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Reviewing the term EAL from an antiracist multilingual perspective

Suparna Bagchi, Doctoral student at University of Plymouth

This blog post is based on a doctoral research study that explored perceptions and experiences of multiculturalism of teachers, students and parents in four mainstream primary schools in the predominantly ‘White’ south-west England.

One of the main findings of my study was a linguistic barrier characterised by issues concerning communication in English. Teachers stressed strengthening EAL (English as an Additional Language) for students because it is essential to understand the task, make friends and acclimatise to the school environment. Furthermore, teachers expressed a need for some support network for ethnic minority parents for whom communicating in English was a concern. This particular research finding made me ponder on EAL as a multilingual researcher belonging to an ethnic minority community.

I acknowledge the importance of EAL in school teaching as it is significantly connected to fulfilling curriculum-specific targets having implications for sitting assessments like SATs. However, it is possibly important to review the term EAL per se. EAL has a deficit-based connotation. It illuminates a perceived gap among the ethnic minority students, resonating with the post-Second World War assimilationist policies of the British education system that emphasised teaching English to tackle the ‘disadvantage’ among ethnic minority students. Backed by my research findings and literature, today this term implies that although ethnic minority students might be academically performing better than their White peers by overcoming hurdles due to their disadvantaged backgrounds (Strand, 2011), they are still ‘not quite there’.

Yosso’s Cultural Wealth Model (2005) advanced six forms of cultural capital possessed by students from ethnic minority communities: aspirational, linguistic, navigational, resistance, familial and social. Aspirational capital is the parents’ ability to aspire and dream for their children’s future despite perceived and real obstacles. Linguistic capital is the students’ ability to grow communication skills through numerous experiences including storytelling, which increases the students’ memorising ability, focus on detailing, and vocal modulations. Navigational capital indicates the students’ abilities and aptitude to navigate social agencies including educational institutions necessary in non-co-operating or aggressive atmospheres. Resistance capital equips students with the ability to resist subordination and challenge inequalities for thwarting White privilege with communal cultural wealth (Markose & Simpson, 2016; Solórzano & Yosso, 2002). Familial capital means the personal and human resources that the students derive from their wider familial and community connections (Yosso, 2005). Finally, connected to familial capital, social capital means the community and social resources at the disposal of the students necessary to succeed in mainstream society (Markose & Simpson, 2016).

‘Despite the government’s acknowledgment of the advantages of bilingualism and multilingualism, the term EAL disregards the extensive treasure of cultural resources that the students from ethnic minority communities possess.’

All the student participants in my study belonging to ethnic minority communities were bilingual or multilingual, showing that bilingualism and multilingualism form a part of their enriching cultural capital – more precisely, their social and familial capital. Despite the government’s acknowledgment of the advantages of bilingualism and multilingualism, the term EAL disregards the extensive treasure of cultural resources that the students from ethnic minority communities possess. From this perspective, the use of the term EAL can be considered as a form of language oppression backed by national policy and masked as humanitarian initiatives (Cushing, 2023) aimed at linguistic and academic equity in school education. This contributes to the maintenance of an ethnolinguistic status quo and White dominance. A revised look at the term EAL by including within its acronym an impression that it is primarily accessed by ‘bilingual’ or ‘multilingual’ students may enable (re)positioning the term on a truly egalitarian platform through multicultural recognition. This is consistent with schools’ value of respect for differences and a sense of belonging as an integral part of inclusive school practice (Qvortrup & Qvortrup, 2018).


Cushing, I. (2023). ‘Miss, can you speak English?’: Raciolinguistic ideologies and language oppression in initial teacher education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 44(5), 1–16.

Markose, S. J., & Simpson, A. (2016). ‘I want them better than me’: Pedagogical strategies employed by four immigrant parents in the face of perceived forms of exclusion by school authorities. Race ethnicity and education, 19(3), 659-682.

Qvortrup, A., & Qvortrup, L. (2018). Inclusion: Dimensions of inclusion in education. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 22(7), 803–817.

Solórzano, D. G., & Yosso, T. J. (2002). Critical race methodology: Counter-storytelling as an analytical framework for education research. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 23–44.  

Strand, S. (2011). The limits of social class in explaining ethnic gaps in educational attainment. British Educational Research Journal, 37(2), 197–229.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education, 8(1), 69–91.

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