Breaking down the language barrier

Hearing a child say their first word has always generated plenty of excitement for families.

Now a new program introduced by the Federal Government will support youngsters to learn more than one language.

Tens of thousands of Australian preschoolers will try their hand at languages this year as the Turnbull Government rolls out its popular early learning languages program across the country.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said he expected more than 30,000 children would learn Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese or Spanish as part of the Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) program in 2017.

Mr Birmingham said it was the first time the program had been open across the country and the response so far had been “incredible” but preschools and child care centres were running out of time to sign up to take part.

“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,” he said.

“ELLA is a play-based way for children to learn another language and open their mind and following the program’s successful trials last year we’ve committed an additional $5.9 million to roll it out to any eligible preschool or child care centre that wants to take part. 

“Through our initial $9.8 million commitment to develop and trial the program in 2014 and 2015, we’ve seen how the ELLA languages program can have positive impact on our children and so parents and families should get in touch with their preschool or child care service and ask them to sign up. We have a range of tools in place to help services roll out the ELLA program but they need to register by February 26..

“The ELLA program has been a big hit with parents, educators and of course the children themselves and thanks to our additional funding of $5.9 million this will be the first year that anyone can take part.”

Mr Birmingham said 25 per cent of the 852 preschools and child care centres that had signed up so far would study Chinese, 18 per cent Japanese, 13 per cent French, 9 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.

“The popularity of Chinese shows it’s clear that educators and families see the benefits for their children in having those language skills which will help them take advantage of the opportunities Asia presents later in life,” Minister Birmingham said.

“It’s encouraging to see diversity in which languages are being chosen and that one in three centres are choosing the newly added Italian and Spanish. Estimates show that after Chinese, Spanish is the world’s second most popular language so a strong grounding in its basics will open a range of possibilities for our children.

“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 an independent evaluation found 78 per cent of parents had seen their child using words from the language they learned through ELLA outside of preschool.

“As the Asia Education Foundation’s Senior Secondary Languages report has shown, the proportion of year 12 students studying another language has dropped from 40 per cent in the 1960s to just 12 per cent today, which is why it’s encouraging that Australian children – and parents alike – have taken to the ELLA program with such enthusiasm.

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

“Even where young students may not continue into school with the language they learned in preschool, research indicates that they will enjoy real cognitive and developmental benefits from learning another language in their earliest years.”

Anne-Marie Morgan from the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA) welcomed the new languages to the ELLA program.

“The AFMLTA welcomes Spanish as one of the major world languages, its widespread use in the US as well as South America (and Spain, of course), its position as one of the main Internet languages, and its growth in International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. As there is now an Australian Curriculum for Spanish, for years F-10, there is a great deal more interest and opportunity to learn Spanish at school. It certainly is one of the growth languages in Australia and internationally. An introductory program of Spanish through ELLA is certainly welcomed,” Ms Morgan said.

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

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