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Program teaching Prep students a second language achieving 'phenomenal' results

Children as young as five have spent their first year of schooling learning a new language as part of a pilot program rolled out at selected schools in Queensland.
While in the past LOTE lessons were not compulsory until Year 5, the program follows a growing body of research indicating early childhood is the ideal time to expose children to a second language.


Now nearing the end of the school year, Prep students at Beaconsfield State School have been immersed in Japanese lessons for 11 months and can introduce themselves, count to 10, recognise colours, give and receive gifts, and sing songs.
Their school in Mackay is one of only three schools in regional Queensland to participate in the program, among 11 schools in total.

New ways to engage young minds

Sensei Tina McGilvray has adjusted her lesson plans to account for the students' age, using props like kimonos, Pokemon characters, toys, and games.
It is the first year the Japanese teacher has taught younger students, but she said their memory and retention skills were "phenomenal".
"I had to attune my singing voice; it's more songs and games," she said.
"Between [ages] eight and 12 we lose that ability to mimic sounds, so learning a second language becomes a little bit more difficult, whereas in the younger years they're very good at mimicking sounds, so their pronunciation is spot on."
Sensei McGilvray said younger students were not as self-conscious as older children and were willing to try out new sounds and phrases.
"There's no fear of what their friends might think of them, or if they say the wrong word, what are their class cohort going to say or do, which is often what happens when we get to the upper school," she said.

Immersed in language

University of Southern Queensland head of linguistics Warren Midgley said Prep students had a greater capacity to learn language.
"One of the critical reasons we often don't think about is just getting children comfortable with the idea of having another language," he said.
"So if we have children learning from a young age, then later in life it's not such a scary or foreign thing."
He said skills in language translated to improved results in other areas of their studies.
"One of the important things isn't just the words, it's also cultural understanding," he said.
"There are more opportunities to reach out into the world."

Benefits continue throughout schooling

Beaconsfield State School principal Cameron Wayman said the trial had far exceeded expectations.
"We can see that these students have improved and achieved greater than the previous cohort that we've had in all their other subject areas, because they're learning a second language," he said.
"And these kids don't realise they're learning another language, it's just something that's come along that they're a part of."
The school will offer Japanese lessons for next year's Prep students, with this year's cohort to continue their Japanese studies throughout their primary school years.