Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
MESSAGE FROM THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT: Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) Trial
Yesterday the Australian Government (Department of Education) issued a statement via email to early childhood services that conduct a preschool program, announcing that these services have the ‘opportunity’ to participate in ELLA (Early Learning Languages Australia). Trials will be conducted in 2015 and services have been encouraged to show an expression of interest.
The statement reads ‘This is part of the Australian Government’s commitment to reviving language study in this country. Services who participate in the trial will provide children with the opportunity to learn a language other than English by using innovative online software as part of their learning activities in a preschool/kindergarten programme. Educators are not required to be proficient in speaking other languages for participation in the trial.’
Educators are not required to be proficient in speaking other languages for the trial! Has the government gone mad? Or has it not understood the essential aspects involved in how young children learn and acquire other languages?
Apparently not – here the solution to a dwindling interest in language learning is to sit the children in front of a computer (‘innovative online software’) and have them repeat phrases. Would it not be more beneficial to spend the 9.8 million dollars that this project is costing into employing teachers of these languages (preferably those who are native speakers) who can interact with young children as they play, offering phrases and vocabulary in authentic, meaningful situations? Noooooo – way too difficult and hard to measure when trying to evaluate the success of the program. So instead let’s place our ever increasing obese society in front of a screen – whether it be ipads, smart boards or computers (even though we know, and research is ever increasingly proving, that this has detrimental effects to both the mind and the body). True second language acquisition occurs when children are immersed in the language in an environment where the language is used throughout the day, where children have opportunities to interact with people that speak those languages and hear correct models of the target language/s being used. A recent presentation conducted at the German International School Sydney by Dr Pillar , a specialist in multilingualism from Macquarie University, explicitly demonstrated how children learn languages by having opportunities to engage in the target language/s that are used all day in the classroom. She pointed out that learning languages in situations where students have one lesson a day is really a waste of time as the language is never really practised in authentic situations and is taught in ways that are intangible to students. She pointed out in particular that in order to learn a language it has to be done in real contexts, in bilingual or multilingual settings and suggested parents take up the opportunity to send their children to a bilingual school, such as the German International School, where real language learning is a priority.
Early Childhood services should be very sceptical about embarking on any kind of trial that claims that language can be learnt and taught through the use of software – innovative or otherwise. Young children need to be engaged in activities that utilise all of their senses – learning language through their play, through songs, movement and physical activity. The use of technology has its place, but for young children it provides too much visual stimulation and can overload their developing brains. The idea is also tokenistic – let’s all revive an interest in language by repeating phrases being spelled out to us on a pre-recorded program! Not only does this not take into account the fact that young children do not learn in this way (by rote) but through experiences that have meaning for them. Where is the ‘Being, Belonging and Becoming’ in all of this? The national curriculum then seems to have been forgotten as it is primarily based on relationships – so let’s now forget about having a relationship with anyone who speaks a language other than English and learn from a computer instead! The statement that educators are not required to be proficient in speaking other languages is appalling and a slap in the face to bilingual and multilingual services where children spend their days in an environment speaking, listening, reading and writing in two or more languages with native speakers. These services have worked tirelessly to develop programs that take into account the ways in which young children learn and deliver play based learning environments where children are encouraged to form relationships with people who can speak the target language/s.
Shame on you Australian Government! What a wicked waste of money that would be better spent on encouraging programs to use less screen time and find more authentic means of encouraging young children to become interested in language learning.
Sissy Le Poop
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