With babies, young children, and even older children who have to learn through an additional language like English at school, it’s best to share books in the language or languages you speak at home with them. It takes many years to learn your mother tongue well, and reading and talking about books in your mother tongue enriches your children’s language – and it gives your children the head start they need for successful learning at school.
In South Africa, many homes are bilingual or multilingual. This is not a problem – in fact, it is a wonderful resource for children! They can transfer the concepts, knowledge and language that they learn in one language to another one. Children are also able to learn in two languages at the same time! So if, for example, Mom’s mother tongue is isiXhosa and Dad’s mother tongue is Sesotho, and each of them usually speaks their language to their baby, he or she will grow up learning two languages. If you and other adults in your home each want to use your mother tongue to share books with your children, this is fine. The important thing is to make sure that your baby or child understands you, and is having an enjoyable and satisfying time.
And there is even better news! Did you know that although it’s a good idea to keep reading to your children in their mother tongue, when they start to learn an additional language at school reading picture books in this ‘new’ language to them will help them to learn the language more easily. So, if you are able to, once your children are of school-going age, don’t be afraid of reading in your mother tongue plus other languages your child may be learning at school.
So, to help your children have the very best chance at success at school, here’s the golden rule: start talking and reading to them in your mother tongue/s when they are babies, keep doing this throughout their lives and as they learn other languages at school, start reading to them in these languages too!