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"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
speak?

Thank you.

Reply: I appreciate that Madalena Cruz-Ferreira covered so much of the ground for this
question:

- The differences between (natural) acquisition and (instructor-led) learning
- Toddler "reading" programs which draws attention to the differences between
recognition of words/phrases in writing vs. ability to comprehend novel sequences
of characters
- Languages which have writing systems that do not represent sounds (primarily),
but instead capture other aspects of the language and thus are intelligible across
spoken boundaries (especially Chinese)
- Ancient languages which are learned for scholarly or religious reasons but which
have no commonly spoken form in contemporary society (e.g., Latin, Sanskrit, older
forms of Greek...)

The one area which may still be open is the ability to read among individuals who
are unable to speak because of hearing deficits. (I hesitate to say "hearing loss" to
refer to those born deaf, as they haven't "lost" anything.) So can deaf children or
adults read while not being able to speak?

It is possible for individuals who have limited ability to speak (intelligibly) to
nonetheless learn to read the spoken language around them. There is some
evidence that writing systems like Chinese, which are less tied to representing
speech, may be easier to master.

As the current methods of instruction for deaf children in the US and Europe most
often conflate the mastery of speech, speechreading (aka lipreading), reading
comprehension, and expressive writing, it's difficult to determine how well one could
learn to read if there were no concern about speaking.

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

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