Can smart devices aid language learning?
Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (5.5.2017) published an article on a new study about smart devices being harmful for children’s language development. These kinds of results have never been discovered before, so it is worthwhile to review them from different perspectives.
900 children participated in the study. The children were about one and a half years old. The youngest children, who used smart devices according to the research, were only six months old. These children were very young, some of them only infants. Children aged one and a half years or younger are just starting to develop their mother tongue and are very dependent on interactions with their parents. Children this age should be exploring the world with all their senses, move and be in constant interaction with their parents, so that their mother tongue will develop. The research did not reveal for example how much the parents read books to and talked with their children. Parents are children’s strongest language model, so the time spent reading books together and talking with your children has a significant role on children’s language development. One-and-a-half-year-old children don’t benefit from smart devices as much as older children.
Smart devices are often criticized even if the problem isn’t the smart device itself. The device itself is never harmful – it is more about how you use it. The research did not reveal how and for what purpose children were using the smart devices. Especially passive use of smart devices can be harmful for children this young. If smart devices are being used for a limited time and in the presence of a parent, they can aid language development. Therefore, smart devices can be used as an educational tool for learning. However, the challenge is to find educational high-quality content.
Effective when used correctly
There are also studies that show how smart devices can make language learning more effective. Language learning through smart devices enables children to hear native pronunciation. With smart devices, children also have an active role as learners which increases their motivation. It is important to remember that in education, smart devices are used only as a part of teaching to make learning more effective; they should never replace human interaction.
Moomin Language School has positive experiences of language learning with tablets. Children learn a foreign language by using an educational and motivating learning application on a tablet for a limited time every day. This way the result is positive and children don’t get too much information at once. In the weekly playful lessons, children repeat together with their friends what they have learned in the application. Learning through smart devices and the social learning go hand in hand – one does not rule out the other. Parents have also been very pleased with this solution. They have for example noticed that learning English with Moomin Language School has also aided their children’s Finnish skills and pronunciation.