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EAL and early years

Familiarise yourself with the English as an additional language (EAL) guidance (March 2023).

This contains:

  • checklists for new arrivals
  • information on what topics to discuss in the welcome meeting
  • advice on EAL proficiency assessments
  • information on attendance, safeguarding and the ‘silent’ period
  • stragtegies for the classroom
  • how to access support, including the bilingual support programme for new arrivals.

Network meetings

We have regular network meetings for early years practitioners which are free to all early years settings. These meetings are held once a term and are open to any early years practitioner with an interest in supporting pupils learning English as an additional language.

To book your place at a network meeting visit the Devon Education Services website and search for EAL.

We can also provide bespoke training for settings covering topics such as:

  • bilingualism
  • induction and supporting new arrivals
  • teaching and learning vocabulary
  • multilingual storytelling
  • EAL assessment

Please check the EAL proficiency assessment resource for advice and strategies on supporting new arrivals and read our guide about reflecting on practice and provision.

We have also developed many useful multilingual resources for remote learning. These can be very helpful while children are away from their setting or school.

Welcoming new arrivals

Please see our page about new arrivals for more information. You can also find advice on how to manage the silent period.

Making your setting EAL friendly

To make your setting as friendly as possible you should try to:

  • encourage parents’ active participation in the setting, for example, using bilingual skills for storytelling and making dual language labels – link with parents and community groups to inform your planning and help you provide a global curriculum
  • raise all children’s and parents’ or carers’ language awareness, for example, a welcome sign in many languages, signs and labels around the setting in many languages, dual language books for free choice and to share at home, dual language storytelling songs or rhymes in a variety of languages especially counting songs and counting rhymes
  • use multicultural cooking utensils and dressing up clothes, multicultural food, cutlery and crockery in the roleplay area and encourage children to experience food from a range of cultural traditions at snack times and during cooking sessions – see the Eduzone website for ideas
  • provide opportunities for children to listen to music and play musical instruments from around the world
  • supply resources in the imaginative play area that explore a range of different cultures – use books and posters of families from a range of backgrounds, portraying festivals, decorative cloths, a variety of scripts and number systems
  • ensure dolls and puppets have accurate and realistic skin tones, facial features and hair textures. Supplement nursery rhymes and songs with visuals – see the Eduzone website for ideas
  • teach the whole class songs or rhymes in other languages – EAL children need to know that you value their home language and the monolingual children in your group can only benefit from this
  • read our guide to vocabulary teaching strategies
  • read the early childhood education in English for speakers of other languages report


The early years foundation stage (EYFS) is an excellent tool for assessing children in early years including those who have English as an additional language. It can be difficult to assess accurately with bilingual children unless it is done using the child’s home language.

The EYFS encourages practitioners to assess all areas of learning through the home language, except language, communication and literacy which Naldic disputes – see Naldic’s response to the EYFS.

We do not believe that communication, language and literacy can or should be assessed only through English. To do so, and to mark bilingual children against age-related expectations would mean that a high proportion may ‘fail’ and this would have hugely negative consequences for bilingual children, their families and staff who work with these families.

It is difficult in Devon where we don’t have access to many bilingual teachers to assess bilingual children accurately. We recommend using interpreters from Multilingua Devon and parents to support you in building an accurate picture of the bilingual child’s development.

One way to assess language development could be to work alongside an interpreter and the parent to complete an assessment using I CAN’s Talking Point.

We recommend that you use the early years EAL assessment alongside the EYFS in order to track language learning progress and set appropriate language learning targets for children.


If early years practitioners are concerned that a child is not speaking English they should use the EAL assessment. Some children go through a silent period so they will need time to acquire their additional language.

If a child is showing challenging or concerning behaviour or an inability to express themselves or make friends or no progress in EAL, please see our EAL and SEN website for further guidance.

The benefits of a bilingual brain

What are the advantages of having a bilingual (or multilingual) brain? This TED Ed video details the three types of bilingual brains and shows how knowing more than one language keeps your brain healthy, complex and actively engaged.


Other useful links