Tips for teaching students with English as an additional language

Increasingly, students at La Trobe come from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Many of these students have English as an additional language (EAL); that is, English is not their first language, or 'mother tongue'. Sometimes these students are described as coming from non English-speaking backgrounds (NESB), or as culturally and linguistically diverse students (CALD), although some CALD students do speak English as their first language.

Who are EAL students?

It's important to recognise that when we talk about EAL students, we are not only referring to international students. Many local students speak a language other than English in the home. This group includes students with a very diverse range of experiences, from those who were born here and speak a language other than English with their parents to those who completed their schooling overseas in a language other than English and have recently settled in Australia. In 2012, 3% of domestic La Trobe students were officially classified as non English-speaking background, but this figure only includes those students who arrived in Australia less than ten years ago. In fact, the real proportion of domestic NESB – or EAL – students at La Trobe is much higher. On the other hand, while international students comprise around 25% of the student population, some of them speak English as their first language.

What are some of the issues facing EAL students?

The experiences of EAL students vary greatly depending on how long they have lived in Australia and what their linguistic, cultural and social background is.

They might:

  • lack confidence
  • be lonely
  • be anxious about being seen as ignorant or inadequate
  • be dealing with unfamiliar cultural practices
  • worry about making mistakes
  • focus on assessment
  • respect authority
  • be uncomfortable about asking for advice or guidance
  • be uncomfortable about critical analysis and 'criticising' academic authorities
  • have limited experience in expressing their reflections
  • experience a drop in status as a student in Australia, if they have had professional status at home
  • be confused about assessment requirements

EAL study pathways

While we often assume that students entering university have the language proficiency to study successfully at university, experience tells us this is not always the case. Understanding some of the pathways students use to get into university can sometimes help explain why students do not always have the level of English proficiency their teachers expect.

Depending on the pathway used, students may not have taken an IELTS test (or an equivalent). Some of the pathways include:


International English Language Testing System

Some students will have level 7 or aim for it for professional registration (Native speaker is Band 9). Find out more about bands [external site].

  • Band 7: Good user: has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally handles complex language well and understands detailed reasoning.
  • Band 6: Competent user: has generally effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriacies and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations


Test Of English as a Foreign Language

  • is sometimes accepted as an alternative to IELTS


Australian Tertiary Admission Rank

  • Year 12 (VCE) studies in Australia


English Language Bridging Program

  • linked to a university, which allows entry to degree courses upon satisfactory completion


Technical And Further Education

  • usually through an Advanced Diploma or Cert. IV, where students are also given credit for some subjects studied at TAFE. Often allows entry into second (sometimes third) year subjects. These students have not necessarily completed secondary school in their home country.

What are some of the features of EAL students' communication?

EAL students can communicate effectively, but recently arrived EAL students may:

  • have a non-Australian accent
  • pause frequently when speaking
  • make mistakes with prepositions, eg in/on/at/to
  • under-use articles: the/a/an and
  • make mistakes with subject verb agreement and neglect word final /s/ on verbs, eg she works/they work
  • Write more fluently than they speak (especially international students), or conversely speak more fluently than they write (especially local EAL students).
  • be unfamiliar with English academic styles and conventions including text structure, tone and referencing


Expecting a student to produce a text which is completely error free is a native speaker imposition of an unattainable standard. Avoid penalizing students for minor errors in prepositions, use of articles, word forms and subject verb agreement, or for a degree of hesitancy in oral presentations.

Tips for teaching EAL students

Using the teaching tips in the Tips for developing Students Communication Skills resource will benefit all students, including students with English as an additional language. In addition to those, the following tips can be used to specifically address the needs of EAL students in the classroom.

  • Treat diversity positively by how you act and how you speak.
  • Avoid over generalising behaviour (expecting particular culturally based behaviour from an individual because that person comes from a certain cultural or linguistic group) or having stereotypical expectations of people (positive or negative) e.g. 'All Asian students are quiet in class'.
  • Don't expect any individual student to speak as a representative of his/her culture.
  • Utilise diverse experiences and perspectives as a resource.
  • Plan opportunities for all students to contribute input related to their own culture (but avoid making any student a cultural representative).
  • Explain and clarify academic expectations and standards regarding written work. You can refer to handbooks, subject outlines, marking rubrics and model assignments to do this.
  • Teach students about academic acknowledgment. (It is a cultural practice.) The Academic Integrity Module (AIM) introduces students to the concepts of acknowledgment but it does not teach them how to use other people's work in specific disciplines. The AISP website has resources and ideas you can use.

For more information on cultural and linguistic diversity in the classroom, refer to:

Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Practice Toolkit La Trobe University

Developing a checklist for reviewing your teaching practice

The following questions can be used as a framework for developing a checklist to either monitor your own practice or as a peer review instrument.

  • What strategies/methods do I use to establish an inclusive learning and teaching environment?
  • Which strategies/methods work well?
  • What evidence do I have that these strategies/methods are successful?
  • Which strategies/methods do I need to modify?
  • What new strategies/methods could I adopt?

Thesis editing for postgraduate EAL students

While Student Learning staff can assist students to develop their own language and structural editing skills, they do not actually copy edit student writing. Academic staff wishing to refer postgraduate students for thesis editing may find the Victorian Professional Editing Register website useful.

Students will need to declare that they have used an editor when they submit their thesis. Ultimately, they need to be able to honestly claim that they are the authors of the thesis they are submitting.

The following questions could help students to achieve a successful outcome from the editing process.

  • How much do you charge? Do you charge by the hour / number of words / per chapter...?
  • Can we do a trial first?
  • Have you edited theses before?
  • How much experience do you have working on academic texts? What sort of texts have you worked on?
  • What sort of subject areas do you specialise in?
  • What are the main areas you focus on, when you edit a text?
  • Do you have a particular way of working on a text?
  • English is not my native language; what experience have you had with writers who use English as an additional language? What outcomes did you achieve? What was the result?
  • Sometimes I might want to talk with you about the editing of my writing. Will that be possible?
  • I want to submit an error-free text, but I still want it to be my voice. Will that work for you? What ways do you have of achieving this?