How to

The importance of home languages in learning to read

We all have at least one language that we understand and communicate best in, although some of us may have more! People use different labels for this language − like “mother tongue” or “home language” − but it is the language we learnt first. It’s the language we think and feel in, the one in which it is easiest for us to express ourselves and communicate with others.

From birth, children hear language around them. First they understand it and then they start to use it themselves. In fact, by the time they are five years old, children’s brilliant young brains have helped them learn how to think and communicate in their home language. They do still need plenty of opportunities to hear and use their language so that they know it well enough to learn increasingly difficult concepts and skills.

Being read to in your own language should not be considered a nice optional extra for children. It is really an essential and powerful part of learning language and developing literacy. When you read regularly to children in their home language/s, you give them a strong language foundation that makes all learning easier.

If you don’t understand what you are reading, then you are not really reading – no matter how well you can say the words on the page! So, because understanding is at the heart of reading, children need to listen to stories being read in their home language. They can then concentrate completely on the flow of the story instead of struggling to understand a language they don’t know well yet.

Good stories are full of creative language that stimulates our imaginations and gets us thinking about how to solve problems. Authors carefully pick words and phrases that unlock the worlds they are creating for their readers. Like a hearty soup provides goodness to nourish our bodies, reading great stories provides goodness to nourish our minds. They inspire children to read in their home language and then, later on, to learn to read stories in other languages too.