible, to facilitate access to the learning materials, and invite them to discuss the topic with the students before the lesson in order to set the context of the topic.


7  Respect Silent Periods:

Understand that language acquisition involves stages, including a silent period where students may hesitate to speak. Avoid pressure to verbalize prematurely and allow AL learners to express themselves at their own pace.


Should the silent period persist more than 6 months despite you using various strategies mentioned in this post, I advice to search the help of a Speech and Language Therapist or a Child Psychologist.


8 Cultural Sensitivity:

Learn about the students' names, backgrounds, and cultural norms to create a welcoming atmosphere. Respect cultural differences in communication styles and non-verbal cues to foster inclusivity.


Knowing how to pronounce the names of your students should be a priority: it shows them that you care, that you see them and that you make the effort to call them by their name. On the Nameshouts site you can look up ways to pronounce names for example. Have also a look at the video on our youtube channel about how to say my name


9 Effective Feedback:

Offer constructive feedback that reinforces positive efforts and gently corrects language errors. Employ techniques such as modeling correct structures and praising attempts at challenging language tasks.


Avoid correcting mistakes every time, instead, repeat and expand what the students say, or reformulate the student's mixed utterance by way of an expressed guess or question.


10 Address Challenging Behavior with Empathy:

Recognize that frustration with language barriers may manifest as challenging behavior. Respond with empathy, understanding, and appropriate behavior management techniques to support AL students emotionally.


Learning a new language means to be allowed to make many mistakes, to struggle and be frustrated at times. Create an encouraging environment for the students and, whenever necessary, remind them what they are capable of, what they already have achieved.


11 Support independent Learning:

Guide students to resources like bilingual dictionaries, simplified texts, and online language learning platforms to facilitate independent study and skill development.


Use scaffolding techniques to provide students the support they need as well as the autonomy and independence to continue learning at their own pace and in their very own way.


12 Engage Parents:

Foster effective communication with parents by offering translated materials, encouraging involvement in school activities, and providing updates on curriculum topics and resources for home support. You can create informative word maps on the website of your school, or for the year group you are teaching for parents to consult whenever possible.*


No matter the age of the students: when they are still learning the school language, the support and help from parents is beneficial for academic success and a more balanced and healthy approach to the whole learning experience and outcome. 


13  Continuous Professional Development:

Invest in ongoing AL training for educators to enhance your own understanding of effective teaching strategies and stay abreast of best practices in language acquisition and learning.


If you haven't done so yet, learn a new language. When we learn new languages we can better understand what our students are going through and can be more supportive of their learning.


14 Utilize Assessment Frameworks:

Implement assessment frameworks tailored to AL students' needs to gauge proficiency levels and inform targeted support strategies and resource allocation.


Make sure that the assessment frameworks are up to date and take into account the diverse language and cultural background of the individual student.

By implementing these strategies, educators can create a supportive and inclusive learning environment where AL students can thrive academically and linguistically.
Effective support for AL learners not only promotes language acquisition but also fosters their overall academic success and socio-emotional well-being.




* Create opportunities for parents to share their cultures and languages, ex. during International Day, by celebrating particular festivities, International Day of Languages etc. You can invite parents to talk about their country, let them share about subject areas (ex. if you talk about volcanos in Iceland, a parent who is geologist can share their expertise). Anything that fosters inclusion, diversity and community will make the whole family feel welcome, seen and appreciated with their diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Schools are the second home for international parents.  As educators you can collaborate with the parents to ensure the best context for the children to develop in a healthy way.



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Posted in Bilingualism, Intercultural Communication, Language Change, Language Development, Language learning, Maintaining Multiple Languages, Multilingual, Multilingual Education, Multilingual Families, Raising Multilinguals, Terminology and tagged , , .

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