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Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body

Posted on May 7, 2019 by Cecilia von Molendorff

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body (Joseph Addison, English poet, playwright and politician)

A few weeks ago, I met a very presentable young lady, who came across as intelligent and articulate. Unfortunately, my opinion of her changed when she sent me a WhatsApp message. She did not seem to know the difference between ‘to’ and ‘too’, and to add insult to injury, she made a glaring concord error.

Does that make me a language snob? Wasn’t it Henry Higgins (in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw) who said “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him”. Well unfortunately, I feel the same way every time the English language is mangled. And I’m not referring to expecting the person to be highly erudite and an expert, but I expect a good knowledge of the day-to-day basics of language.

Just for the record, I am absolutely infatuated with anyone who has the ability to use the language as C.S. Lewis (a renowned literature professor at both Oxford and Cambridge University, and arguably the best Christian apologist since Saint Paul) or Jordan Peterson (the Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology) does. I am mightily impressed, and yes, intimidated by them as it is a talent I truly admire and desire.

I have been teaching for many years and have been in business for a few. When I receive a letter of application from someone for a post which contains basic language errors, my eyes glaze over, and I am blinded to their fancy qualifications or impressive work experience. And I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to teach effectively all the myriad basics of a language. Thus, I reach the point of what it is I wish to convey to parents: the importance of reading. Introduce your children to reading from as young an age as possible. Only by reading actual words will a child learn the intricacies of language.

Let me give you an excellent example. Did you know that adjectives in English have to be in this order: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose, noun? So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest, you’ll sound like a maniac. The odd thing is that we, as English speakers, know that without being taught. How? Well firstly, we hear other English speakers; secondly, when we read the written word, correct word order, concord, and tenses are naturally assimilated by the brain and become part of what we know without us even realising it. Just for interest sake, as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist!

Not only does reading ensure correct language usage, it also enables students to understand all other subjects. If a student is accustomed to reading, and has discovered the joy of reading, he or she will not be daunted by a textbook or an examination paper.

The ability to read effectively results in increased intelligence as any person who reads immediately expands his or her mind. Jim Rohn (American Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker) said, “Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary”. Or as Dr Seuss (American children’s author of The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat) put it “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

In times of great turbulence and trouble, when people feel their very identity is threatened, the written word is what keeps them sane. Ray Bradbury (American author and screenwriter) said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

The present threat to encouraging a culture of reading successfully is, of course, television, electronic games and visual entertainment which require hardly any ability to read except on a most basic level, and even that is often not a requirement. Roald Dahl (in his poem ‘Television’) said, “So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, so throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”  If you are uncertain about what book may pique the interest of your child, start with a Roald Dahl book (e.g. Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I have yet to meet a person of any age who cannot enjoy his books.

                         

When my parents were children, their chief form of entertainment was books. The most exciting gift to receive was a much-desired book. To this day, my father wants no other gift but a book. Thus we were privileged to grow up in a home bursting at its seams with books. My mother subscribed to book clubs and we were spoilt for choice regarding suitable children’s books.  J.K Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) said, “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” I believe with all my heart that my ability to study and my interest in the fascinating world out there, are a direct result of the many books that were at our disposal. Jackie Kennedy said, “There are many little ways to enlarge you child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

In the world we live in, we are so very privileged to have books at our disposal in so many different forms. Invest in a Kindle. All the classics are available online for free. There is a reason why they are classics. They have stood the test of time. Their relevance will endure forever. And more importantly, they are a jolly good read! You haven’t lived if you haven’t read Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” or John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”. Descartes (A French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist) stated: “The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest people of the past centuries.” When I first started reading the classics, I was astonished and encouraged to find that people throughout the centuries verbalised my feelings so accurately. What I found difficult to explain, these marvellous authors would precisely and seamlessly elucidate.

I also stand amazed at the excellent writing that is to be found in our modern world. Because there is so much competition, only the really good books make it to the bookshelves. There is no excuse to not read. Anyone who says there is nothing which piques his interest amongst the innumerable books to be found, reeks of laziness. So many books, so little time.

When one reads, the ability to be rational and logical is developed. Fran Lebowitz (an American author and public speaker) said, “Think before you speak. Read before you think.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet) said, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” Indeed, reading about a subject enhances knowledge, adds to a person’s ability to converse with confidence, and builds self-esteem. Never make the mistake of deciding reading is not for you because you don’t enjoy stories. Read nonfiction. Read biographies. Read about topics you love. Read the newspaper.

I also believe that true leaders become leaders because they read. Margaret Fuller (American journalist, editor and women’s rights advocate) said, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” Reading gives insight into how people think and react, and why, an aspect which proves invaluable to anyone in a leadership position. Malcolm X (the American politician and human rights activist) said, “My alma mater was books, a good library… I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” Napoleon Bonaparte (the famous French statesman and military leader) said, “Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.”

If you teach a child to love reading, you are giving him a never-ending gift. This gift will enhance his ability to learn. It will be a constant companion. It will be a source of joy and discovery. It will lead to an understanding of the world around him. The entertainment will never stop. It enriches life. It enriches the mind with new thoughts, theories and ideas. What a pleasure. What a gift.