The joy of reading and the benefits it brings to youngsters
The diversity of cultures in the UAE is evident in the mix of children in education in the country. One of the best ways to celebrate the diversity of children’s backgrounds – as well as develop an understanding of the customs, culture and language of the UAE – is through reading.
For children, learning to read fluently is essential for their academic success in school.
American education expert Stephen Krashen suggests that bilingual children learn how to read in their first language in order to further their reading skills in English. Many expatriate families in the UAE recognise the importance of bilingualism for their children and opt to send them to schools where lessons are taught in English.
Other families send their children to bilingual schools where lessons are delivered in both English and a second language.
While many families decide that they want their children to become fluent in English, it is essential that they also promote the development of their child’s reading skills in their native language. Schools and private organisations throughout the UAE often host book fairs that sell children’s books in a variety of languages including Arabic, French and English.
Many Emirati families recognise the value of reading among young children and recently a number of reading initiatives have sprung up throughout the UAE to promote reading among both children and adults. The ZOWD Project is an initiative that works to build active reading communities through events such as book clubs, writing workshops and author talks. Abu Dhabi Reads is a campaign that encourages young children attending Adec schools to read in Arabic and English.
In Dubai, the My Family Reads initiative will disperse internationally known books translated into Arabic throughout 2014.
UAE educators and many government officials alike believe that programmes like these are key to growing an interest in reading for Emirati students.
An avid reader of English and Arabic books, one young Emirati woman is working to promote reading among the children in own her family, “Knowledge, in general, is very important and I would like to see our next generation continue to move forward. I think reading is definitely a step into that direction,” says Ms Al Qubaisi of Al Ain. A long time supporter of childhood reading, Ms Al Qubaisi encourages reading in her family by buying books that appeal to her nieces and nephews.
Indeed, the importance of celebrating and promoting a culture of reading, is backed by research that shows that reading for pleasure has a significant impact on children’s achievement and development in both a first and second language.
It is important for children to have access to high quality culturally relevant literature.
Research has shown that children learn languages more successfully when the language they are learning is relevant to their needs and interests.
When children are presented with information in this way, their learning is contextualised and they are able to make connections to their own experiences.
This makes reading more meaningful and appealing while also encouraging opportunities for children to develop their speaking and listening skills. Ideal texts for second language learners include books with simple and natural language and lots of repetition. The use of puppets, drama and illustrations can also support children in their understanding.
Many children who start to learn a new language go through a “silent period” before they attempt to speak in a second language. This period can last for as little as a few days to a period of a few months. Shared reading activities and storytelling that is engaging and relevant help develop children’s confidence and understanding of a new language. Listening to stories read aloud helps young learners tune into new words and sounds and to develop an understanding of the grammatical patterns of a language.
Teachers in the UAE face the challenge of teaching children from a range of cultural backgrounds and with a range of learning abilities. Promotion of reading is a powerful tool to both engage students and develop their language skills in a meaningful way.
Erin Hayes is an elementary English Language Learner (ELL) specialist. Kate Riddle is the author of the My Gulf World and Me series for primary schoolchildren
Editor’s note: this story was updated on July 5.
Updated: July 2, 2014 04:00 AM