Reading in mother tongue: Why your child must do it and 8 tips to start

Reading in mother tongue languages is especially important, as it teaches values through stories that connect children to their culture.


Nikki Fung

Why is it important for children to read in their mother tongue language?

We ask Yang Qinli, a National Library Board librarian who focuses on mother tongue language collection. He conducts storytelling sessions with children regularly at Jurong West Public Library and Choa Chu Kang Public Library.

It is important for children to start reading from a young age, so that their habit to read will stay with them as they grow up. Reading in mother tongue languages is even more important, as it teaches values through stories that connect children to their culture. Parents play an important role in encouraging their child to read in their mother tongue. 

Here are 8 tips to get started:

1. Make reading a family affair
Read with your child regularly in mother tongue language to help him get used to listening, reading and speaking the language. In addition, by making this an enjoyable family activity, your child will be more receptive to reading. 

Related: How children learn languages: tips from an expert

2. Visit the library regularly
The library is a more conducive space for children to focus on reading. By making the library trips a routine, it might also be easier for children to develop a habit to read regularly. 

3. Be a role model 
Lead by example: read mother tongue language books regularly. Children tend to learn from their parents and develop similar habits. 

4. Let your child choose what they want to read
Let your child choose the books that he wishes to read. A great place to find an extensive children’s collection is the library. The library has many up-to-date reading resources specifically for young children below six, including Early Literacy Collections at Jurong Regional Library, Sembawang Public Library and Pasir Ris Public Library. You can also approach the librarians for recommendations on books that would be of interest to their children, and let them choose their favourite.

Related: Review: reopened Pasir Ris Public Library

5. Make it interactive
After your child has finished reading their book, quiz him about it. Or make it relatable by drawing parallels to your child’s likes and dislikes. Do these activities in your mother tongue to help your child practise listening and speaking the language. 

Related: 10 ways to help your kid get more out of reading

6. Help your child get used to his mother tongue 
Greater exposure can help familiarise your child with the language. This will in turn encourage him to read mother tongue language books. Talk to your child in the language or even engage him through singing rhymes.  

Related: When your child refuses to speak her mother tongue

7. Attend reading programmes with your child
Reading can be made more interesting through reading programmes, which children can take part as a group. For example, the National Library Board has reading clubs for children aged 4 to 10 in Chinese, Malay and Tamil, where children come together regularly to enjoy stories, participate in activities and read together. There are also regular storytelling sessions in mother tongue languages in the public libraries for families. 

8. Make full use of eBooks
If your busy lifestyle limits the time you have to bring your child to library, use eBooks to read with your child. The National Library Board has a comprehensive collection of eBooks for children in all four languages, which parents can access anytime and anywhere for free using their electronic devices. There is also no need to worry about overdue fees as e-loans will automatically expire after the loan period.  

(Photo: tomwang/   


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