1.17 Reading Aloud with Children Is Great in Any Language

In my experience, most books and articles about reading aloud with children are written in English. An example is the excellent The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, mentioned in our booklet Learning More about Reading Aloud with Children. Plus, there are many collections of stories in English for reading aloud, both in print and on the internet.

Fortunately, we live in a gloriously multilingual world, and people around the world are listening to music in a variety of languages, watching films in different languages, and playing video games in languages other than their native language (their mother tongue). Indeed, the majority of people in the world speak more than one language. For example, the majority of people in Singapore speak English and at least one other language, such as Tamil (an Indian language), Malay, or Mandarin.

There was a time in some countries when English was the prestige language. Some people felt inferior if they did not speak English and did not speak English with a British or American accent. Happily, times are changing. Linguists (scholars who study about languages) tell us that all languages are valuable, and that all varieties of any one language deserve respect. For instance, in Singapore, we have a variety of English called Singapore English, and one variety of Singapore English is Singlish.

The point is that we should not feel bad, we should not feel that we are hurting children, if we read to them in Singlish or in other varieties of English or any other languages. Remember, please, that the point of reading aloud is to connect with the children and to discuss with them what is on their minds and to share with them important life lessons. We should not lose the opportunity to do that.

Research suggests that knowing more than one language improves children’s thinking skills. For example, bilingual children have better powers of attention and can switch between tasks better than monolingual children. Furthermore, bilingual children are more flexible in their thinking, better able to adjust to changes in their environment. Speaking multiple languages expands children’s world, as they have more people whom they can speak with and learn from, more potential friends and business partners. Later in life, the brains of bilingual people tend to decline less that do the brains of people who have only spoken one language during their lives.

Additionally, all the advantages of reading aloud apply regardless of what language the book is in or what language the book is read in. For example, a children’s book in Korean can be read aloud in another language. Also, the dialog that accompanies books does not have to be in the language of the book. For instance, if adults read aloud a children’s book in English, but they and/or the children prefer to discuss the book in another language, such as Japanese, the dialog that accompanies the book can be in Japanese.

Some children’s books are already bilingual, with the words in two languages. A friend of mine, Professor Anita Lie, is a Chinese Indonesian who teaches English. She has made trilingual books, in Indonesian, Chinese, and English. These books help children develop trilingual ability, thereby making the world a more understandable place. When children create their own books, as is explained in our booklet Children Can Make Their Own Read Aloud Books, these can be multilingual books. Actually, Professor Lie also speaks Javanese, a major language on Java, the most populous island of Indonesia; so, maybe someday, she will create children’s books in four languages!

Summary: Reading aloud with children is great to do in any language. The more, the merrier!