One thing many parents struggle with is encouraging their children to enjoy reading novels. When children these days are surrounded by digital media and instant entertainment in the form of movies, computer games and social media, sitting down to enjoy a book is often a more time-consuming activity than they are used to. However, the benefits are huge, including improving higher order thinking skills, concentration, and importantly, language ability.
Reading novels in English has recently seen a revival in the classroom, as educators have noticed a huge number of advantages over using short texts. As most English language literature is written for native speakers, it prepares learners for the types of language they will have to understand in the real world, and how to notice language norms and patterns. Reading in class also encourages students to communicate with others, as they often feel compelled to share their thoughts and feelings about the story. Students engage with the attitudes and opinions expressed by the author or the characters, helping them to develop their sense of self, moral code, and understanding of the world.
Most importantly, reading literature in English is highly motivating, as finishing a whole book is a huge achievement for a language learner. Books written by popular authors will likely be more interesting and engaging than texts in language course books, no matter how much effort is put into writing them, and this makes lessons more enjoyable.
However, the reading done in an English lesson once a week can’t compare to the long-term impact of fostering a love of reading at home, and from a young age. By reading in their own time, children become independent learners who are picking up the English language implicitly whilst also improving many skills which will be needed throughout their lives.
As parents, there are many ways to encourage reluctant readers to pick up a book. Starting small with short stories is a good first step. A whole novel can often be so intimidating that children are immediately overwhelmed. Graphic novels are also an excellent way to make reading seem less intimidating, as the pictures fill in the gaps in their understanding. Graphic novel versions of classic stories are readily available, and children can then graduate to reading the full novel afterwards.
You can encourage children to read a book in English after they have already read it in their native language, as repetition helps them to feel safe and supported. By already being familiar with the basic story, children will have less trouble with unfamiliar vocabulary. Similarly, first watching a movie version of the novel can provide this support, and also make the story seem more relevant to this new generation of digital natives.
Finally, one of the best ways parents can support their children in promoting reading is to read to them yourself. If you read together, your child can instantly have their questions about new vocabulary or plot points answered. It has the effect, similar to when literature is used in the classroom, of prompting instant discussion and engagement with the themes of the novel, as conversation will naturally happen as you read together.
Reading an entire book in English is an accomplishment for children at any age. By helping our children feel motivated by that accomplishment, they can be improving their language ability far beyond the classroom. At the British Council, we use English novels, extracts from popular stories, and purpose written texts to support your child in achieving a love of reading alongside an all-round improvement in their language skills.