Home Language Assessment

Many learners who use English as an Additional Language (EAL) will have a good level of language skills in their home language(s), however there may be variations in levels of first language literacy and oracy skills which it is important for schools to explore.

Oracy is the ability to articulate ideas, develop understanding and engage with others through spoken language (Voice 21). Oracy is naturally acquired first in social interactions with family and community as an integral part of a child’s development and their belonging to human groups. 

Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world (National Literacy Trust). Literacy is typically taught and learnt later, intentionally, usually at school/community school with support, consolidation and reinforcement at home.  

Carrying out a home language assessment can help establish what a learner can do in their first language and enable schools to make a comparison between the pupil’s levels of competence in their first language versus English and provide an indicator of potential learning needs  

Factors impacting on first language literacy

The extent of first language literacy may be dependent on several factorsSchools should, therefore, seek to gather and take account of the factors outlined below to contextualise any outcomes from a home language assessment:

  • Age of entry to the school system in England pupil entering school aged five will only just be developing their first language literacy, whereas a pupil entering aged 15 may be highly literate in their first language 
  • First language educational history - Some pupils will have experienced a high level of schooling in their country of origin, whereas others may have had limited or disrupted schooling which has ultimately impacted on the development of their first language literacy    
  • Special Educational Needs, individual and family circumstances EAL pupils’ propensities for learning can be influenced by a variety of individual and family circumstances within the local community context. Any assessment should take account of information on relevant issues such as giftedness, Free School Meal, and Special Educational Needs and Disability where appropriate; these issues can impact on pupils’ academic performance and language learning.  

The importance of home language assessment  

Home language assessments can provide crucial information that will enhance the assessment of a learner using EAL when used alongside other in-school evidence, such as classroom observations and background information, and EAL assessment data. 

home language assessment can provide teachers with: 

  • Understanding about first language literacy and skills learners using EAL have in their home language 
  • An indication of how well developed the home language is and how it can be used to support English language development 
  • An indication of what experience and attitudes the EAL learner has towards learning in either language 

In order to ensure home language assessment provides accurate information, teachers will need to: 

  • Use family and learner background information to contextualise any outcomes from a home language assessment 
  • Be wary of translating any tests from English (for example using online translation software) as languages do not translate exactly 
  • Avoid translating specialist terms that the learner may not have been exposed to during previous learning e.g. GCSE, SATs, the industrial revolution, long shore drift 
  • Be aware that the learner may know some things in one language, but not in the other. There may be aspects of the curriculum which learners cannot talk about in the home language because they have no experience of learning it before. For example, a young learner may know the name of common household items only in the home language, but the names of 2D maths shapes only in English. 
  • Be aware that some families may limit using their home language when they arrive in the UK, believing that this will benefit their children  
  • Be aware that if there is no local community sharing their language families may find it hard to maintain their first language 
  • Be aware of young children’s expectations in speaking and listening exchanges. This varies from culture to culture. Some young children may not be expected to speak much, nor will they feel comfortable speaking with a stranger. There may also be differences in approaches to interrupting and turn-taking 

Using interpreters 

First language interpreters may be required for gathering information before, and for translating questions and answers during, a home language assessment if there are no other adults in the school who share the learner’s language.  

Any use of an interpreter, whether they are school staff or not, needs to be done with care and sensitivity. It is best not to use relatives or close friends of the family, particularly when sensitive issues are being dealt with.  

Some key principles when using an interpreter include: 

  • Establish enough information about the family’s culture e.g. language(s), customs and religion to be able to contact the appropriate interpreter. The ethnicity/dialect of the interpreter should be the same as that of the family where possible and not from an ethnicity in current conflict in the country of origin. 
  • Brief the interpreter effectively. Allow enough time to go through the assessment with the interpreter and ensure that they understand the purpose of each part of the assessment. If the interpreter is being used to gather background information from the parents, speak with the interpreter about the purpose of the interview and the information that needs to be shared and collected. 
  • Observe the body language of both the interpreter and the learner to ensure that the learner is comfortable with the interpreter 
  • Use the interpreter’s skills in non-language areas, for example, there may be a cultural explanation for a breakdown in communication or the interpreter’s understanding of body language (which varies from culture to culture) may provide additional contextual information