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Literacy for English Language Learners

While Irish has been learned as an additional language in the majority of Irish primary schools for many years, this page refers to the needs of foreign national pupils. The ability to speak, read and write in English is regarded as one of the most fundamental aspects of the 1999 Primary School Curriculum. It is crucial that the increasing number of foreign national pupils in our education system get maximum opportunity to develop their English literacy skills.


Research suggests:

  • First, the earlier in life we start learning a language, the further, in the end, we are likely to progress.

  • Second, children (i.e. younger learners) seem to enjoy certain advantages as regards mastery of the sound system of a second language…

  • Third, older learners (adolescents and adults) often make more rapid progress than children in the short term…

  • Fourth, it is in principle possible to start learning a new language at any time of life and to make worthwhile progress (Little, 2000, p. 11).

Effectively maintaining the child’s first language ability has been shown to be more likely to have a positive impact on additional language learning than cause problems. While a teacher may not have any skill in the child’s first language, s/he may attempt to enquire into their first language proficiency, provide dual language books where possible and recognise that the child may already have accomplished literacy skills.

Many EAL pupils may develop oral communication skills very quickly. It is estimated that it takes 5 years for a learner to develop cognitively/academically in an additional language. This is an important point to note in particular for new pupils in the senior end of the primary school, whose cognitive English skills are already developed across the curriculum.

It is important that we try to strike a balance between the pupil’s phonological / pronunciation skills and their thinking and reasoning skills.Teachers can give pupils the tools to articulate their thinking in reading and writing through modelling the thought processes involved in writing simple texts, or evaluating the merits of a piece of literature, for example. Teachers need to ensure that after the basics have been achieved, their approach to EAL reading instruction is based on reading for meaning.

Irish Facts

Schools are granted a language support teaching post for every 14 pupils with low English proficiency. Such pupils are entitled to a maximum of two years support in addition to the mainstream classroom. Schools are limited to a maximum of three language support teachers, regardless of pupil numbers.

Teachers Tools
  1. Whole Class Lesson Plans catering for EAL pupils

  • Reading

  • Writing

  1. Sample Individual EAL Pupil Learning Profiles (IPLP)

  • NCCA Draft Document on EAL teaching

  • NCCA Intercultural Education in the Primary School Guidelines

  • Integrate Ireland Language and Training

  • International Reading Association position statement on second language instruction

  • INTO Intercultural Guidelines for Schools

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