Proficiency in English (or for that matter, any language) is generally measured in two aspects – speech and reading/writing.
In Singapore, children are exposed to speaking English from an early age. However, the development of a child’s spoken English ability hinges on the language proficiency of people he or she interacts with. Although English is commonly used, we have to accept that it is not the native language of most people here and that the use of “Singlish” is more prevalent than we would like to admit.
To inoculate a child against picking up undesirable language habits, parents need to help their children build a strong foundation in the language by inculcating in them the love for reading. Reading not only improves a child’s spelling and expands vocabulary, it also exposes him or her to complex ideas and concepts.
How do I encourage my child to read?
Children love stories. Before they are able to read by themselves, parents should set aside some time every day to read a short story to their child. Reading stories to children plants in them the seed of love for books, and wanting to find out what happens in a story is the most natural motivation for children to want to start reading by themselves.
Once they get past their ABCs, consider investing in a set of specialised books that are structured to teach children how to read in progressive manner. In these books, new words are introduced gradually so that the novice reader can digest them at a manageable pace. Parents or educators play an essential role at this stage by reading the books aloud together with the child as English words are not necessarily pronounced the way they are spelt.
When a child is able to more or less read independently, parents should actively involve him or her in choosing books to read. At primary school level, children are typically drawn to horror, fantasy and mystery stories. Comics are also a favourite, although some parents tend to dismiss this literary form as frivolous. There are gems and junk in any genre, and parents should definitely not underestimate the pedagogic qualities of comics.
As a child’s reading ability evolves and matures, it becomes possible for parents and educators to give them a nudge to try different things. Children’s encyclopaedia is a rich resource of knowledge that I personally find is frequently overlooked by parents. The school curriculum dictates what and how much a child needs to know regardless of his or her interest in a particular subject matter. With a wide variety of topics ranging from science to geography to history, encyclopaedias offer children the opportunity of finding out about things that truly pique their intellectual curiosity.
Further up the reading scale is “drier” media such as news and current affairs. A few local publishers have the taken on the challenging task of enticing young readers to read the news by packaging content in a fun and easy-to-read format. Reading about current affairs develops critical thinking and widens their world view, and gives them the confidence to discuss and argue about issues affecting their lives.
Perhaps it is simplest to remember that reading should be a pleasure and not a chore. So long as reading is kept fun and interesting, kids will need no encouragement from you. Instead, they will be the ones hounding you about the next visit to the library.