Part of my practice is teaching the English National Curriculum to non-native speakers. I find that great linguists can support their good native peers because they have a more intimate feel for how language works, and changes.

Our EAL hub recommends three key principles about teaching English to EAL students:

1) Translate keywords. This isn’t simply the act of putting keywords into google translate, but seeing if there are equivalent words in a native language. Moreover, as you will see later, other languages have words for specific events and experiences for which English has no direct equivalent.

2) Ensuring coherent verb forms. Changing tenses in a paragraph or worksheet, particularly with irregular words, doesn’t help EAL students.

3) Preparing work that is not different in topic to that followed by the rest of the class. Feeling part of the class is an essential social component for EAL students.

Of course, the most important principle for any teacher to realise is that EAL students are not SEN. The improvement in a non-native speaker over several years immersed in a foreign culture can be dramatic.

And so, I think my keywords would be focussed on the following notions:

Topic specific (i.e. printed media; medieval English; poetry)
Skill specific (i.e. types of analysis; methods of punctuating; types of focus)

Therefore, I would like to see skill specific keywords translated into different languages, with a variety of either direct equivalents and/or connotations. So, for example, when writing to describe, the student needs to:

a) Have the concept of writing that stimulates the senses.
b) Have the concept of writing that describes a picture/scene.
c) Have the concept of zooming into detail in that scene.
d) Have the concept of writing that moves between both tangible and intangible aspects of that scene.
e) Have the concept of ‘having’ a concept!

Concept = an idea (understood amongst others). A principle (by which you can apply to other situations). an understanding (something that you appreciate in a intrinsic way).

Stimulate = to activate (in others).  To cause a reaction/action.

Zoom = To change the focus like a microscope, to focus. (this is perhaps a poor choice of word to explain this concept to EAL speakers).

Tangible = something touchable, something physical.
Tangible = something emotional, something experienced.

As an aside, two wonderful websites for your perusal on keywords that don’t exist in English are as follows:

20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world


Indonesian – “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh”

(German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain