by Maria Mahat

Is your child reading yet? 

Is your child able to understand and communicate in English and Malay?

Is your child able to read in English and Malay?  


Reading is a process that has to be learnt.  The process that leads to being able to read and communicate well includes a child being able to listen, understand, speak, read and write. For a child to listen, there must be someone to talk to him or her. There must be voices to be heard.

If the environment uses English all the time, the child will absorb the words, retain it in his/her neurons, process it and eventually use it with understanding. If the environment uses English, Malay and any other languages, sooner or later, your child is able to do the same and more –  the ability to code-switch from one language to another. Parents might think that this may confuse the child, but do not underestimate the brain’s ability to code-switch especially when you have spoken and read to the child in the language since birth, or even in the womb. Here are some tips for you:

  • Speak in proper sentences in that language every day and all the time.
  • When a child seeks your attention, drop everything and attend to her/him.
  • When a child asks a question, try your best to explain. If you do not know, find out together. Do not dismiss the question or worst still, fake your answers.
  • When you come across something new for the child, describe the object or things in any languages that you want to use that day. Eg. Ini bola bulat. Bola ini keras. Harga bola ini sedolar. Warna bola ini biru dan putih.
  • Commit a day to read in English, and another day to read in another language and so on.
  • Read. Read. Read. Go to the library, and find books together.
  • It is also okay to read digital books together, to watch digital storybooks together and to listen to audiobooks together. The operative word is “together” and not let the child be left with the digital device on his/her own.
  • Find books with good pictures so you can talk in whatever languages about the picture with your young kids. Don’t worry if the book is in Russian, Chinese or Greek. If the pictures are engaging, create your own stories with your kids in your comfortable language.

A child who has been read to daily will grow up to love books and reading and will have the desire to know more and find out more. He or she will be the one seeking his own answers one day. You want to instill this aptitude in your child. It starts with reading to your child consistently.

All you need to do is invest in the “time to read” to your child for the first 6 years of his/her life. You will realise that as he or she grows older, and start being more independent in reading, you will spend less time reading to him/her, but more time reading with him/her.

This does not mean you stop reading to your child after aged 6. But, as soon as he/she is fully independent in reading, your child will pick up a book to read on his/her own without you having to ask him/her.

I urge parents to start a small library at home. Invest in $15-$30 a month for book treats for your child. It’s ok to get second-hand books as long as they are still in good condition.

I urge preschools to have a system where books are sent home with the child weekly or better still daily. A Malay friend who used to live in the UK remarked that his children brought home books three times a week from their preschool/school and that create a voracious appetite for the language and reading. No homework needed.

You can find some of the above bilingual books on our website for purchase or go to our local library to enjoy them together. Reading is the foundation for everything in life.