Technology has a great impact on the process of English learning for every student, no matter the age, as even from an early age, little children find pleasure in using modern devices almost as much as adults. Kids love playing, singing, and watching cartoons as much as possible, and because technology devices as mobile phones, iPads, computers, or TVs can help them carry on their lovely routine, these tools become their best friends. As a matter of fact, educators are well aware of the fact that children, either preschoolers, or primary pupils, learn easier and more efficient by doing things, singing the words that must be learnt, or watching the stories they love.
These important aspects concerning a young learner’s profile are used as basic premises when teaching young learners, so, in terms of pedagogical approaches, the practice of teaching English to young learners follows the same pattern of learning by playing or singing. Traditional practices include songs and stories that allow the repetition of various language structures, but when it comes to modern approaches, the use of audio-video devices is more proper in order to help learners sing a song or watch a story. More than that, the integration of computer technologies according to the peculiarities of these learning activities is more than welcomed because “the Internet can be a rich source of authentic oral models via recorded songs, talking electronic books, podcasts and video clips that help learners with pronunciation as well as acquisition and reinforcement of new vocabulary” (Pim, 2013: 22).
The possibility to include such diverse materials with the help of computer support and even Internet access is truly pleasant since it makes easier to enhance interactive learning activities. More than that, in order to ease the transition from playing to using books for the little learners, technology has proved its importance by upgrading the traditional textbooks into digital ones. Therefore, a digital textbook or an e-textbook provides the version of the printed book in a digitalised manner, thus having an electronic support. It can be accessed and visualised on a computer or other technological device, and either its format is identical with the paper support, or it adds some interactive videos, games, and extra digital materials in order to extend the practice session.
Considered by some quite modern and new in the language field, William D. Chesser (2011) explains that the starting point of digital textbooks actually dates back in the mid 1990s. That was the moment when “the education world first saw digital content in classrooms in the form of CDs in the backs of books. Publishers threw in these digital ‘additives’ to make their print products more competitively attractive as personal computers began to show up in classrooms” (Chesser, 2011: 29). And even if, most of them had a simple design and provided a similar textbook supplement that could be seen only on the computer screen, their novelty caused popularity.
Nowadays, the digital textbooks devised for primary level bring more than that, but more important they enable students to study the topics more actively because of the interactive activities used. It is important to mention the fact that the use of digital coursebooks in the primary sector was officially adopted in Romania in 2015 and it was recommended by the Ministry of Education in order to act in accordance with the educational reform required by globalisation standards. The characteristics of most of the activities provided by the electronic support take into account the learning preferences of young learners, therefore, the learning activities allow students to learn words while seeing their image representations on screen, to watch a story accompanied by motion pictures, to sing a song while reading its lines on a screen, or to play games that mostly require oral production. One of the benefits of integrating digital textbooks in schools for primary level is the fact that these materials are provided for free, so students receive their own DVD support which can be used at home for extra practice. Thus, they include a number of exercises and audio-video materials that activate students’ digital skills and enable successful language acquisition, so that students can do all the activities once again by themselves or with the help their parents.
Actually, important to mention is the fact that most of the primary level e-textbooks which can be used nowadays follow the same pattern less or more, considering the needs and abilities of young language learners. In terms of pedagogical practices, it is obvious that most of the learning activities designed for primary students highlight the importance of oral message, and do not insist so much on practising writing skills. Analysing the practice of teaching foreign languages to young students, Lynne Cameron (2001) do not insist on the division of the four skills as generally practised, but she rather emphasises the importance of oral message because “the spoken form in the young learner classroom acts as the prime source and site of language learning. New language is largely introduced orally, understood orally and aurally, practiced and automatised orally” (Cameron, 2001: 18).
In spite of the fact that the two instances of language, written and spoken, are separated, the practice of vocabulary and grammar emerges from the interaction with oral messages. Consequently, the same scheme of language learning for children is used when structuring the materials of the digital course books designed for primary learners of English. And this represents a good reason for using digital textbooks with primary students, given the use of engaging, original materials that allow an interactive atmosphere for language learning, but also because of the particularities of digital content that enhance positive attitude towards English learning. Moreover, besides the integration of great, interactive materials which enhance effective language development, digital textbooks can be used at home, too. Young learners can learn more and enjoy the digital benefits as much as possible, feeling confident and independent along their English language learning journey. Therefore, teachers have plenty of reasons to use and integrate these digital textbooks in their teaching practice, as the benefits surpass expectations and challenges.
Chesser, W. D. (2011). “The E-textbook Revolution.” Library Technology Reports, 47(8), 28–41. Retrieved from journals.ala.org/index.php/ltr/article/view/4426/5142.
Pim, C. (2013). “Emerging technologies, emerging minds: digital innovations within the primary sector.” In G. Motteram (Ed.), Innovations in Learning Technologies for English Language Teaching, British Council, pp 15-43. Retrieved from dx.doi.org/10.1016/ j.system.2013.12.016.
Cameron, L. (2001). Teaching languages to young learners. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from didactics-a.wikispaces.com/file/view/lynne+cameron.pdf.