To what extent language barrier impact child’s relationship with peers in Early Years setting

language barrier impact child’s relationship


Language development is a crucial factor in the developmental process of children. It enables the child to communicate, articulate, and acknowledge the sentiments of others. It also helps to think and solve problems and establish and sustain relationships (DeRosier, Kupersmidt & Patterson, 1994). In particular, in the UAE and Dubai, an extremely diverse demographic puts many strains in the educational sector to educate and accommodate children without English (Cook, 2017). Children from East Asia and middle eastern cultures in early childhood are supposed to benefit from education services in English, but the question has arisen: Does the mere placement in these places produce the desired result?

There is little insight into how children in minority languages learn English when attending pre-school environments, how this affects their initial or second language learning is facilitated by teachers. There is no glimpse into how educators adapt their material to teach and whether they participate in language-specific teaching behaviour (Cook, 2017). To resolve this discrepancy, this study will explore concerns about the connection between second-language learning by early childhood teachers and the means of assistance they are providing.

This needs analysis aims to examine the impact of the language barrier on child capability to interact with peers with views and reporting behaviours of educators and the impact of instruction and institutional policies to resolve this issue.


I work as an Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) teacher in a Dubai school, following the British Curriculum. In particular, I teach Foundation Stage 2. In my class, some Asian and Arab students communicate in their native language, not English. As a teacher, it is challenging to overcome the language barrier and understand their needs as they do not get along with others because of the inability to speak or understand the English language. This obstacle hinders their social communication with peers, impacts their learning, and results in behavioural issues.

Significance of interaction with peers in the early year 

Peer relationships are something children actually do by themselves even at an early age and can therefore handle without any of adults’ intervention too much (Coplan & Arbeau, 2009). If an adult participates, it is no longer a peer contact by definition. Interpersonal relationships between peers, or social play, are expected to positively contribute to young children because they constitute a central framework by which children develop language, psychological and behavioural capabilities, learn to alter their feelings, track them, assess them, and develop their differences of thought (Birch & Ladd, 1996). Peer play becomes increasingly normal and complex for preschoolers, giving children more and more opportunities to understand the links in their world between words, ideas, and objects. Thus, structure creation takes on a cyclical nature wherein children start to grow and develop their social and emotional skills and awareness with growing complexity (Coplan & Arbeau, 2009).

Impact of language barrier on child’s relationship with peers

As a teacher of early year foundation stage, I have the in-depth acknowledgment of the importance of apparent speaking and verbal communication sounds. I understand that knowing others, sharing ideas, and communicating with others are significant building blocks for a child’s progress. Research shows the strongest association between successful communication, language, and literacy at a relatively early age and educational achievements (Ball, 2010). Young children encounter many difficulties in trying to adapt to new educational settings, including adjustment to class routine, increasingly challenging academic activities, and negotiations with peers and teachers on interpersonal relationships. While several factors may influence children’s success in coping with these challenges, most researchers focused on ‘internal’ and ‘organismic’ characteristics such as learning competence of children in their efforts to prepare for early schooling adaptation outcomes (Guo, 2005).

Obstacles to language and communication can adversely affect the learning and development of a child. The cornerstone of personality building and self-concept is early school years (Birch & Ladd, 1996). Children mostly benefit from their contact with their peers’ various social skills. When children play or communicate with their peers, they begin to understand more about their behaviour, including how to articulate themselves, follow instructions, and how to empathise with everyone. Language barriers can isolate a child from their surroundings and social structure (Beauchamp, 2016).

Language and literacy are both important fields for early childhood development. These fields are interrelated, but their applicability to numerous items are different. Language development includes acquiring the skills to communicate in languages with others, while the development of literacy includes reading and writing. If a child is introduced to a language that is unfamiliar to him/her, it will be impossible for him/her to pick up the ideas and concepts delivered by the teacher. It is, therefore, essential to make an appropriate strategic framework to develop the foreign language skills of a child (Beauchamp, 2016).

Local School strategies, policies, targets and plans to overcome communication barrier

In the UAE, the level of teacher support depends greatly on the children who attend early childhood education and do not understand English. Moreover, there is little information on providing or retaining the first language in young immigrants for the early years of second language acquisition (Cook, 2017). To overcome the language issue, my department is trying to draw up a strategic plan to best represent students from a wide variety of cultures and languages.

Pre- Admission Assessment of student’s linguistic skills

In my school setting, Prior to school admission, we arrange some playdates with children and ask some basic questions while playing. This is not a formal admission test. However, this informal assessment is done before admission to determine if the children have any learning disabilities, behaviour issues, or are they able to understand the basic instruction? These findings allow us to determine the child’s linguistic ability more appropriately.

Observation of learning behaviour

During the class, I evaluated children’s learning experience based on five characteristics, “interest in studies,” “involvement with peers,” “having troubles to communicate,” “expression of an opinion,” and “taking responsibility.” After these assessments of the children’s learning capacity, I realised there is a need to prepare the plans or strategies to develop the language skills of a few children in my class. As I can proficiently speak English and Hindi/Urdu, this quality enables me to interact and understand the needs of my East Asian students. For Arabic students, it becomes very challenging to communicate and assess them.

As official provisions for the children and students concerned, the English language support starts in Year One of primary school for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), but only if they demonstrate a lack of improvement in education (Al-Momani, Ihmeideh & Momani, 2008). In all other cases, teachers should promote teaching and teach language forms and frameworks in their literacy skills.

Findings that may help to bridge the language barrier

While reading for my analysis assignment, I came across some interesting strategies, which perhaps will help children develop the English language & their relationship with peers.

  1. Games arrangements involving peer interaction

Games arrangements involving peer interaction seem to be successful interventions to overcome language barriers between English and non-English speaking students. The research by Mashburn et al. (2009) revealed that the development of responsive and expressive language during early school is positively linked to children’s language development skills. Their study indicated that children who started pre-k with greater reception skills and in classrooms with better classroom management, a positive correlation between their peers’ speech and the responsive development of their child language were enhanced. Implications of these results are explored in order to understand the environment feedback for the production of child language and for developing successful pre-k programmes (Mashburn et al., 2009).

  1. Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)

Computer-Aided Language Learning (CALL) has also demonstrated its efficacy in language acquisition in the early years. Variance analysis findings (ANOVA) revealed a substantial difference favoring the experimental community between CALL users and non-users. Students in the experimental community were very optimistic about CALL, perceived its usefulness for helping them to learn EFL, and planned to use it strongly in the future. The results of this study demonstrated the influence of CALL on the foreign language learning of English (Almekhlafi, 2006).

National and International policies, strategies and plans

Within the context of the Ministry of Education (MOE) linguistic policy, the UAE government made Arabic a compulsory topic for all students in all private schools. The government of the United Arab Emirates states that schools must deliver a core curriculum to implement Arabic as second language after English. Therefore, non-Arab expatriates must learn Arabic from grade 1 to grade 9 as an additional language (AAL). This initiative will be challenging for non-Arab English language speaking expatriates but however support Arab learners who face difficulties to comprehend academic concepts in English (Cook, 2017).

Al-Momani, Ihmeideh & Momani (2008) indicates that the results from previous studies on language adaptation in education positively affect the Arabic and English profile of the KHDA policy in Dubai schools, particularly to non-Arabic schools. However, the findings of a Al-Momani, Ihmeideh & Momani (2008) study indicate that some teachers agree that the official framework is not instructionally adequate since it emphasizes more on academic achievements and neglect social, physical, emotional, and intellectual aspects of the development of children. Results from the study of Cook (2017) have also shown that the vision of improving practises between these childcare teachers has not been well-known and that their curriculum and appraisal practises emphasise academic learning with a direct educational approach.

UNESCO and UN support programs for ESL learners

UNESCO (2018) emphasized on the  curriculum design  that support both English speakers and ESL learners. UNESCO also stressed that teacher education  programmes in every country should make adjustment and enrichment to include the importance of teaching international language along with mother tongue and principles of biliteracy and bilingualism. Teachers should also provided with resources to support students who use two or more languages. teachers should conduct In-service and pre-service training to implement inclusive pedagogies that support students’ home languages while also providing the scaffolded access to the school’s mainstream language. The Language and Communications Programme (LCP) by UN (2020) offer in-house and online resources to support and guide students and teachers from non English speaking backgrounds (See appendix)


In conclusion, English language development is essential for Early Year students to establish a relationship with peers and teachers, which is directly related to effective learning, Personal, Social, and Emotional development. However, English language skill development contribution by the teacher is essential for Early Years students for effective communication with peers; the CALL programme and the social interaction between the classmates are great strategies to accelerate the language learning process. Still, further research is required to develop these strategies to obtain the desired and effective results. The UAE national curriculum is aligned with UNESCO policy to implement and teach English as international language in schools to develop cultural relativism among students from diverse backgrounds.


Almekhlafi, A. G. (2006) The effect of computer assisted language learning (CALL) on United Arab Emirates English as a foreign language (EFL) school students’ achievement and attitude.Journal of Interactive learning research, 17(2), pp. 121-142.

Al-Momani, I. A., Ihmeideh, F. M., & Momani, M. (2008). Teachers’ Views of the Effectiveness of United Arab Emirates Kindergarten Curriculum, Instructional Strategies, and Assessment Procedures. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, [online] 23(2), pp. 239-252.

Ball, J. (2010). Educational equity for children from diverse language backgrounds: mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years: summary.

Beauchamp, A. K. (2016). Overcoming language barriers in early childhood education: a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Sociology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand (Doctoral dissertation, Massey University).

Birch, S. H., & Ladd, G. W. (1996) Interpersonal relationships in the school environment and children’s early school adjustment: The role of teachers and peers. Social motivation: Understanding children’s school adjustment, 15, pp.199-225.

Cook, W. R. A. (2017). More vision than renaissance: Arabic as a language of science in the UAE. Language Policy, 16(4), pp. 385-406.

Coplan, Robert & Arbeau, K.A.. (2009).  Peer interactions and play in early childhood. Handbook of peer interactions, relationships, and groups. pp. 143-161.

DeRosier, Melissa E., et al. (1994) ‘Children’s Academic and Behavioral Adjustment as a Function of the Chronicity and Proximity of Peer Rejection.’ Child Development, vol. 65, no. 6, pp. 1799–1813

Guo, K. (2005) ‘Developing in a New Language-Speaking Setting’, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 30(3), pp. 38–44. 

Mashburn, et al. (2009) ‘Peer Effects on Children’s Language Achievement during Pre-Kindergarten.’ Child Development, vol. 80, no. 3, pp. 686–702. 


Source: UN, 2020.

Research Plan

Project Description:

I work as an early year teacher in one of the schools in Dubai which follows the British Curriculum. Every year I get two to five students in my class with no awareness of the English language. As an observant teacher, I have noticed that children with language barriers have more challenges in the classroom than those who understand and speak the school’s language. Moreover, it consequently impact on children’s relationships with their peers. Imaging a four to five-year-old coming to school and having no friends to play with has always makes me uncomfortable. The cultural difference and inability to speak and understand the language not only affects a child’s academic progress; but also keeps the child from making social relationship with other children. This is the reason I have opted for this topic for my action research to find out the possible solutions to overcome this issue as there are many provisions for primary and secondary students for the support of the English language but not for EYFS.


The primary purpose of this action research is to find out to what extent language barrier impacts a child’s relationship with his/her peers in the Early Years and also to examine what factors make it challenging for a child to make friends and what are the most effective ways by which this obstacle can be overcome to make a child happy and organismic. In-depth research is required to find out the best possible ways to create an early intervention for students’ inability to speak English, which evidently hinders forming relationships with peers in the setting. There is a need to establish appropriate strategies to overcome this barrier whilst children are in EYFS.

Research questions:

The specific research question for my research project will be “To what extent language barrier impact a child’s relationship with peers in Early Years setting?”

Data Collection Method:

This action research will be conducted in my workplace, located in Dubai, UAE.  The data will be collected from Early-year teachers and special educators who work with the Foundation Stage children. Qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection will be used in the form of open-ended questionnaire, semi-structured interviews and observations. All the responses from interviews and the survey will be kept entirely confidential. All the participants will be intimated in advance so they can answer genuinely. The data from questionnaire and interviews will help me understand the clear picture of my research.

Potential Outcomes:

I hope this research will help me to 

  1. Find out the best solution to cater to the needs of children with the language barrier whilst in EYFS.
  2. Talk to parents to create an awareness regarding the importance of the English language in the early years.
  3. Create and find Strategies for dual language learner who find challenging to make friends and exhibits challenging behaviour.
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