“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales”, Albert Einstein said. The power and importance of reading to young children was echoed by UNISA’s Prof. Elizabeth Pretorius at a Multilingual Resources for Early Literacy Symposium in Centurion. “It is not just about the magic of story,” she said, “it is about the development of cognitive function. Reading makes you
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smarter.” She quoted an American study: in professional homes, children were exposed to 33 million cumulative words by the age of 3 with a resulting mean IQ of 117. In welfare homes, the figures were 9 million words and a mean IQ of 79. It is a stark example of how the poor stay poor and the rich get richer. With increasing exposure to language, intelligence grows, and along with this, opportunities for a better life. But the challenges of mother tongue early literacy in a multi-lingual world are vast. Europe may have 24 member states, but about 60 languages are spoken there. India has 22 constitutional languages, but 152 local languages – some with populations smaller than 10 000 people. Uganda has 67 constitutional languages, and the list goes on. In South Africa, we have 11 constitutional languages, with variations and different dialects for each language. So as a Venda mother tongue speaker, I may be able to find a children’s book in Venda – but with eight dialects spoken – the book is unlikely to be my Venda – my mother tongue. India’s partial solution to this problem is Pratham Books (www.prathambooks.org). It aims to get a book into every child’s hand – and with 300 000 000 children under the age of 14 in India, this is a massive undertaking. So far, they have distributed 11 million books, but have a readership of about 52 million people thanks to open source licenses on all its content and distribution across a host of electronic platforms. On-line software allows the public to reversion stories – so existing stories can be recreated in other languages, to cater to different reading levels, or simply for the creative fun of it. For each book that is put
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out, an average of five new versions are created. In South Africa, books are massively expensive and generally difficult to access – books are truly a resource reserved for the wealthy. There are also virtually no books published in African languages. But this may be about to change, thanks to the launch last week of www.africanstorybook.org. As with Pratham Books, it allows the public to either read books on-line, or to print them at low cost. It allows for stories to be translated and reversioned, and this presents a great opportunity for anyone with an interest in getting books into the hands of children. Give it a try, log-on, register, and in no time you can be creating books for your school, your family, the children of your staff or the beneficiaries of your CSI programmes. You’ve always wanted to write that book in your own language. It’s just got easier. The
time is now!