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Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

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Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Learning to read
Question: Hello,

Can an individual, child or adult, learn to read before he/she can

Thank you.

Reply: Speaking and reading involve quite different, and unrelated, skills. The former is acquired naturally, in typical developmental conditions, the latter must be acquired through formal means, usually with the assistance of books, tutors, and so on.

Many adults can read languages that they cannot speak, for example classical Latin and Greek – but this is the case for living languages too: you may “read the classics”, without being able to speak German, Arabic or French. Speakers of Chinese languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, Teochew, can communicate through print without speaking those languages.

If you’re asking whether a typical child is developmentally able to start reading before starting to speak, the answer is no. You can teach a toddler to identify words and letters/characters in the same way that you can teach a parrot to do the same, but that is not reading.

Literacy involves both cognitive and physical maturational skills which are not typically present in a child who has not started speaking yet.


Reply From: Madalena Cruz-Ferreira      click here to access email
Date: 22-Oct-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Learning to read    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (22-Oct-2012)
  2. Re: Learning to read    Nancy J. Frishberg     (22-Oct-2012)
  3. Re: Learning to read    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (27-Oct-2012)

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