Reading stories is the best way for children to improve their language skills, says a children's author from New Zealand. Joy Cowley has written 54 children's novels and picture books and more than 550 early-reading books for schools. She has also written six novels and two collections of short stories for adults. Cowley was in Hong Kong at the invitation of the Hong Kong Council of Early Childhood Education and Services to help encourage locals to write stories from memories of their childhood. The project was funded by the Quality Education Fund. Having edited stories from more than 90 people who attended a writing workshop, Cowley gained an overview of local writing techniques. 'My job was to ensure the level of the language used was appropriate for children,' she said. The stories will be compiled into a book for SAR schools. Cowley said the importance of reading stories as a natural way of learning a language was often ignored. 'Children, unlike adults, need lots of stories to read and enjoy. When they get a book they like, they want to read it over and over again,' Cowley said. 'Despite our different cultural backgrounds, we all have stories other people can relate to. '[Children] should see themselves and their culture in the books they read.' Though Hong Kong children have long had story books imported from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, until now they have not had their own English reading materials. 'To learn English in an effective way, local children should read books written in Hong Kong, with stories about things around them,' She said. Teachers and parents should make every effort to ensure learning a language was no longer a dull, difficult and boring experience for children. 'The language used should be as simple as possible.' Dr Ng Seok-moi, a New Zealand-based education consultant working with children learning English as a second language, said for many Hong Kong youngsters learning English was a strain. 'Enjoyment and motivation are crucial. If teachers can make their lessons interesting, children will enjoy them,' Dr Ng said. Story books broad ened students' vocabu lary and gave them an understanding of other people's lives, she said. 'With the help of good stories, teachers can organise language activities. 'Secondary school students can be encour aged to put together stories based on their own experiences. 'They can then share them with younger children, their friends and family. Those who like drawing may be encouraged to create illustrations as well.' When choosing books for children, Dr Ng said it was best to focus on the content first. 'Then comes the language. It has to be simple and fun.' Dr Ng said parents could motivate their children by setting an example they could copy. 'Children love role models. It is much easier for them to establish a healthy reading habit if their parents love books, too.'