10, 000 pre-school students across Australia will start learning a second language through an app the Federal Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham, has said will increase language studies in schools.
Following the success of a pilot study of the Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) program in 2015, the Turnbull Government is expanding the program to more than 300 pre-schools nationally, which means that 10, 000 people will be able to study Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, French, or Arabic.
ELLA is aimed at children aged four to five, in the year before school. It has been designed to consider the needs, interests and capacities of this age group and includes a range of materials, including apps, resource material, and educator support networks.
The apps provide children the opportunity to develop recognition of the different sounds and concepts of another language through play-based learning. Children are introduced to words, sentences and songs in the language.
Evaluation of the pilot study showed multiple benefits, including increased probability of successfully acquiring the second language, increased learning and development in other areas, and heightened language support for bilingual students.
Senator Birmingham said the trial would inspire more children to learn a second language and deliver greater long-term engagement with languages as students move through school.
“The languages program ticks the boxes for an excellent educational resource; it’s backed by evidence, it inspires students, it gets parents involved in education and is useful for educators,” Senator Birmingham said.
“The evaluation of last year’s pilot in 41 pre-schools highlighted that the app is driving an active interest among children in the culture of the language they’re learning.”
“The evaluation also showed that 78 per cent of parents had seen their child using words from the language outside of preschool, meaning parental engagement with their children’s learning and the popular apps are combining to increase the number of Australians studying a language.”
Research shows that learning languages develops children’s overall literacy, strengthening literacy-related capabilities that are transferable across learning areas. It also provides children with a head start towards language study at school. This program will enable children to become more comfortable with different languages early in life so that they stay engaged during their later years.
Digital technologies have been found to increase learning outcomes in preschools and have been identified as a method through which to increase second language learning in early years, in the absence of a second-language speaking teacher.
Following the success of the ELLA program, the Turnbull Government has committed $6 million through the National Science and Innovation Agenda to the development of a similar app focused on inspiring students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The Australian Government is committed to reviving the teaching of languages in Australia with the goal of at least 40 per cent of Year 12 students studying a language other than English within a decade.