Fun with Words Essential for Developing Children’s Language Skills

  • Panel discusses the importance of ‘for children-ness’ in children’s literature discussed at SCRF 2017

A panel of distinguished children’s writers from Turkey, Australia, and the UAE came together this Friday evening (28 April) at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF 2017), for a discussion on how children’s literature is fundamental to learning about language, learning about the world, and learning about self.

Chaired by UAE author and novelist and recipient of the Rashid Bin Humaid Culture and Science Award, Shaima Al Marzouqi; award-winning author of 51 books, bookshop owner, librarian and teacher from Australia, Damian Morgan; and Turkish writer, Mavisel Yener, who has had one of her very popular books, The Blue Apple, translated to Arabic, shared some interesting insights on how they think literary texts stimulate young minds. Even though the basic underlining message – read more to develop language skills – was echoed by the panel word, each suggested a unique perspective on how to attain this goal.

Highlighted that words in any language have a certain melody children are attracted towards, Yener remarked: “It’s not enough for a writer to think of a story to tell children, and just write it. The most important thing is to be able to say it in the right way using the right words; arresting young readers in a book’s narrative style makes them more and more engaged in the story, and with language itself.”

“Listening to tales improves children’s communication skills. Parents, teachers, librarians – everyone shares responsibility to help young people develop a reading habit and a love for books. With access to the right books, they will develop their vocabulary and linguistic abilities, naturally,” she added.

She also strictly recommended against mixing one’s mother tongue with other languages.

Morgan shared statistics from a survey conducted in the US some years ago by university students, revealing the number of words a child heard until the age of 3. “Children born to professional parents in their first year of life heard 45 million words. Children of working-class parents heard 36 million, and those whose parents were on welfare heard 12 million. This is a huge difference,” he said.

Having taught in the UAE for five years, Morgan observed that children here have weak vocabularies in English, it being their second language. That doesn’t differ much from their mother language, Arabic, which is not very extensive either. As a result, when it comes to reading they struggle. He said that the best way to overcome this is by making the process of reading and learning a language as fun as possible. The single-most important purpose of a book, in his opinion, should be to entertain.

Al Marzouqi put the onus on mothers, saying: “The mental potential and proficiency of children, no matter how young they are, cannot be undermined. Their readiness to acquire language skills kicks in very early. That is why mothers play a very important role to develop a child’s linguistic and cognitive prowess. Just introducing them to a few good books at home, and using good language to speak can make all the difference.”

In conclusion, all panelists agreed that literature expands knowledge and experiences, and helps young readers solve problems, playing a significant role in children’s overall developmental journey.

In its ninth edition this year, the 11-day reading festival features a line-up of 2,093 activities. A total of 123 exhibitors from across the world are displaying their literature-related products and services at the event.