Australian pre-schoolers picking up foreign languages in lightning speed

Media Release
  • Minister for Education and Training

New independent analysis of the Turnbull Government’s early learning languages app has found children are grasping foreign languages at lightning speed by using the play-based program rather than conventional measures like flash cards.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the Evaluation of the Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) apps carried out by Swinburne University of Technology found children using the app were 26 per cent more engaged than those children using flash cards and were twice as likely to learn the sounds of many foreign words.

Minister Birmingham said he expected more than 55,000 children in almost 2,000 child care centres and pre-schools would learn Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese or Spanish as part of the Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) program that the Turnbull Government is rolling out nationally for the first time in 2017.

“ELLA is proving to more successfully engage children with learning a language, improve word association and ultimately for them to be more comfortable with a foreign tongue,” Minister Birmingham said.

“Learning a foreign language doesn’t just give children the gift of the gab, it can boost other vital skills like problem solving and their literacy in English that ultimately carry through to their performance at school.

“The ELLA program has been a big hit with parents, educators and of course the children themselves, and pre-school services across the country have responded with almost one fifth of them rushing to apply to be part of the program in the first year of its national roll out.

“Australian families have fallen in love with ELLA and now we want to use that momentum to promote science, technology, engineering and maths subjects in a child’s youngest years.”

Minister Birmingham announced that following the success of the ELLA program and positive analysis of the program’s impacts on children the Turnbull Government would today open Expression of Interests for the Early Learning STEM Australia (ELSA) app.

“We hope the ELSA app will similarly inspire students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Minister Birmingham said.

“Programs like ELSA are critical for this and future generations of students because employment trends show that 75 per cent of Australia’s fastest growing careers demand skills in digital literacy, science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

“One hundred centres will take part in the ELSA trials from 2018.

“We’ve seen the positive impact that ELLA has had on students across the country and the Turnbull Government has committed $6 million, on top of the already $15.7 million investment as part of the ELLA program, to pilot the ELSA program.

Minister Birmingham said 1986 centres had applied to be part of the ELLA national rollout and of the 1643 centres that had so far been approved 25 per cent of the preschools and child care centres would study Chinese, 17 per cent Japanese, 14 per cent French, 8 per cent Indonesian and 3 per cent Arabic while the two new languages for 2017, Italian and Spanish, had attracted 15 per cent and 17 per cent of applications respectively.

Minister Birmingham said the Evaluation of the Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) apps specifically found that:

  • After two weeks of practice, children who used ELLA were 11% faster at looking at a picture corresponding to an audibly played Indonesian word, compared to their first lab visit. By comparison, children who used Flash Cards were 15% slower after two weeks.

  • Brain activity indicated that the ELLA group were more likely to remember the context of the learnt words than the Flash Card group. For example, 77% of the ELLA group showed a typical brain response consistent with automatic association of word-meaning with word-sound, whereas only 33% of the Flash card group showed such response. This kind of learning may lead to longer-lasting gains in vocabulary for the ELLA group.  

  • Children in both groups were initially reported by parents to be highly engaged in learning. By the last five days of home use, this engagement score was 26% higher for the children in the ELLA group.

  • Activity duration was 2.58 times longer for the ELLA group than for the Flash Card group, indicating greater interest in ELLA apps rather than Flash Card apps.

“Walking into classrooms and hearing children enjoying singing or counting in another language and even following recipes, you get a grasp of how engaging and entertaining the ELLA program is and why another independent evaluation released last year found 78 per cent of parents had seen their child using words from the language they learned through ELLA outside of preschool.

“We know life-long learning begins from the youngest years and our $15.7 million investment in the ELLA app and additional $6 million investment in the ELSA app highlights the Turnbull Government’s commitment to reviving the study of languages and STEM subjects throughout Australia’s early education centres, schools and universities.”

For more information on the ELLA program visit https://www.education.gov.au/early-learning-languages-australia

To sign up to be a part of the ELSA pilot visit www.elsa.edu.au  

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