“Aahrr! Aahrr!” Why books in the mother tongue matter

For children to really fall in love with reading, they need to hear stories in their home languages. They need to see themselves, their lives and their languages in the pages of a book. That is why I am super proud to be part of the Wimpy South Africa-Ethnikids “Our Stories Your Language” collaboration.  My book, The Hadeda And The Storm, is one of five books that has been translated and is available in all 11 official languages. 

South Africa faces a critical shortage of children’s books that are available in indigenous languages, which can present itself as a big barrier to being able to enjoy relaxed reading time. Especially in the younger years, these books are not just stories, but become pathways into the wonderful world of reading. 

While there has been a strong push for “English first” in education in South Africa (for a myriad of complex practical and ideological reasons), this contradicts research that mother tongue education, especially in the early years, provides a more solid foundation for academic success later, as well as for the learning of additional languages. For example, Taylor and von Fintel (2016) show that having a solid foundation in the mother tongue actually leads to better English acquisition in later grades.

Acquiring literacy in the home language not only helps the learning of the additional language later on, but importantly, gives children a sense of pride in their heritage and identity. Having books available in these languages is therefore an essential ingredient! 

Knowing that The Hadeda And The Storm can be enjoyed by children in their home languages makes me very happy. I also LOVE how  the (annoying and noisy) cry of the hadeda was translated into the different languages, don’t you?!

(See the picture above and be sure to click on the “Our Stories Your Language” link to check out the other amazing books available too!)


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