Interview ABC Newsradio with Mandy Presland - Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) trial


E&OE Transcript
ABC Newsradio with Mandy Presland 
9:47 AM

Subject: Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) trial

MANDY PRESLAND: At a time in their lives when they’re still learning to speak English, selected pre-schoolers will soon start trialling a new scheme to acquire a second language. The $10 million Early Learning Languages Australia trial begins next year and from today the Federal Government is seeking applications from pre-schools wanting to take part. The languages included in the trial are Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian, Arabic and French but the children aren’t going to be taught using the traditional classroom methods most of us experienced at school.

For more on this, we’re joined by Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley. Thank you very much for your time.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you for having me on the program.

MANDY PRESLAND: How will children be taught in this trial?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, 40 pre-schools will participate so any pre-school can put up their hand before the 29 September to get that chance and it will be a play-based learning approach so iPads are certainly not unfamiliar in most of our pre-schools. This is not about teachers dictating from the front of the room or language laboratories or homework. This is about a play-based learning approach to introduce students to a foreign language and, hopefully, get them to continue that throughout their schooling.

MANDY PRESLAND: So, how will the language be chosen? Would one pre-school offer one language or would any child have the option, or their parent have the option, of choosing a language?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, I expect that all languages will be offered. It’s not necessary for the pre-school teachers to be fluent in the languages and this is a trial so we will see how the take-up is and how it works in terms of sparking the particular student’s interest because that really is what it’s about.

We all know that the children in bilingual families can speak to either parent perfectly in their own language but then we also know that students who grow up speaking one language, if they haven’t got an interest in learning a second language by early primary school, it can be pretty difficult and we just don’t have the numbers of students in year 12, that are completing with a foreign language.

So we had 40 – well, we’ve got 12 per cent now. In the 60s we had 40 per cent so it’s a huge drop.

MANDY PRESLAND: Will there be any traditional face-to-face teaching of language at all?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, not in this first trial stage because it’s designed to fit in with the type of learning that students or children do in the year before school which is play-based learning and it’s not formal, it’s not sitting down and taking instruction but it is about exposing them to language and I think enabling them to understand that there’s nothing scary about a second language, nothing too hard or too difficult and it’s something that then, as they go into primary school and teachers suggest they remember or maybe they’ve continued it all the way through which would be ideal because for us to provide the students with the knowledge of languages that – who can work in what is becoming increasingly a globalised, interconnected economy, business opportunity, means you are hugely advantaged if you can speak a second language.

MANDY PRESLAND: Often with languages, it’s a case of if you don’t use it, you lose it so, for example, and I know this is only a trial so I’m thinking ahead, but if a child learns a certain language at pre-school, I would imagine they’d have to have follow-up at school. So, would schools then look to try and follow this on if this is successful?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, yes they would and this is, in fact, part of the school-based approach that my colleague Christopher Pyne is taking and it’s starting in pre-school as opposed to the first year of school, just making absolutely sure that the earlier you introduce a second language, the more chance there is of students becoming proficient at it and sticking with it.

MANDY PRESLAND: So, when will the trial start?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, the trial will start in the 2000 – it’ll be for the 2015 year. So, we’d love interested pre-schools to approach us via the website,, and follow the early language links and by 29 September, I hope we’ve got a great range of pre-schools across the country and we can pick 40 to do these trials in.

MANDY PRESLAND: And how much – again, it’s a trial, how much time each day or week would you anticipate the students or the children learning languages?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, that’s not a directive that’s going to come down from me or even from the Government, it’s about the pre-school which knows its children the best and every pre-school is different in the way it approaches learning so, I expect that we will leave a lot of that up to the school but the design of the app is, as I understand it, innovative and interesting and it will give us a lot of information about how best we can continue with this.

You know, it might be that it becomes a bit of a mini-immersion or it might be that it’s something that students go away – children go away and come back to. That’s part of the reason for having the trial, it’s just to see what works best.

MANDY PRESLAND: Alright, well we look forward to seeing it put into action and seeing the results, obviously, in the future. Thank you very much for telling us all about it.

SUSSAN LEY: Thank you Mandy.

MANDY PRESLAND: That’s Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley.


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