Learning a language

How children can become good reader in english when their parents do not read in english

It makes better sense to discuss this question with parents. The discussion that follows could be shared with parents, without any need to edit.

There is a good news here. Reading as a skill is fairly independent of the language of reading! In other words, reading is a highly transferable skill across languages; a good reader in one language has a much higher chance of becoming a good reader in another language.

Broadly, the ability to read in a language poses two challenges:

  1. Proficiency in reading skills in any language (or the proficiency in the skills to read fluently in any language)
  2. Proficiency in comprehending the language of reading

We will call the challenge of proficiency in reading skills as ‘reading skills challenge’ and the challenge of proficiency in comprehending the language of reading as ‘language comprehension challenge’.

The reading skills challenge refers to the ‘preparation of brain’ to read a good volume of text – rapidly, purposefully, with motivation, meaningfully and animatedly. Such a level of skill in reading requires the ‘brain to be trained for it’ in terms of learning to quickly recognise the symbols of a language (called orthography) and to link the spoken sound of a symbol to its symbol (called phonology). These two are the subject of an independent discussion in the section on reading.

The language comprehension challenge is about the vocabulary and broader constructs specific to a language. This is, for obvious reasons, not greatly transferable across languages but it is not too difficult within broad language groups.

Low reading skills challenge (i.e. high reading skills in any language) and low language comprehension challenge (i.e. knowledge of a basic set of vocabulary) in English is a workable combination. In other words, learning English language can be far easier for someone with high reading skills in mother tongue and knowledge of a basic set of vocabulary of English language.

Happily, what is recommended in the situations where parents cannot read in English is for the family to take up reading in any language (in which the parents are comfortable) from the early years of childhood. Between
Classes I to V, the family should read together (at least the mother should be regular and the father as many times a week as possible) in the common language of the family.

By Class V, children should become proficient in reading skills (a benchmark of reading skills proficiency is the ability to read nearly 200 pages of an appropriate kind of novel in about 5-7 hours) in the common language of the family. Then over the next three years, from Classes VI to VIII, children may be exposed, all by themselves, to start reading in English. And they will be able to do it because they would have mastered the more difficult part of the reading in a language – the reading skills challenge. They may start with 4-page stories read in 5 hours but they will rapidly grow and reach the level of 200 pages of English language reading in about 5-7 hours!

To summarise, use the mother-tongue to overcome the challenges of reading skills (no child is born with the skills to read at the academic level) and the rest is easy!

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