Dr Maria Diakou talks about Technology and Young Learners

Dr Maria Diakou is currently working as a Deputy Head for the Cyprus Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth and is a part-time lecturer at the University of Nicosia. She is also a consulting member of the MA in CALL committee of the Cyprus University of Technology. She has been teaching English as a foreign language for 28 years. She holds a Master’s in Applied Linguistics and a Doctorate in Education. She is currently the Coordinator of LT SIG (IATEFL – Learning Technologies Special Interest Group), a member of YLT SIG – IATEFL (Young Learners and Teens-Special Interest Group-IATEFL), of EUROCALL - (European Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning), and TESOL Greece.

Maria has provided exceptional contributions to the Cyprus Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth as a member of the piloting team of the new lessons included in the newly adopted curriculum of the island. She is also a referee in “Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching” International Educational Journal. She has authored early EFL language learning, technology, and multicultural education articles. Her research interests are in technology language learning and multicultural education.

She was awarded the ELT 2020 Bronze Award of Excellence in Innovation in Language Learning and the ELT 2022 Silver Award of Excellence in Online Learning.

  • Can you elaborate on the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in facilitating foreign language learning, particularly in the context of young learners aged 9-12?

In the context of young learners aged 9-12, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) play an important role in transforming the landscape of foreign language learning. Integrating digital tools and platforms into language education not only capitalizes on the natural affinity that young minds have for technology but also creates dynamic and engaging learning environments. There are so many interactive language learning applications, online games, and multimedia resources tailored for this age group that can provide immersive experiences beyond traditional classroom methods. These technologies foster a sense of curiosity and exploration, enabling young learners to interact with the foreign language in authentic and context-rich settings. Additionally, ICT facilitates personalized learning pathways, catering to individual needs and learning styles. Technology integration in foreign language instruction for young learners supports the development of essential language skills while nurturing a positive and interactive approach to language acquisition, setting a strong foundation for their future linguistic proficiency.

  • What is the ELT context in Cyprus as regards the use of technology?

In Cyprus, English Language Teaching (ELT) has seen a growing technology integration, particularly in Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL). The educational landscape has witnessed an increased emphasis on digital tools and platforms to enhance language learning experiences. Many new courses on implementing technology in language learning are developed at the tertiary level. Language educators in Cyprus have been incorporating interactive software, online resources, and language learning apps to supplement traditional teaching methods. This shift towards technology in ELT is driven by recognizing its potential to engage students, provide personalized learning experiences, and foster language acquisition in a more dynamic and interactive manner. However, challenges such as access to technology and digital devices among students may need to be addressed to ensure equitable integration across the education system. Cyprus Ministry of Education aims to support all schools with new devices so that all educators can implement technology in their teaching. Many seminars and conferences are being organized so that all educators can follow new trends in the constantly growing technology integration. In the pictures you can see a programme we adopted called “Parents and students working together” where we invite parents to come and work with their children during an everyday lesson. You can also see student teachers who are invited to come to class and support teachers by working in a classroom with different activities.

  • Can you explain how teachers can be innovative in using ICT to enhance language learning for young students?

In the realm of English language teaching for young students, teachers can foster innovation by strategically integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools into their instructional practices. Utilizing interactive educational apps, online games, and multimedia resources tailored to the developmental needs and interests of young learners can create engaging language learning experiences. Incorporating digital storytelling platforms, interactive whiteboards, or virtual language exchanges can further enhance students' linguistic skills while promoting creativity and collaboration. Additionally, teachers can leverage video conferencing tools for virtual cultural exchanges, connecting their students with English speakers or learners from diverse backgrounds. Let’s not forget AI tools that can be used to bring pictures to life, giving students the opportunity to learn in a fun and motivating way. Virtual Reality can also be used to give all students the opportunity to visit virtual places all around the world that they won’t ever (maybe) be given the chance to do so. By adapting and embracing a variety of ICT resources, teachers can create a dynamic and inclusive language learning environment that caters to the unique needs and technological fluency of young students.

  • Could you provide some examples of innovative approaches or methods that teachers can use when incorporating ICT into English Language Teaching (ELT) classes for young learners?

Innovative approaches to incorporating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into English Language Teaching (ELT) classes for young learners include interactive storytelling apps that engage children in language-rich narratives, fostering language skills and creativity. Gamified language learning platforms capitalize on the natural affinity of young learners for digital games, making the acquisition of English enjoyable and interactive. Virtual language exchanges, facilitated through video conferencing tools, connect young students with peers from different cultures, providing authentic language practice and promoting global awareness. Augmented reality (AR) applications can bring elements of the English language into the physical world, offering a multisensory learning experience. These approaches align with young learners' technological interests and cater to diverse learning styles, creating a dynamic and effective ELT environment.

  • What are the key challenges that teachers might face when integrating ICT into language classes for young students, and how can they overcome these challenges?

Teachers integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into language classes for young students may encounter challenges such as limited access to technology, varying levels of digital literacy among students, and potential distractions during online activities. Educators can implement a phased approach to overcome these challenges, gradually introducing and familiarizing students with digital tools. Providing equal access to technology by organizing classroom rotations or making use of available school resources can help address disparities. Additionally, offering targeted training for both teachers and students to enhance digital literacy skills is crucial. Clear guidelines and expectations regarding the purpose and conduct of online activities can minimize distractions and maintain focus. Collaboration with parents to extend technology-enhanced learning beyond the classroom and create a supportive learning environment at home can further contribute to successful ICT integration in language classes for young learners.

  • Is professional development important especially when it comes to ICT integration in language teaching?

Professional development is crucial, particularly in the context of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) integration in language teaching. As technology continues to evolve, educators need to stay abreast of the latest tools and methodologies to effectively harness the benefits of ICT in language instruction. Ongoing professional development ensures that teachers are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate digital platforms, integrate relevant apps, and tailor technology to meet the diverse needs of language learners. Furthermore, it empowers educators to adapt their teaching strategies, design engaging digital content, and address challenges associated with incorporating technology into language classes. Continuous learning in this domain not only enhances teachers' proficiency in utilizing ICT tools but also fosters a dynamic and innovative educational environment that better prepares students for the digital landscape of the future.

  • How can teachers ensure that the use of ICT is aligned with effective pedagogy, content, and context? Are there specific strategies or guidelines they should follow?

Teachers should adopt a thoughtful and strategic approach to ensure that the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) aligns with effective pedagogy, content, and context. First and foremost, they should align technology integration with clear learning objectives, ensuring that ICT tools complement the pedagogical goals of the lesson or unit. Understanding their students' specific needs and abilities is crucial, as this informs the selection of appropriate digital resources. Teachers should also consider the relevance of the content to the curriculum and the learners' interests. Regular professional development is essential to keep educators informed about the latest technologies and effective instructional strategies. Creating a supportive and collaborative learning environment where students can explore and apply technology in meaningful ways enhances the overall integration process. Consistent reflection on the effectiveness of ICT use, feedback from students, and adjustments to instructional practices contribute to well-aligned and impactful technology integration in the educational context.

  • Could you share examples of motivating videos, songs, or internet resources that you find particularly effective in engaging young learners and enhancing their linguistic repertoire?

Engaging young learners in language acquisition can be effectively achieved through carefully selected videos, songs, and internet resources. Educational platforms like ABCmouse and Duo Lingo offer interactive and entertaining videos that cover a range of linguistic skills, from vocabulary building to storytelling. Animated songs, such as those found on Super Simple Songs or Dream English Kids, provide a catchy and enjoyable way for children to learn language and incorporate repetitive patterns that aid in retention. Interactive story apps like Epic! and Tumble Books captivate young learners' attention while enhancing their literacy skills. Additionally, incorporating educational YouTube channels like the British Council's Learn English Kids and National Geographic, Kahoot, Playposit, Powtoon, can offer engaging content, from animated stories to language games, fostering a dynamic and enjoyable language learning experience for young students. Online platforms like Nearpod allow students to work collaboratively and enjoy learning. Teams and Moodle can also be used to create a kind of e-portfolio with all students’ assignments, which parents can see at any time. Of course, we should not forget AI tools like Hot Pot and Autodraw. Augmented Reality is also giving extra motivation for our students and there are so many tools like QuiverVision which we can use in language teaching.

  • How do you assess the impact of ICT on students' language skills and fluency? Are there any specific assessment methods or tools that you recommend?

Assessing the impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on students' language skills and fluency involves a multifaceted approach considering both formative and summative evaluation methods. Formative assessments, such as ongoing observations, student reflections, and feedback sessions, can provide insights into the immediate effects of ICT integration on language learning. Additionally, tracking students' progress through digital platforms and language learning apps allows for continuous assessment of their language development. Summative assessments may include traditional tests or projects that showcase the application of language skills acquired through ICT-enhanced activities. Rubrics tailored to specific language objectives can provide a structured framework for evaluation. Moreover, language portfolios, where students compile samples of their digital projects or online interactions, can serve as a comprehensive means to assess overall language proficiency and the impact of ICT on linguistic fluency over time. Regular reflection and adaptation of assessment strategies are crucial to aligning evaluations with the dynamic nature of technology integration in language education.

  • Can you provide insights into how teachers can foster this exploration and promote language fluency using ICT?

Teachers can foster exploration and promote language fluency using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) by creating a learner-centric environment that encourages active engagement and collaboration. Offering a variety of digital resources, such as interactive language learning apps, online games, and virtual language exchanges, allows students to explore language in diverse contexts. Teachers can design project-based activities that leverage multimedia tools, enabling students to express themselves creatively and develop linguistic skills simultaneously. Encouraging online discussions, collaborative writing projects, and virtual presentations enhances language fluency and cultivates digital communication skills. Moreover, providing constructive feedback on digital projects and guiding students to reflect on their language use in the digital realm contributes to continuous improvement. By incorporating ICT strategically into lesson plans and empowering students to navigate and create content, teachers can create an environment that stimulates exploration and nurtures language fluency.


Anastasia Spyropoulou

Anastasia Spyropoulou

Editor in Chief at ELT NEWS