Bilingual EAL Library

Hamish Chalmers is a regular contributor on the use of first languages in the classroom. In this piece, he introduces an account by Kay Robinson, EAL Specialist at East Oxford Primary School, describing her success in developing a bilingual library for use by all members of the school community .

In September 2016, on the first day of the new term, my head teacher Mr Kaye said we had been given a grant of £3,000 by Oxford-based St Michael’s and All Saints Charities. It was given to support a collection of children’s books in different languages that the parents could read to their children at home.

Over 30 languages are spoken by the pupils in our school, which is 80% EAL, and we wanted the children to have the opportunity to be able to read, or be read to, in their home language. We also have a lot of children here temporarily, for maybe one or two terms or years, whose parents have either come to work or study. When they return home these children have to pick up their studies, so it is important that they can keep up with learning to read their first languages.


Building a library

So that was the idea, now for the practical side of setting up the library! We knew that our parents rarely come into the school building itself, so we decided that we would use trollies that I could wheel out into the playground once a week, on a Thursday before and after school. This means that parents can see the library in person.

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Bilingual books from the library

I looked at the different languages spoken in school and then set out to find suitable books for each age group. Our school already used Mantra Lingua’s ‘Pen Pals’ – pens that, after being loaded with certain stories, read them to you in that language. I emailed the company and they offered me a selection of books that were available. We have since placed four more orders! The books include some very traditional tales like Farmer Duck and The Little Red Hen. For the older children we have some Roald Dahl and Harry Potter books.

So, almost set. But Mr Kaye (our head) decided that the launch of such an important scheme should be a special celebration. He invited the Mayor of Oxford to attend a special opening of the library, and the event was attended by many parents and there was story telling in many different languages in some of the classrooms.

The library started on a Thursday, only then did I realize that actually there were other languages spoken than those recorded in the school register! Some parents had actually just put down English, although at home another language was spoken. So off l went again on a hunt for some different language books.

In total, we now have approximately 400 books in 32 different languages that can be borrowed to read. We have a core set of parents that come every week and change their books, and some that dip in and out on odd weeks, which is fine. The feedback from parents is that they love to be able to read to their children in their own languages and to be able to show the children how words are written. Two children, who were at the school for two terms, sent me some books in Dutch for the EAL library when they returned home. A parent from Sweden, with three children who have been in the school since September, has promised me books on their return in the summer.

The EAL library is a great success. However, we still need to keep replenishing the stock and l need to come up with some ways of raising funds. We want to keep growing and providing more books for our multilingual learners!


The EAL Journal is published termly by NALDIC, the subject association for EAL. Visit to become a member.