How to get the most from e-books

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 9:21am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 9:21am

Exhibitors at last year's Hong Kong Book Fair found that spending on electronic titles grew faster than for print. The trend is likely to continue at this year's fair, which starts tomorrow.

While it is not yet a mainstream activity in Hong Kong, the number of people reading electronic books will only increase. The 2012 Sun Hung Kai Property Reading Index found that just 12.8 per cent of the 800 people polled read e-books. But the format is attracting more young people - about one-third of readers aged 15 to 34 had read or downloaded books to a computer, mobile phone or tablet.

A survey by publisher Scholastic of six to 17-year-olds, reinforces this: the proportion of children who read e-books almost doubled between 2010 and 2012, from 25 per cent to 46 per cent.

The first digital storybooks beeped or talked back when readers pressed a button. Then came electronic "learning" books designed to assist with literacy by reading aloud to children, helping them sound out words, or by defining words.

Such rich multimedia content, combined with the convenience of a tablet or e-reader, may seem to present the best way for young children to improve their reading.

But according to a study presented by the American Educational Research Association conference this year, print may be more effective than digital as learning tools.

Heather Ruetschlin Schugar and Jordan Schugar of West Chester University, Pennsylvania, found that when the same assigned reading was given to middle school students, those reading printed material achieved better comprehension scores than students assigned an e-book.

You might think that a phrase or piece of text would have the same impact whether it is in print or digital format. But apparently, those lively tunes, animated figures and entertaining displays in many e-books distract youngsters from processing the words; in fact, the children may pass over whole chunks of the story.

Here are tips for overcoming such issues:

Be selective. Because e-materials are often not as stringently reviewed as traditional publications, pick quality electronic books with multimedia or interactive elements embedded in the text to help enhance the child's vocabulary and understanding of the words.

Engage with your child. Just as with print books, parents can do a lot to make reading a more satisfying activity for youngsters by talking to them about features of the plot and characters, even though the e-book will usually keep them entertained even without adult intervention.

Do not overuse e-features. Researchers suggest sparing use of such options as clicking on an electronic dictionary or speech function, so as not to interrupt the flow of your child's reading and comprehension.

Beyond the intellectual benefits of reading aloud to children, the shape and size of the book are part of the positive reading experience.

The process of reading aloud creates a special shared time for parent and child.

Even as we welcome the evolution of apps that entertain and educate children, parents should strike a balance between print and e-books to get the best from each source.

In the end, nothing replaces real family time together and the "cuddle factor" that brings parent and child closer.

Percie Wong is a trainer at Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them