Enhanced EAL for World-Class Achievement

As an international school for foreign nationals from around the world, portions of the Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing) student body is unsurprisingly made up of students with a wide variety of different language backgrounds. Rebecca Flavin, one of the experienced English as an Additional Language (EAL) teachers from our Secondary School, explains how the school’s EAL practices differ from other Beijing international schools as well as how parents can help their children obtain fluency in the most efficient and expedient way possible.

Please introduce the EAL resources available in Secondary School.

Our middle school English sections are divided into three levels: EIP (English Intensive Programme), EAL (English as an Additional Language), and ELL (English Language and Literacy). Those levels translate into beginner, intermediate, and advanced, respectively. EIP changes according to needs of students and has a higher stress on vocabulary and grammar. It is meant for students with truly almost no background in English.  EAL uses the same curriculum as ELL, but the resources, pace, and depth of analysis may be modified due to a lack of language skills.

Both the IGCSE and IBDP offer EAL and ELL programmes, with the IGCSE adding an EIP program this year. The kids who for a variety of reasons cannot succeed in economics or global perspectives, etc., will opt out and come to EAL instead for extra English support.

What sets our EAL department apart from other international schools?


I think the EIP is a fantastic program and what sets us apart from other schools I’ve worked at. The programme allows new students who come from another country whose first time it is in China or in an international school learning English to feel like they’re in a safe environment where they can take risks. We can also deviate from the structured program more easily than in EAL and ELL. The aim is of course to shift them out to EAL.

Some kids, especially the more extroverted kids, are able to move on quite quickly. For introverted kids, it’s about becoming comfortable in their surroundings and building up their social English; they’re given a bit of space to take risks among classmates in a similar situation. They have teachers who are very patient. Once they’ve adapted, they’re able to move on to EAL where there’s a more academic focus.

This isn’t to say they’re separated from the rest of the kids entirely. While they go in one EIP group from English to Humanities to Science, where they have modified or adapted programs with teachers who understand how to work with their language needs, other subjects are mainstreamed. They do need to mix a little bit with other students.

How long does it take for a student to become fluent in English?

On average, research says social language acquisition requires about 3-5 years while academic language needs on average 5-7 years. Therefore, it’s ideal that a student start at YCIS Beijing in middle school. By the time they hit IB in Upper Secondary, the student is in a position to succeed perfectly in academics when it counts.

Ultimately, it is up to the student. Students don’t need to be a natural at picking up language; as long as they work hard at it, we will give them all the tools they need to succeed. We strive to nurture this determination and work ethic in our students as that translates not just into success in EAL but in school and life in general.

What tips do you have for parents to help them increase their children’s English fluency at home?

The best thing parents can do is to model and show what it is to be a good language learner and student. Telling your children what to do will only get them so far; showing them what to do is far more effective. For example, go to a bookstore together and buy an English language book, then sit down with your child and have them read to you. Taking that time out of your day to show your son or daughter that language learning and reading has a powerful impact.

There are so many websites that are fantastic as well. At YCIS Beijing, we use Read Theory schoolwide. Other teachers use Quizlet for vocabulary. Newsela is a non-fiction website for current affairs with leveled articles for students with different reading levels. It keeps them culturally informed as well as helping them practice their English reading comprehension.

Finally, watching English language movies and TV and listening to English language music for the cultural understanding helps a lot too. Cultural understanding is essential for the IB curriculum and is assessed during the course and on exams.

What are some of the new initiatives that the department is working on implementing this year?

The addition of EIP in IGCSE is a big boost for struggling students. It’s great for them to have a place where they can be among students of a similar ability and go at a pace that is a bit more comfortable for them and uses resources that are more accessible for them. It allows them to take risks, have more time to speak, etc. If you’re a non-native speaker in a class discussion about complex academic subjects with a native speaker, it can be very intimidating!

In class, one of the new projects we’re working on is a proposal for a community-based art project right now which will be proposed to the art teacher at the end of the time. The project naturally improves the students’ English vocabulary and teaches them how to express themselves as well as how to write a proposal. The emphasis here is on a practical application of the words and skills. It focuses on the students having a goal and using English as one of the tools to accomplish this goal rather than just memorizing vocabulary and grammar.

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