Early Years explore languages in digital world


​​St Anthony’s students learn another language through their digital friend ELLA

St Anthony’s School, Alexandra Hills, is one of four Brisbane Catholic Education schools taking part in a trial to help Early Years students develop an interest in different languages and cultures. ELLA (Early Learning Languages Australia), is a free, digital, play-based language learning program, that provides a broader access to language education for younger students. As the trial hits the half-way mark, St Anthony’s teacher and Queensland ELLA Champion, Olivia Petkofski, writes about their experience so far.​

EVERY chance students in my Year 1 classroom get, they plead with me to play with our friend ELLA.

But ELLA's not our class pet, it's more a well-loved, digital exchange student, who is helping instil a multicultural appreciation and awareness in my young learners.

The program, funded by t​he Australian Government and managed by Education Services Australia, is currently available to preschools Australia wide.

Each preschool chooses one of 13 languages and each language has a series of seven apps relating to topics young children enjoy.

These apps immerse students in the chosen language through a variety of interactive experiences, activities and songs led by charming characters called ‘the Polyglots’.

Due to the success of the preschools program, a three-year trial of ELLA for Prep to Year 2 students began in 2019.

St Anthony’s was one of four BCE schools who joined this ELLA F-2 schools’ trial and we chose Japanese as our language.

ELLA does not replace a language teacher and may be used as a supplementary teaching tool by a classroom teacher or specialist teacher.

As use of the ELLA apps is student-led, the classroom teacher does not need to speak the chosen language, but the program fully aligns with both the Australian Curriculum and the Early Years Framework and supports the BCE Language Learning Strategy.

Implementing ELLA in a school encourages students in the early years to develop an interest in languages and gives them access to the many benefits of learning a language in addition to English.

With research overwhelmingly proving how beneficial learning another language can be, it would seem unjustifiable to deny our youngest learners that opportunity.

However, one does not need to study the research to be aware of how engaging and valuable learning a second language in the mainstream classroom can be.

It is evidence enough just watching how my Year 1 students greet their classmates with an enthusiastic ‘Konnichiwa!’ and laugh as they ‘bake’ a birthday cake using a birthday-focused app.

In my own classroom, I have used ELLA to promote the BCE curriculum through the use of digital technology as a writing stimulus, in mathematics lessons, for developing fine-motor activities, and much more.

By using ELLA to make cross-curricular connections in this way, I have found that my students are far more engaged and enthusiastic about learning and are able to make meaningful connections between content areas.

In an ELLA app activity favoured by my class, the students feed sushi to the Polyglots characters.

To expand on the activity, we have learned about the origins of sushi, written a recipe as a procedural text and spent an afternoon making our own sushi rolls.

It has been amazing to see my students’ writing improve, as well as to hear them express their love for sushi in the Japanese language!

As my students’ appreciation and knowledge of Japanese language and culture grows, they want to share their excitement with the community around them.

Since implementing ELLA, our class has hosted several groups of Japanese exchange students. What exciting opportunities to communicate with and learn from native Japanese speakers!

Not only were my students excited to practise what they had learned, but their small world was greatly expanding.

ELLA has promoted some major personal benefits to individual students, as well.

A past EAL/D student, who began the year reluctant to speak to his teachers and peers in English, found comfort in using ELLA to communicate and socialise with his classmates.

This resulted in a dramatic increase in his confidence and the formation of new friendships.

The students are not the only ones engaging in the ELLA program.

Since its implementation at St Anthony’s School two years ago, families have expressed great interest and enthusiasm in their child’s involvement in ELLA.

Families have reported that their children have come home using Japanese words in conversation – and insist on teaching their family members, too.

During the recent periods of remote learning due to COVID-19, children were sent video recordings, by request, of Japanese language pronunciation and songs to practise at home.

Students even created paper representations of the Polyglots characters to take on isolation adventures!

It has been truly amazing to see my students’ excitement at learning and watch their confidence and curiosity about the world around them grow.

ELLA is helping us achieve this without any need to travel to Japan or even step outside our classroom!

School administrators interested in registering to participate in the ELLA F-2 schools trial or the current preschool program should visit www.ella.edu.au/ for more information.

For further assistance with Languages in BCE, please contact Rhiannon Shaw.

Top stories