When is the best time to introduce a child to reading and writing the less common language?
Thread poster: Monika Coulson

Monika Coulson  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:33
Member (2001)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Jun 20, 2004

Our son is 5 and he speaks both Albanian and English fluently. In preschool he has learned the English alphabet and how to write the English letters. I should mention that even though he knows and recognizes the English letters, he does not know to read in English yet.

I am not sure when would be the best time to teach him to read and write Albanian though. I am afraid he will get confused if we expose him to both of the written languages at the same time.

Should we wait until he masters reading and writing English before introducing him to reading and writing Albanian?

Please advise and tell us your experiences.

Mom to Besmir (Son - 11/29/1998 )
BPBL (both parents both languages)
Dad ENG as native; Mom ALB as native; Grandparents at home only ALB; Street ENG

[Edited at 2004-06-21 03:36]

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Bruce Popp  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:33
French to English
grammar too Jun 20, 2004


Along with writing there is the issue of when to teach grammar.

I was married for 12 years and separated for 10 more. Early in the marriage French was the main household language and English was the street language. Over time English became the main household language---the shift started because my former wife wanted to practice speaking English. Shortly after the third (and last) child was born their grandmother moved in and at various times other grandchildren lived there as well.

Their grandmother's first language is KiYansi. Only her oldest children learned KiYansi, because they moved from a village where the street language was KiYansi to a city were the street language was KiTuba. (KiTuba, Ktu, is a common second language---lingua franca---in the area since there are several common primary languages.) The younger children (including my former wife) and all the grandchildren learned KiTuba (from the street) and French (at school).

So ... the three children grew up with parents that increasingly spoke English at home, friends that speak English, and a grandmother that speaks KiTuba. They learned English and KiTuba.

But they never learned to write KiTuba (uses a Latin alphabet, spelling is phonetically straight forward), or KiTuba grammar. Essentially the only time KiTuba is written is for personal correspondence and most speakers have no formalized knowlege of grammar, so this isn't much of an issue.

Despite offers and encouragement, the children never were cooperative with learning to write KiTuba or learning grammar.

I'm being long-winded. Is there a moral here?

In each of two generations, the street language became the children's principal language to the detriment of learning the household language.

Waiting too long to start teaching grammar made it difficult to motivate learning.


father to Miriam 2/2/1983, Andrew 11/19/1987, Mireille 4/16/1990
father: English native, plus French, KiTuba, Lingala
now divorced from:
mother: KiTuba native, plus French, English, Lingala
grandmother: KiYansi native, plus KiTuba
street: English

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Terese Whitty
United States
Local time: 06:33
Member (2004)
English to Swedish
From the start! Jun 21, 2004


I also have a five year old son and I have since he was born been reading and speaking to him in Swedish (we live in the US and he has an American father). Now that he is learning to read and write I try to give him as many opportunities as possible to read and write in Swedish too and we have been teaching him the Swedish alphabet paralell to the English one. He does not seem to be confused by it or anything. I hope this answers your question. I think it is good to try and maintain both languages at the same time.

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Roberta Anderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:33
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
my kids are absorbing it gradually Jun 21, 2004

I'm Italian, my husband is German and we live in Italy.
Felix is 9, Sophie is 7. Fluent in both languages, with very rich vocabulary in both, and switch from 1 to the other depending on the situation, even among themselves.

At home we speak Italian (with me) and German (with my husband).
German aupair until last yr, to ensure German was the dominant language at home as opposed to Italian everywhere else.
Also, we made an effort to meet with the few other German speaking families around here (only 2 or 3), to ensure that German is not perceived by them as the language they can only use with "dad", but as a real communication tool, just like Italian.
TV, videos, DVD, CD-ROMs, kids song tapes strictly German, to compensate the Italian multi-level environment from school, street, friends, near-by grandparents.
Plenty of books, both Italian and German - in particular, we get books in German on topics they are really interested in, so they will naturally go to them.

The kids go to the local Italian school. We have not formally taught them to read and write in German, but they are absorbing German spelling from their books (Felix esp. is a very keen reader, has read all 5 Harry Potter books in both languages!), CD-ROM's etc.
They can now both read it fluently. Felix can write it pretty much on the same level as his Italian, while Sophie still writes German with Italian spelling. But then, she has only recently begun to read fluently enough to enjoy reading a book by herself, so given time this will correct itself.

I am also getting them used to translating and to the meaning of words and expressions: as my German is still limited (I have never studied it, just picked it up over the past few yrs - I'm great at animal names, esp. the most unusual ones! ) I often ask them "what did dad say?" or "what was that? what does xxx mean?" and they are getting pretty good, also with idiom. expressions.

The major point for us has been to ensure it all comes natural to them, with no hint of "teaching" involved in it - and it seems to work

Mum to Felix (8/05/95) and Sophie (27/11/96)
Dad DEU, Mum ITA, Street ITA

[Edited at 2004-06-21 06:35]

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Marketing-Lang.  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:33
English to German
+ ...
From the start! Jun 21, 2004

I have to agree whole-heartedly with Terese.
My daughter is 10 and bi-lingual (German/English). She was exposed to both languages from the earliest possible time, in both speech and in reading (admittedly, not yet in writing).

Especially at 5, children are at the peak of their lingual learning abilities. The neural networks in their brains are being speeedily "knit" at this age, and the more that is demanded of a child, the better the development will be (within limits, of course).

Our simple rule was always to use our own native language (my wife is German, I'm English) so that the child is never confronted with Kauderwelsch -- er, sorry -- pidgin
She had both English and German kiddies books for learning letters, reading, etc... Grammar will hopefully be adequately taught in school, at least as a start.

Our girl was so proud when she could read the latest Harry Potter six months before her mates here in Germany


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Monika Coulson  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:33
Member (2001)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Thanks for your advice Jun 21, 2004

Thank you to all who replied. I guess I am not late teaching him Albanian. I am glad I asked this question here. My husband and I have been talking about this matter, but as I mentioned above, we were not sure what the best approach would be.

The reason why we were not so sure is that Albanian is a phonetic language (and of course, English is not). Matt (my husband) told me that it was easier for him to learn reading and writing a phonetic language after knowing reading and writing English. For me it was the opposite, I was well established in reading and writing a phonetic language (Alb.) when I began to study English (I was about 10 yrs. old) and I found English difficult.

This question ("What is best for a child to learn first, a phonetic language or not") is the reason why we have been so reluctant about teaching him any of the languages (Eng and Alb). Whatever he knows in English, he learned it at preschool, and we have not seriously taught him so far.

However, with what I read so far, I think I will start teaching him Albanian ASAP, so when he starts kindergarten this Sept, he will be ahead of English in reading and writing. I hope 2.5 months of intensive teaching in Albanian will be good for him.

I appreciate any further sugestion or advice.
Thanks again everyone,

Mom to Besmir (Son - 11/29/1998 )
Before OPOL
Dad ENG as native; Mom ALB as native; Grandparents at home only ALB; Street ENG

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Maria Eugenia Farre  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:33
English to Portuguese
+ ...
speaking both languages is fine, but hold the letters of one of them Jun 21, 2004

Maybe I am misguided on this, but my speech therapist says that it's best to have the child "alphabetized" in only one language.

Of course, there is no impediment in speaking with a child in two or three languages, she will learn them all. But when it's time to introduce her to the alphabet and teach her how to read and write it's best to concentrate on one of them and when the child is comfortable with it, move on to the second language.

Possible problems caused by mixing everything up together at the same time include spelling difficulties and dislexya.

My two pennies,


Mother to Sofia - 5

[Edited at 2004-06-21 17:45]

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Fabiana Papastefani-Pezzoni  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:33
Member (2003)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Not really at the same time...not at the very beginning Jun 21, 2004

Maria Eugenia Farre wrote:

Possible problems caused by mixing everything up together at the same time include spelling difficulties and dislexya.

I have to admit what Maria says, since we started to have a problem with our 6 years old, Sara. She is finishing kindergarten and we were wandering why sometimes she would read a word starting from the end of it, and she couldn\'t help it. Not every moment, not every word but every fifth one, yes. The teacher called us and asked whether we are either teaching/introducing her another language (reading & writing). I was, in fact, just introducing a little Italian to her. I didn\'t really wanted to do it, but since she had some nice books in Italian she was asking me \"Mom, how do I read this\"? So I started to teach her something, but not really teaching her. Apparently, this was a bit confusing for her little brain, even though she kept asking me to teach her to read in Italian and Albanian. So I stopped. We now keep speaking and they listen they Albanian tapes and videos. They speak in Italian to their dad and in Albanian to me, but to every body else, here in Kiev in English, no matter what they speak.

Fabiana, Mom to Sara (6y) and Giorgia (3y and a half)
OPOL, Italian (dad) and Albanian (me) at home, Street English and others.

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Local time: 13:33
English to Spanish
+ ...
I don't think there is a problem Jun 22, 2004

Hannah learnt the English alphabet first, when she was 3. She started school in Spain at 4, so the first language she read and wrote was Spanish. Back in England at 8, she learnt to read English very quickly and only a few months later she won an award for her achievement in English. Now, at 10, she and her friend Vilija (who learnt to read in Lithuanian first) are top of the class in English, well in front of children who can only speak English.
I often take part in voluntary schemes in schools, where I had the chance to see how good arethe spelling and grammar of Albanian children, usually much better than their English classmates.
Years ago, she did the same as Fabiana's child, starting to read some words from the right, but my brother and my son did the same and they were reading only one language. The only thing the three of them have in common is they are all left-handed. The three of them also used to try to add numbers starting from the left (the hundreds, for example, rather than the units).

Although there are differnt theories for the causes of dyslexia, all researchers agree that it has to do with differences in the ways the brains of dyslexic and non-dyslexic people work and most researchers believe these differences are genetic. Don't let anyone try to scare you! You cannot make your children dyslexic by teaching them to read in two languages.

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Spanish to Russian
+ ...
My case Jun 24, 2004

I was a bilingual kid myself, my native language is Romanian (aka Moldovan, this is important for my story). At 3 I started speaking Russian because everybody in the kindergarten spoke Russian, Romanian wasn’t “cool”.
First I learned reading in Moldovan (that is Romanian, but using Russian alphabet). The summer before starting school, at the age of 6, I asked my dad to teach me “French” letters, as I was going to a French Lyceum. So by age of 8 I knew to read and write:
1. In Romanian using Russian alphabet
2. In Romanian using Latin alphabet (I wasn’t good at Romanian/Latin alphabet spelling as nobody taught me how to spell and I had very few books in Romanian/Latin alphabet. Nevertheless, at 15, when the political changes in my country lead to changes in the alphabet use, I needed just a couple of months to learn the new spelling)
3. In Russian using Russian alphabet
4. In French using Latin alphabet

So I had to handle 3 languages and 2 alphabets, as most of the kids in my country, but I didn’t know dyslexia exist until I read about it in a magazine a couple of years ago

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