The Surprising Link Between English Proficiency And Academic Performance: What This Could Mean For Thai Children In English-Based Schools
Some bilingual children learn both of their languages from birth, whereas other children learn a second language well after their first. In Thailand, local families speak Thai at home, so children are usually first exposed to English once they attend an English-based school. Children who learn English during their school years face the challenge of learning a new language while trying to keep up with academic content. Some content is likely to be missed during this process . It is commonly assumed that after some time and English exposure, these children just “catch-up”, however, in Thailand where the local language is Thai, this is not necessarily the case.
There are several studies which have looked at how learning English at school can impact a child’s performance at school. The findings will surprise you...
How long does it take a child to become proficient in English?
Studies have shown that it can take a child anywhere between 1- 6.5 years of exposure to English to become proficient in English . This is also influenced by other factors such as family, education, social and individual factors [3.]
How does English proficiency impact a child’s academic performance?
An Australian study published last year found that school-aged children who are not yet proficient in English are likely to face academic difficulties compared to their peers . This study also found that children who had better English proficiency when starting school achieved higher academic outcomes overall towards the completion of primary school .
What do these findings mean?
These findings suggest that children who first learn English through exposure at an English-based school, could struggle with learning academic content at school for up to 6.5. years. These findings were based on populations living in countries such as Australia and the US, where the main language is English to begin with. However, in a country like Thailand, where the local language spoken is Thai, this could take even longer.
As a result, it is likely that local Thai children might be over-identified as requiring Speech Therapy during their school years. I often find myself teaching children concepts in English which I then realize during the session that they already have sound knowledge of in Thai (e.g. ‘past’ and ‘future’ tense). In these cases, the child’s underlying difficulty is not language, but specifically English. Thus, an ESL program is often more suitable for these children.
How can we use this evidence practically?
Children who are learning English at school would benefit from the use of strategies such as modeling, repetition and emphasis in the classroom. These strategies will help support their understanding of instructions and material presented in class. Once their understanding is supported, their performance when completing tasks will likely improve.
Several children who learn English at school require individualized programs to be tailored to support their learning and performance at school. Before a program can be recommended, there needs to be a strong understanding of the child’s Thai language skills. If the child has adequate Thai language skills, then they can be enrolled in an ESL program. However, if a child is having difficulty with both Thai and English, Speech Language Therapy is recommended, as there is likely to be underlying language impairment.
There is a greater need for spreading information about the benefits of being bilingual as well as the difficulties a child is likely to face if they are expected to learn English while at school. This might encourage local parents to expose their children to both Thai and English from a young age if they intend to send them to an English-based school in the future.
Attending day-care or pre-nursery is a fantastic way for children to become exposed to English from a young age. Attending playgroups or arranging play-dates with other English-speaking children will also help.
Local Thai children who first learn English at school are likely to face difficulties keeping up with academic content. Increasing exposure to English from a young age is likely to help with this. Certain classroom modifications and programs such as ESL can be provided for these children during their school years.
1. Macswan, J., & Pray, L. (2005). Learning English bilingually: Age of onset of exposure and rate of acquisition among English language learners in bilingual education program. Bilingual Research Journal, 29, 653-678.
2. Brinkman, S. et al. (2009). Population monitoring of language and cognitive development in Australia: The Australian early development index. International Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 11, 419-430.
3. Halle, T. et al. (2012). Predictors and outcomes of early versus later English language proficiency among English language learners. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 1-20.
4. Dennaoui, K., Nicholls, R. J., O’Connor, M., et al. (2016). The English proficiency and academic language skills of Australian bilingual children during the primary school years. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18: 157-165.
Welcome to my blog!