English & EAL

VCE EAL vs VCE English

February 19, 2019

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As you all know, English subjects are integral to VCE studies, since it is compulsory that at least all four units of an English subject be done in order for you to reach that ATAR goal at the end of the VCE tunnel. Given the richness in cultural backgrounds of VCE students cohort, EAL is designed to mend the linguistic gaps between local students and those from non-English speaking backgrounds. Students eligible to complete EAL are those who have no more than 7 years residency in a predominately English-speaking country AND no more than 7 years having English as their main language of instructions. Therefore, it is generally considered ‘easier’ than mainstream English. So how exactly is this subject easier, or is this just some unproven prejudice? Let’s find out through my quick comparison between the two!


According to the study design published by VCAA, both these English subjects ‘[contribute] to the development of literate individuals capable of critical and creative thinking, aesthetic appreciation and creativity…’ It might sound complex, but this basically just means that these subjects enable us to enhance our understanding and usage of the English language, which, in my opinion, serves to support our daily English communication. This purpose holds even greater significance to students from non-English speaking backgrounds, as those skills offered by English subjects are essential to their life in Australia. That’s said, EAL can be different from mainstream English in the sense that it also assists students whose mother tongue is not English in adapting to the predominately English-speaking community, via developing their language skills.


Both EAL and English assess students on multiple areas, including: Text response, Creative writing, Argument Analysis, Compare and Contrast, Presenting Argument. The only difference is in Unit 3, where EAL students are required to do a Listening task, whereas mainstream students study an additional text. Shown below is Unit 3 coursework for these two subjects (from the VCAA English/EAL study design):



We can see that there is an extra outcome for Unit 3 EAL, which is ‘Comprehension of a spoken text’. This is where you will listen to two texts (twice each), take quick notes and fill in short-answers. Listening, therefore, is viewed by many as the least difficult compared to other tasks, because all you need to do is hear people speak English – something students do everyday. Yet it is absolutely not easy at all to attain a perfect score on this component! You have to pick up the right information from bunches of words, structure your response well so that the examiner understands what you try to convey, pay attention to paralinguistic elements (tone, volume, pitch…), etc. All of these skills can never be acquired without persistent practice.

In place of Listening component, mainstream English students get to do creative response to a different text. This is why Year 12 English students study a total of 4 texts (selected from VCAA text list), whereas it’s only 3 for EAL students.

VCAA has also noted down differences in the two subjects’ tasks conditions, as shown below:

End-of-year exam

Let’s have a look at another table:

Overall, they have similar components, except for the orange-shaded cells. Though EAL students do have a SAC on comparative analysis, this area is not assessed in their exam but replaced by the Listening task. Section C often has similar texts in both exams, with some modifications in language expression.

Both exams are to be done in 3 hours, non-stop! You’ll get quite weary I’m sure, but trust me, it will be followed by a sense of accomplishment to see all your hard work paid off on the exam papers!

Is EAL really easier?

So yep, EAL students get to write fewer essays and have lower word limit than mainstream students. But should we say that it’s easier? My personal opinion is: NO. The reason being learning a language that is not your mother-tongue is really never easy. Australian students doing VCE French will definitely agree with me! Given a large number of EAL students is international students, this subject can be a challenge to them. Yes, Listening might be easier than comparing texts, but taking super quick notes, picking the correct piece of info, paying attention to the way the speech is delivered, watching out for traps… are not that simple! I believe that no matter what subject you do, whether it be EAL or English or Maths… it only gets ‘easier’ after a period of constant effort and hard work.

For those eligible for both English and EAL, you might be tempted to go for EAL, but my advice is to consult available resources (the study design, this blog, teachers, peers…) before making a decision so as to figure out which style of learning best suits you. After all, you’ll learn most where you enjoy the most.

Good luck to you all!

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