A review of Second Language Learners in International Schools

Maurice Carder with Patricia Mertin and Sarah Porter (2018)

Second Language Learners in International Schools

UCL Institute of Education Press

Maurice Carder is a hugely distinguished figure in our profession.  His forty years of teaching experience in international contexts allied to his deep understanding of the key academic debates of the last forty years around ESL/ELL/EAL issues make this book a must read. Indeed, it is a new addition to the reading list for The EAL Academy’s online course[1]. His stature is such that Virginia Collier provides the foreword. His work has always been highly valued by NALDIC. In 2009 he was guest editor of an issue of NALDIC Quarterly (a predecessor of this journal) devoted entirely to international schools and including articles on mainstreaming, the complexity of international school culture and language and learning in the IB.

The book is a very comprehensive account of how to address the needs of students who, in Carder’s words, are not native speakers of English. Throughout the book Carder champions research based academic rigour in classroom practice and programme design. It is worth buying just for the concise and well refenced guides to Collier and Thomas, Cummins, Krashen, Garcia et al.

His two collaborators add significantly to the value of the book. Patricia Mertin contributes chapters on the benefits that English language learners and their parents bring to international schools, the case for effective CPD and the importance of supporting mother tongue development while Sarah Porter gives an admirably clear account of her current work as the EAL Co-ordinator at the British School of Bucharest, highlighting the importance of an effective language policy and CPD for all teachers as well as EAL specialists.

However, there are two strands of the book in which assertion and anecdote sometimes replace the research based approach that usually prevails. Carder has strong views about terminology (he doesn’t like EAL) and the management of EAL provision.

The term EAL is one that Carder seeks to banish. He associates it with the downgrading of language specialists and the introduction of crude support models to replace highly knowledgeable and skilled teachers. My recollection, as someone who moved in the late eighties from being an English teacher to what was still known as an ESL teacher is that we were embarking on a period of massive and positive change. We started talking about EAL rather than ESL because it described our pupils much more accurately. English was frequently not their second language, but their third, fourth or fifth. They lived in multilingual households and still do. A Year 6 pupil of Pakistani heritage may be living with a grandparent who speaks only Punjabi, parents with different degrees of fluency in English and literacy in Urdu. This pupil may also have older siblings who speak to him or her in English most of the time. All of the family have some Qur’anic literacy in Arabic and they all watch films in Hindi. English as a second language is an inaccurate description in these circumstances. Celebrating plurilingual practices and using them to aid learning is much more helpful. I think that’s true whether you are a Y6 Pakistani pupil in Birmingham or grade 5 pupil with one Ukrainian and one Russian parent learning in an English medium school in Berlin. Carder may be right about terminology in international schools, but ESL just won’t wash in the UK, where it’s use would be a very retrograde step. I also cannot help thinking that major English speaking countries such as the US, England and Australia have a poor record on the teaching of languages other than English. There may be just a little bit of linguistic imperialism in the term English as a second language.

When NALDIC started in the early nineteen nineties, its founders chose that name rather than something like the ESL Teachers’ Association for very good reasons. The National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum is a name that signifies clearly that our job is not to dwell in cupboards drilling basic English into newly arrived pupils. On the contrary, it implies that EAL learners need to be in mainstream classrooms accessing a very full curriculum, the delivery of which is significantly influenced by the expertise of EAL specialists.

In much the same way that NALDIC has argued for many years for the “distinctiveness of EAL” Carder argues effectively for the “need for ESL to be recognised as a distinct discipline.” There is a strong case for this argument. Carder has a very powerful chapter on the role of external bodies (such as the Council for International Schools) in developing accreditation regimes that fail to acknowledge the potential and needs of multilingual learners. Aligned to the accreditation regimes he identifies the problems in the emergence of managerial professionalism. Managerialism and its associated performance data driven culture have replaced staffroom collegiality, squeezing the influence of people with expertise in pedagogy. I am sure that is widely true in English state schools as well as international schools, though I did have the pleasure earlier this year of doing some training at the New School Rome, where the headteacher is elected by staff, parents and pupils.[2]

Leadership and management have been transformed in schools (sometimes with positive consequences and sometimes not) over the last 30 years and are the terrain in which we operate. So it seems to me the only option is to speak school improvement speak sufficiently fluently to have influence and promote the best practice that Second Language Learners in International Schools identifies so well.[3] In fact, I am struck by how many teachers trained by major EAL CPD projects such as the EAL strand of London Challenge have gone on to become effective senior leaders in schools precisely because their EAL background gives them a cross curricular and whole school perspective.

International schools are often part of big businesses, educating five times as many students as they did twenty years ago and offering fascinating professional opportunities for many more English speaking teachers. They have also changed character significantly. In 2000 the great majority of pupils in English-medium international schools around the world were the native English speaker offspring of expatriates. However, “the vast majority of enrolments (approximately 80%) are now children of local families attending an international school in their native country.”[4] So the importance of engaging with the issues raised by Carder and his colleagues is greater than ever and they deserve our thanks for this excellent book.

[1] https://www.theealacademy.co.uk/services/onlinecourse/

[2] https://www.newschoolrome.com/about-us/

[3] I would also advise against condemning managers for their youth as one of Carder’s correspondents does on page 38.

[4] https://www.iscresearch.com/about-us/the-market

 

This review first appeared in EAL Journal Summer 2019

Want to know more?

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up here to receive our termly EAL newsletter.

Click here

Read our blog

Read our latest articles on academic literacy and find out about schools that are really good at teaching EAL pupils.

Click here

Access our resources

EAL Handbook, Language for maths, History and geography academic literacy handbook, Academic word list highlighter...

Click here

Sign up for our online course - university accredited and 100% online

Find out about our Accredited online EAL course which you can complete in your own time from anywhere in the world.

Click here