“To Read or Not To Read? That’s the Question!” seminar was held in Voronezh on Saturday, September 15. The seminar was organized by “Repnoe” Effective Communications School in support of “Chitay-Boltai” Book Festival, which is scheduled in the city for the beginning of December 2018.

Famous Russian scientists, popularizers of the Russian language and literature spoke at the event. RIA “Voronezh” columnist attended the event where Doctor of Letters Professor Maksim Krongauz was a speaker and summarized the scientist’s most interesting statements about children’s reading.

Why shall we read with children?

– I encourage everyone who has children to read with them. This is especially important at the age of three to seven years, as it lays the tradition of reading. At school, everything changes a little: the child finds himself in a new communicative environment. But if you manage to preserve the family tradition of reading together at school age, of course it will be great.

I have three children, and when the youngest was about four years old, I read Homer’s Odyssey to them. It seemed this leaved no trace in my youngest daughter, but once, when she got up at night, she cited: “But when early-born rosy-fingered Dawn appeared.” I was amazed that I still planted an important element of literature in her. She still remembers this, rather with indignation though.

Do children always comprehend what they read?

– There are different types of reading and its perception. This is especially true of poetry. You can perceive either meanings, or images and sounds. Children’s poetry is very diverse and very important for children, although sometimes it does not bring any special meanings. One of the benefits of reading children’s poetry together is that the child learns certain rhythms that give rise to certain images. It is important to read poetry to the child out loud, because an adult can read poems with the right intonation, catching the rhythmus, while the child spends a lot of efforts on the reading process itself, and may simply not notice any rhythms or intonations.

Poems by Soviet classic authors: Chukovsky’s “Telephone”, Marshak’s “Post Office” can serve a vivid example. Various passages of these poems are written in different rhythmuses, actively use sound patterns, creating images of different countries, animals. The child may not know the definitions of individual words in the poem, that is, do not understand all the meanings. But thanks to the sound patterns, change of rhythm and tempo of reading, he or she catches images. Agniya Barto’s poem “Chatterbox” and “What about you?” by Sergei Mikhalkov imitate children’s speech, but such grammatically incorrect sentences can be much more clear for children. Sometimes a sound is more important than a meaning.

Is reading with comprehension always necessary?

– I set up the following experiments with children: I suggested that they drew pictures that they saw behind the poetic lines. The drawings were different. For example, I read them the lines: The telephone rang. “Hello! Who’s there?” “The Polar Bear.” The children drew different phones: radiotelephones, mobile phones, and only two old push-button or rotary dial disk phones. It enabled us to conclude that they had already read this poem and tried to reproduce the illustrations from the book. After the lines “Two pretty piglets are typing using a typewriter” (literal translation of the line from “Svinki” (“Piglets”) poem by Chukovsky) no one painted a typewriter. One boy drew a sewing machine that preserved in their house.

There is a similar task for schoolchildren on the Internet to draw a line by Pushkin “A saucy kibítka is slicing its furrow through the powdery icing.” No one can properly draw the kibitka and the other things. This is a way to mock the students. But how can a student know these words? These texts are not perceived verbatim, without full comprehension. My favorite example: which of us uses the word “sled” in our speech? We learn the vocabulary of past centuries from poems. So, my answer to the question of whether reading with comprehension is always necessary is of course not. And there is no need to stop and explain what the reins or phone are. The parent’s participation is to read it with the right intonation. And, of course, to participate in this celebration of life – reading together.

Is it necessary to learn the meaning?

– Of course, it is necessary. This is a different type of reading. Parents are irreplaceable here as well, because children do not read books with a dictionary. But it concerns, first of all, non-fiction prose. If a child asks about an unfamiliar word, of course, you need to stop and explain it.

Are the language and the style of the work important for children?

– My experience suggests that the language and style that are used in the work do not matter for children. Most often children are interested in the images created in the book. If you, as adults, take those books that made a great impression on you as a child, you will see that many of them are written in absolutely rusty language. For example, I was convinced of this after reading “The House with the Magic Windows” by Esfir Emden or Volkov’s The Wizard of the Emerald City as an adult.

However, this does not mean that the writers who create children's books should not pay attention to language and style. After all, the language absorbed by the child from books will be used by him or her in the future. In addition, we must not forget that the books intended not only for children, but also for their parents who sense language nuances while reading to their children have always had the happiest destiny.

Why shall we read?

– Reading gives the opportunity to live someone else’s experience and form our own behavior patterns. We live in a certain place at a certain time, and the number of experiences we produce and the feelings that we feel are limited. Books allow us to go beyond our personal experience and find out what people feel and how people behave in situations that we do not know, or in those that we do not want to get into. For example, if you take any horror stories: we do not want to be subjected to violence, get into a criminal community. We can try this in books, experience these feelings, but they will be a bit alleviated. It's like vaccination from a disease that save from the disease itself, infecting with a small part of it. This is an extremely important reason for reading at a young age.

The second part – the formation of our own models – is equally important. I will certainly not find myself in the same situations as the heroes of the book, but I will be able to form my behavior at a strategic level. Another important point is learning of someone else's vocabulary. We learn a huge part of our vocabulary from books, not from live communication. In colloquial speech, most people use a limited number of words. We form the vocabulary reading literature. A person needs a thousand words in an active vocabulary for a normal existence and communication. An average person’s passive vocabulary includes about 40 thousand words. Intellectuals’ vocabulary is even greater. Why do we need it if we do not need so many words for active use? Because certain inclusions even in colloquial speech enable us to distinguish a person who has read a lot. Language, vocabulary form a person’s thinking, and the attitude towards him or her. The number of words in the vocabulary allows you to nuance the perception of the world, which is extremely important for the perception itself, and for reflection on this matter.

Shall we memorize words?

– No. Words should enter a person naturally. This is easier to explain in the example of a foreign language. My teacher Andrei Zalizniak always advised me not to use a dictionary in English, to try to understand the meaning of a word from the context and look in the dictionary only when I come across an unfamiliar word for the second or third time. You will already have an emotional reaction to this word, and you will remember it. The same rule applies to the native language.

How to make children read?

– There is no need to force anyone as this will evoke rather an aversion to the texts. The same goes for learning, for example, poems. Learning texts is a useful thing. But this should bring pleasure. How to make a child read without forcing? Read with him, be an example, engage with a game. Perhaps, to use minor deceptions. For example, if you do not want to sleep we can go to bed 20 minutes later, if we read a book. You should like the poems to learn them.

RIA Voronezh note for information

Maksim Krongauz is Doctor of Letters, Professor, Head of the Sociolinguistics Laboratory of the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian State University for the Humanities, Head of the Laboratory of Linguistic Conflictology at the Higher School of Economics. He is the author of scientific and popular science books “Semiotics, or the ABC of Communication,” “The Russian Language on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “Non-Guide-Book on the Russian Language”, “Olbany Language Self-Tought”, “One Hundred Languages. The Universe of Words and Meanings”, etc.