This website aims to highlight commonalities between music practice and speech, language and communication practice to improve outcomes for all children. Music should celebrate diversity and should provide a medium that all children can access and participate in, irrespective of cultural and/or language differences.

A really important point to note when working with children who are learning English as an additional language is that there is only cause for concern if a child is displaying difficulties in both their home language and English. Practitioners should not worry if children are taking a bit of time to learn English when they are initially exposed to it (such as when they start nursery, for some children) as long as their skills in their home language are developing as expected. 

In fact, the research tells us that children who are bilingual or multilingual have many advantages, and that having strong skills in their home language can actually support their ability to learn English, rather than hinder it.

We’ve answered some commonly asked questions about children who are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) below.

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No - learning more than one language is NOT a risk factor for SLCN. Children learning more than one language are no more at risk of SLCN than other children.
Children who are learning a second language (such as being exposed to English when starting nursery) often go through a ‘silent period’ while they learn the new language. It is not a cause for concern as long as the child is developing language skills as expected in their home language. A speech and language therapist should only become involved if there are concerns about a child’s development in their home language as well as in English.
Bilingual children are at equal risk of having SLCN as children with only one language. However, there would only be concerns if there were difficulties in both languages when compared to children of similar age and experience (rather than difficulties only in English).
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between a language difficulty and EAL. Therefore, it’s important to find out about which languages children speak at home, and ask parents about their child’s speech and language skills in their home language. You can compare what the parent tells you against expected milestones using I CAN’s Progress Checker or Ages and Stages information – both found on the I CAN’s Talking Point website (linked in the References and Further Reading section). Remember, there is only cause for concern if the child is not achieving expected milestones in their home language as well as English.
As well as general language strategies you would share with all parents, parents of children with more than one language should also be advised to: - Speak to their child using the language they feel most confident in (that is, their home language if that is their strongest language). - Don’t worry about switching between languages - it is natural for bilingual speakers to do this. But try not to use different languages to refer to the same word within one sentence. - Encourage children’s communication in any language. Parents can continue speaking to their child in their home language even if their child responds in English.
If you want to look for musical activities and tips that rely less on children having strong English language skills, the ideas in the “Setting up the environment for play”, “Listening”, and “Supporting language and interaction” sections may be particularly helpful. As children become more confident in English, they will be able to more actively participate in the ideas shared in other sections, such as the “Singing and song-writing” and “Music and stories” sections.

Where can I find out more?

Check out our References and Further reading webpage for links to the following:

  • I CAN’s Talking Point website – for more information about speech, language and communication development, and a FAQ sheet on learning English as an additional language.
  • Pitt and Arculus’ (2018) SALTMusic research report – to read about their interesting research project that explored similarities between music practice and speech, language and communication practice.
  • Nina Kraus’ work – for information about possible benefits of music on the brain and learning.