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Native Tongue Reading Sessions

Posted: 16th March 2023

Regular ‘Native Tongue Reading’ storytelling has immeasurable benefits for Early Years children. What is a Native Tongue Reading Session?


Over the last five years, Greenfield has hosted ‘Native Tongue Reading’ sessions with our Early Years children, aged 2 to rising 5, where we invite parents to join us for a morning of storytelling in their native tongue. Participants bring in a storybook written in their native tongue and spend time with a small group of children, reading to them in a different language and engaging with the children to understand the story. Over the years sessions have included stories in Spanish, French, Arabic, Polish, Kannada, Tamil, Portuguese, Russian, Hungarian, Japanese, Hindi and Greek.

Whilst a key element of these sessions is strengthening our connection with parents and providing opportunities for families to visit the classroom, we have also hosted these sessions with other members of the Greenfield community; whether this be staff, or, most recently, a group of keen Year 6 pupils who spoke Bulgarian, Afrikaans and Mandarin between them.

The Power of Storytelling

When a story is engaging, a language learner with even the most basic skills can understand it. Considering the benefits of storytelling as a tool to develop language, reading stories with children builds greater confidence in language fluency; expanding vocabulary, enhancing grammar, improving reading, writing and listening skills, and developing pronunciation. Storytelling activates the imagination and taps into the essence of our humanity which in turn activates creative thinking and results in a highly energised language learning experience. In essence, when storytelling is playful and captivating, active listening naturally takes place, which subconsciously leads to learning.

Enhancing Early Literacy

There are many benefits to the children that occur during each storytelling session. The children are able to pick up on various audio and visual clues to follow along with the story; from pictures, emphasis and the storyteller’s tone of voice. In addition, where there are recurring motifs or words, children pick up the occasional word or phrase that can begin an understanding of a new language.

Community Engagement

As our community grows in number every year, the sessions have become increasingly popular with more storytellers joining us every time. In addition to the language benefits, the sessions also increase opportunities for parents to visit their child’s classroom. This is especially valuable in the Early Years department, as it reinforces home-school communication and provides continuity for the children as they transition from nursery into more formal education.

Can Language Exposure Improve Ability?

Research shows there are many benefits that come from exposing children to a range of languages at a young age, from recognising sounds and gestures through to understanding words and phrases. Hearing other languages on a regular basis not only develops a child’s literacy, but the cognitive and social aspects also enrich their educational learning as a whole and can improve their performance in other areas. The connections made and comprehension learned strengthens speaking skills and creates a “flexible” cognitive ability, whereby they are able to articulate ideas and be an active listener in conversations; ultimately building transferable skills and understanding that they can apply in all their lessons. Our Native Tongue Reading sessions mirror this approach and act as a gentle introduction to the joy of languages.

Nurturing A Love of Languages

As the children grow, we continue to nurture a love of languages: placing emphasis on listening and speaking in real-life scenarios; offering a break-time ‘French club’ where an immersive language experience is provided; and developing comprehension skills through conversation, understanding elements of a country’s culture, and listening to music.

Improving English Language Skills

Studies have shown that in strengthening a child’s native tongue and developing reading comprehension skills through connections, curiosity, and new vocabulary, ultimately improves a child’s English language.  To further promote a diverse learning environment, we stock our library with plenty of non-English books and games; highlighting voices with first-hand experience of other cultures and backgrounds.

Celebrating Mother Tongues

We look forward to continuing these sessions for years to come, with more and more speakers and languages. Feedback from parents is always incredibly positive and the children are always buzzing afterwards, especially those whose parent or guardian has come in to school that day. If you were unsure how a child would react to their guardian in coming in to school during one of these visits; wide-eyed, rapt attention from a few inches away illustrates the sentiment! During one of the most recent reading sessions, a child watching their mother gently interrupted her to whisper quietly in her ear; mum gave a smile and responded “I love you, too!”.

We look forward to hosting our next Native Tongue Reading session very soon.

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