Helping EAL/ESL students

Version 1.0, October 2014

 Currently, a central English language program is supporting staff and students across all campuses by providing language resources, advice, guidelines and consultations.  The program has also developed an undergraduate subject (EDU1ESL) which is available to all first year students using English as an additional language.

Student Learning staff in each faculty work with students using English as an Additional Language.

What can you do to enrich students' participation?

Prepare for group work

  1. Use ice-breakers to get students talking and learning about how interesting they are.
  2. Make your expectations of student participation clear.
  3. Create an atmosphere in which students learn from each other
  4. Enable students to prepare responses for the next class. EAL students can't always respond quickly on the spot; they can build confidence with time to prepare.

Create an environment conducive to participation

  1. Use students' first names and Invite students to talk about an issue from their experience – not as a representative of their country.
  2. Get students to discuss in pairs first and check each other's understanding of a topic before reporting back to the group.
  3. Give EAL students time to think before responding.
  4. Ensure that students are clear about what their role is in the group.
  5. Students can improve their chances of being followed if they pause in appropriate places. Pausing between groups of words and between sentences helps the listener to follow the message. On the other hand, pausing after each word creates a staccato rhythm which is a strain for the listener, and pausing between words which are usually linked can be confusing.
  6. Encourage students to develop an awareness of when to pause by making time each day to listen for when native speakers pause. Eaves-dropping and electronic recordings can provide examples, e.g. the ABC website.
  7. The pronunciation page gives advice and links.

What are some of the common characteristics of EAL students?

EAL students can communicate effectively, but they will typically:

a. have a non-Australian accent
b. make mistakes with prepositions, eg in/on/at/to
c. under-use articles: the/a/an and
d. make mistakes with subject verb agreement and neglect word final /s/ on verbs, eg  she works/they work.

Consider this:

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 agreements.

Students bring their personal attributes and attitudes in addition to their cultural identities and generational understandings. Sometimes these match with their teacher's characteristics and expectations, but sometimes they don't.

What are some of the issues facing culturally and linguistically diverse students?

Students might:

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

Preparing your students for academic life

  1. Give students time to practice new skills.
  2. Teach students about academic acknowledgment. (It is a cultural practice.)The Academic Integrity Module (AIM) only introduces students to the concepts of acknowledgment. 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
  3. Provide models of good writing. Get students to work out why the writing is good.
  4. Teach students to use questions to guide their reading. Provide questions, then get students to make questions. They can seek specific information or turn headings into questions.
  5. Explain assessment criteria and check that students understand the criteria and how marks will be apportioned.
  6. Give students a purpose to engage with a list or an information resource; eg rank items, categorise, reorder, mark what they don't understand in a list, mark what they could use for a particular task, report on selected items to the group, make quizzes from facts to test each other.
  7. Make time at the end of an activity for students to write a one minute reflection to consolidate learning.
  8. Point out key concepts so that students know what is important to learn in this subject area.
  9. Use simple direct language to show the structure of the class. This actually helps all students;  eg 'Last week we covered…This week we will cover…By the end of today's class you will have….'
  10. Ask students what they want to have achieved by the end of semester. Use the Library's Assignment Calculator to map what it will take to achieve this.
  11. Use models of writing in class and in the LMS

Some of these points have been adapted from: Arkoudis, S. Baik, C. & Richardson, S. (2012). English Language Standards in Higher Education: From entry to exit. Vic: ACER Press.

Feedback to develop students' writing

  1. Feedback on early assignments can be a teaching tool. Students take less notice of feedback on final assignments.
  2. Support students to objectify their writing and developing an editing eye, by referring to the text rather than the author; e.g. rather than saying, "You didn't do this…" use phrases such as: This essay requires a clearer statement of purpose
  3. Collect your feedback comments to reduce effort.
  4. Get students to read their feedback and write down what they will do next time.
  5. Get students to write down what areas of writing they need to develop and report to the person next to them what action they will take.
  6. Direct students to the University's resources:

Some of these points have been adapted from:

Arkoudis, S. Baik, C. & Richardson, S. (2012). English Language Standards in Higher Education: From entry to exit. Vic: ACER Press.

Pathways for EAL students to enter university


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.

Find out more about alternative entry pathways.


SL Student Learning
ESL English as a Second Language
EFL English as a Foreign Language
NESB Non-English Speaking Background
LBOTE Language Background Other Than English
EAL English as an Additional Language

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse

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 subject areas do you specialise in?
  • What are the main areas you focus on, when you edit 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?