Reading in mother tongue gets a boost

This year's Read! Fest is upping programmes in Chinese, Malay and Tamil by more than 60 per cent from last year

The National Library Board (NLB) is looking to improve the reading rates of mother tongue literature during this year's Read! Fest.

It is increasing programmes in Chinese, Malay and Tamil by more than 60 per cent from last year, with a focus on Singapore literature.

The fourth edition of the annual festival, which kicks off on Friday and will run until July 29 as part of the National Reading Movement, will feature 170 reading programmes with more than 100 authors. Two in five of these will be conducted in a mother tongue.

According to the National Reading Habits Survey On Adults conducted by NLB last year, 44 per cent of adults aged 20 to 29, who can read in both English and their mother tongue, read in the latter more than once a week.

This was the lowest among all the age groups surveyed and many said they found no value in doing so as English is their official working language.

Mr David Lee, 51, who spends at least two hours a day reading in Chinese and hopes to take part in Read! Fest's Chinese programmes, says: "In today's world, we tend to rely on English books in the workplace and in school."

  • BOOK IT / READ! FEST 2017

  • WHEN: Friday to July 29




    A bilingual session where people can try their hand at translating poems into English or Chinese.

    WHERE: National Library, Possibility Room, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: July 15, 2.30 to 4pm


    Engage with writer Chitra Ramesh in this gathering of the Vasagar Vattam book club. The session is in Tamil.

    WHERE: Programme Zone, L1, Ang Mo Kio Public Library, 4300 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6

    WHEN: July 16, 5 to 7pm


    A Malay poetry and performance showcase.

    WHERE: National Library, The Pod

    WHEN: July 22, 5 to 8pm

The executive director of an events management company adds: "I strongly feel that as Chinese people, we should know how to appreciate Chinese texts as the written characters are full of depth and have philosophical and artistic value."

One of the festival's mother tongue programmes will be by actress and author Rilla Melati, 44, who will be conducting an interactive storytelling session for kids on Friday at Bishan Library, using a book from her Siri Aksi Adil (Adventures Of Adil) series, Meja Makan Adil (Adil's Dining Table).

"Storytelling can help to develop a love for the Malay language as children can actively participate during the session and get to see the language come alive through narration," she says.

She and her 16-year-old son speak Malay at home with her parents. This has made it easy for them to switch between English and Malay.

"Some parents insist that their children, even the grandparents, speak in English," she says. "I find this a waste, as grandparents are walking encyclopaedias and we should not discourage them from speaking to their grandchildren in the language they are most familiar with."

Other Read! Fest programmes range from book clubs to panel discussions and workshops, including Literary Busking, where guests can be part of the production of a comic.

More than half the programmes are dedicated to adults, with NLB hoping to draw 3,500 adult participants this year. It has also launched a social media campaign, Share A Read, to encourage people to recommend titles on social media.

Says NLB deputy director of service and development Ian Yap: "We have found that most Singaporeans are more likely to read titles recommended by their peers and we believe that this is one of the best ways to get more people to explore new genres and read widely."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Reading in mother tongue gets a boost'. Print Edition | Subscribe