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ACT preschools trial successful language program

At an age where most children are learning to read and write in their native language, preschoolers around Canberra are tackling a second language with the help of an innovative program.

The Early Learning Languages Australia (ELLA) program was trialled in six ACT preschools in 2016, following on from a successful national trial in 2015, with students as young as four learning Arabic, Japanese, French, Indonesian and Chinese.

Federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham this week announced the program would be extended, with Italian and Spanish being introduced in 2017 and Hindi and Modern Greek in 2018.

Almost 10,000 children across Australia have been part of the $9.8 million program so far, with Chinese and Japanese the two most popular languages. A further $5.9 million has been set aside for the roll out of the additional languages.

"We live in a globalised world and initiatives like the languages app are vital to supporting our children to take full advantage of the new opportunities our economic transition presents," Mr Birmingham said.

"It is particularly encouraging to see in what many describe as the 'Asian century' that almost two in three students are studying the vital languages Chinese and Japanese."

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At Mawson Preschool the young students are learning Chinese, counting as they pop balloons or learning colours as they feed fish.

"They're even incorporating the Mandarin into their play in the classroom and the playground," says preschool teacher Kim Middleton.

"We have a little play hospital set up in the room and I'll hear them talking about parts of the body, which is one of the games they play on the app, in their free play time."

About 50 off the 66 students have opted into the program at Mawson Preschool, with each child spending about 20 minutes a day learning through play.

They also have a 30 minute session once a week with an in-class teacher.

If the preschoolers end up attending Mawson Primary School they then have the option of being involved in the Mandarin Immersion Program where students can sign up for intensive language study. In Years K-2 one day is spent learning wholly in Mandarin, in Years 3-6 two days.

Executive teacher at Mawson Primary School Duncan Lawler said offering the immersion language program had been a successful move for the school.

"We were a small school but we're attracting a wider student base now, with diplomatic families and those out of area looking for the language skills," Mr Lawler said.

"We've gone from about 120 kids at our lowest point, to close to 400 now. It has been a great success."

If students do not opt into the immersion program there is still an hour a week of language lessons.

Two other ACT public schools offer a bilingual program with Telopea Park School delivering lessons in French and Yarralumla Primary School in Italian.

The other preschools involved in the ELLA program are Aranda Primary School Preschool (French), Chapman Preschool (Indonesian), Deakin School for Early Learning (French), Franklin Early Childhood School (Chinese) and Yerrabi Ponds Canberra Early Learning (Indonesian).