Calling out around the world: learning to read

Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 04:50 pm
On another topic it came up that Americans are very quick to expect their children to read and that in other countries reading is often not really taught until 2nd or 3rd grade.

If you would be so kind, please tell me what country you are writing from or about and at what age are children are taught in school to read.

What do you think is the reason behind the decision?

What is the literacy rate in your country?

In America we start teaching children to read in kindergarten (ages 5-6) and we have a good literacy rate:

The United Nations assigned an Education Index of 99.9 to the United States, ranking it number 1 in the world, a position it shares with about 20 other nations. The United States has a basic literacy rate at 98% to 99% of the population over age 15.

I'm especially curious about at what age the 20 other nations we share the #1 spot with start teaching their children to read.

Thank you!
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 05:36 pm
quick note..I always heard that Ireland has one of the highest literacy rates.
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 05:43 pm
Basic reading skills, kindergarten: 4-5-6 year olds.
By the end of 1st grade (age 7), the child must know how to read and write.

Literacy rate: 93%
Youth (ages 15 to 24) literacy rate: 96%

Illiteracy comes from two sources.
One is the difficulty to go to school in sparcely populated rural areas (boarding schools have been built in the last decades, but not in enough quantity, still).
The other is the problem with people who do not speak Spanish. Before the 90s, bilingual teachers taught Spanish and reading/writing at the same time.
Since then, in order to guarantee the right of children to read and write in their own language, those skills are taught first, and Spanish comes only later.
In Mexico, we all learn in grade school from the same textbooks, distributed for free to every student. Nowadays, 189 different free text books, in 55 variations of 33 indigenous languages are distributed to over 600,000 children.


I learned on this one:

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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 05:46 pm
Thanks ragman!

According to the CIA factbook, Ireland has a literacy rate of 99%.

Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99% (2003 est.)

Some other estimates put it at 100%!

I'm having a hard time finding how and when reading is taught in Ireland.

I know we have a very international membership on A2K. I am really curious about this. C'mon people -- give us the straight dope!
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 05:56 pm
fbaezer! Long time, no see! Thank you for your reply.

There are 33 different languages spoken in Mexico!?

I think we have similar problems in rural areas here. But I'm a bit confused about your other point (I've been known to be dense) about bilingual teachers. By "read and write in their own language, those skills are taught first, and Spanish comes only later" do you mean one of these dialects or..... what?
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 06:09 pm
boomerang wrote:
fbaezer! Long time, no see! Thank you for your reply.

You're welcome, my pleasure.

boomerang wrote:

There are 33 different languages spoken in Mexico!?

Actually 34, including Spanish.

How many indigenous languages are spoken in the USA?

boomerang wrote:

I think we have similar problems in rural areas here. But I'm a bit confused about your other point (I've been known to be dense) about bilingual teachers. By "read and write in their own language, those skills are taught first, and Spanish comes only later" do you mean one of these dialects or..... what?

Only they're not dialects, a dialect is a local derivation of a language. They're different languages (Well, 33 languages with variations; you can call those variations dialects)
The Zapotec child learns to read & write in Zapotec, and then learns Spanish. His/her teacher is bilingual.
Before the 90s, both Spanish and "lectoescritura" ("readwriting") were taught at the same time, since there were no textbooks in indigenous languages. This made learning difficult for some, and easier to leave school.
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 06:26 pm
a very detailed report on literacy has been issued by the "national center for education statistcs" (see link below) .
it's in pdf format and i have not read the full report - just scanned a few pages - very interesting material, it seems .

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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 06:35 pm
How many indigenous languages are spoken in the USA?

Now THAT is an interesting question!

I think there are many. I grew up in the southern part of America in Texas and Oklahoma. When I moved to the pacific northwest everybody thought I was from Australia!

Even being from Texas I have a hard time understanding some people from Louisianna.

It seems kind of crazy. I started thinking about it as "everybody in France doesn't understand German so what's the big deal -- France and Germany are closer together than parts of Texas and Louisianna after all.

Essentially though there is only one written language -- but even English can be impossible in all it's varieties. I had a thread a while back asking Australians to translate some phrases for me. It was English to English, but not.

In the same vein -- I can read most writers from England but have a hard time with the Welsh, Scottish and Irish (not to mention those nutty Austrailians).

Same language, but not.....

That is probably what you're talking about in a way.

Really and truly that is a fascinating fact about education in Mexico.

My brother lived in Germany for 12 years. He said even from differnt areas of Germany that he had problems understanding what was said. And really, Germany isn't that big.

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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 06:38 pm
Thanks hamburger! It will take me a while to work through that but I'll get started soon.

I'm glad I opened this thread if only to see three of my favorite posters that I don't often get a chance to hear from. Thank you all!
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 06:53 pm
reading is taught in canada starting in kindergarten

some notes on language

Languages of Canada
From Wikipedia

There are a multitude of languages spoken in Canada, but only English, French and certain aboriginal languages have official status. The Constitution of Canada itself recognizes two official languages, English and French, and all constitutional acts since 1982 have themselves been enacted in these two official languages. The English version of earlier Constitutional Acts is the only official version. Inuktitut notably has official status in the Northwest Territories, in Nunavut and in Nunavik, Quebec.

The first major step towards official recognition of languages other than English took place on July 7, 1969, when the federal Canadian Parliament adopted the Official Languages Act, making French commensurate to English throughout federal institutions. Since then, Inuktitut, Dene Suline, Cree, Dogrib, Gwich'in and Slavey have also gained limited official status, although only English and French are used for administrative matters by the federal, provincial and territorial administrations.

According to the 2001 census, Anglophones and Francophone represent roughly 59.3% and 22.9% of the population respectively. The rest of the population represent persons whose mother tongues are Chinese, Italian, German, Aboriginal languages, or other.

Other languages

Non-official languages are also important in Canada, with 5,470,820 people listing a non-official language as a first language. (The above three statistics include those who listed more than one first language.) Among the most important non-official first language groups are Chinese languages (753,745 first-language speakers), Vietnamese (631,485), Italian (469,485), German (438,080), and Punjabi (271,220). The increase of Chinese and Spanish is remarkable.


Irish and Scottish Gaelic were spoken by many immigrants that settled in the Maritimes and Newfoundland. Newfoundland is the only place outside Europe to have its own Irish dialect, Newfoundland Irish, and the only place outside Europe to have its own distinct name in Irish, Talamh an √Čisc, meaning 'land of the fish'. The Irish language is rare in Newfoundland now. Scottish Gaelic was spoken predominantly in areas of northern New Brunswick's Restigouche River valley, central and southeastern Prince Edward Island, as well as across the whole of northern Nova Scotia and particularly Cape Breton Island. While the language has mostly disappeared, there are regional pockets mostly centred on families deeply committed to their Celtic traditions; Nova Scotia, currently has 500-1000 fluent speakers, mostly in northwestern Cape Breton Island. There are also attempts in Nova Scotia to institute Gaelic immersion and there are formal post-secondary studies in the language and culture available through St. Francis Xavier University and the Gaelic College. In western Canada, Scottish Gaelic was mixed with Cree to form the Bungee language. At one point a motion was tabled in Parliament that Gaelic be made the third official language of the Dominion, but did not pass.


Canada is also home to a distinct dialect of the Ukrainian language, spoken mostly in Western Canada by the descendants of first two waves of Ukrainian settlement in Canada who developed in a degree of isolation from their cousins in what was then Poland and the Soviet Union.

Indigenous languages

Some members of the 900,000 Indigenous people in Canada (3%) speak one or more of fifty different languages. The most important languages still used are Cree, Inuktitut, Ojibway, Innu, and Micmac. A 1996 census revealed that about 67.8% of Indigenous people reported to be native English speakers. Nearly half (47%) of Indigenous people in Quebec reported an Indigenous language as mother tongue, the highest proportion of any province.

Hybrid languages

Michif and Bungay

Linguistic and cultural diversity on Canada's frontier in the West and in its early past in the Atlantic promoted the development of hybrid languages, most notably Michif, a Cree-Ojibwa-Assiniboine-French patois evolved within the Prairie Metis community, and also the less documented Bungie (also Bungy, Bungee, Bungay, a.k.a. the Red River Dialect), which is similar to Michif but confined to the Red River area of Manitoba and which is a mix of Cree and Scots Gaelic.

Basque pidgin

In the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Cartier's day the existence of a Basque pidgin has been established, apparently a mix of local Algonkian languages and Basque.

Chinook Jargon

In British Columbia, Yukon and throughout the Pacific Northwest a pidgin language known as the Chinook Jargon emerged in the early 19th Century which was a combination of Chinookan, Nootka, Chehalis, French and English, with a smattering of words from other languages including Hawaiian and Spanish.

Language Composition

Of the 29.6 million citizens of Canada in 2001 (increasing to roughly 33 million in June 2006), 17.3 million are native English speakers, 6.7 million are native French-speakers and 5.2 million are native speakers of neither of Canada's two official languages. Another 380 thousand reported having more than one mother tongue.

Statistics Canada, 2001

1. English 17,352,315
2. French 6,703,325
3. Chinese 753,745
4. Vietnamese 631,055
5. Italian 469,485
6. German 438,080
7. Punjabi 271,220
8. Spanish 245,500
9. English and a language other than French 219,860
10. Portuguese 213,815
11. Polish 208,375
12. Arabic 199,940
13. Tagalog 154,060
14. Ukrainian 148,090
15. Dutch 128,670
16. Greek 120,365
17. English and French 112,575
18. Russian 94,555
19. Persian 94,095
20. Tamil 90,010
21. Korean 85,070
22. Urdu 80,895
23. Hungarian 75,555
24. Cree 72,800
25. Gujarati 57,555
26. Hindi 56,325
27. Croatian 54,880
28. Romanian 50,895
29. Serbian 41,180
30. French and a language other than English 38,630
31. Japanese 34,815
32. Bengali 29,505
33. Inuktitut 29,005
34. Armenian 27,350
35. Serbo-Croatian 26,690
36. Somali 26,110
37. Czech 24,790
38. Finnish 22,405
39. Ojibway 21,000
40. Yiddish 19,295
41. Turkish 18,675
42. Danish 18,230
43. Slovak 17,545
44. Macedonian 16,905
45. Slovenian 12,800
46. Hebrew 12,435
47. Thai 11,070
48. Estonian 10,848
49. English, French and another language 10,085
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 07:02 pm
The most commonly spoken languages in the United States are English, Spanish, Chinese and French (along with several other European languages). Chinese is rather a broad umbrella, because not all speakers of Chinese are speaking Mandarin. Among French speakers, mostly in those areas of Maine bordering New Brunswick and Quebec, and in Louisiana usually don't speak French as their first language, but have it as a cultural heritage. In my lifetime, the prevelance of other spoken European languages has fallen off a good deal, because of the news and entertainment media (when i was a boy, it was still uncommon for people to have a television). So, for example, i met people in the army from Minnesota who had spoken Norwegian in the home as children, and although they learned English casually, they only learned to read in English when they went to school. German was still spoken in many areas, but the German-speakers quickly learn English, and Germans speakers have not necessarily been distributed in remote areas, such as rural Minnesota and North Dakota, where there were once many speakers of Norwegian. Two of the biggest areas of ethnic German settlement have been in Missouri and Illinois near St. Louis, and between Milwaukee and Chicago--there was always good reason for them to learn English and use it on a daily basis.

Far and away, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in the United States after English. All other European and Asian languages which are commonly spoken are in ethnic neighborhoods--and this is far less common than it was 50 years ago. As for the languages of Amerindians, they are almost all "revival" languages, where the speakers have taken up the language as a cultural heritage when they wish to revive the ancient language and usages. Some notable exceptions are Navajo, Zuni and Pima, which have been continuously spoken as the first language in their communities. The same, i believe, is true of the Hawaiian language.
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 07:52 pm
I'm not so sure that is what FB is talking about, but he'll speak to it.

The keen thing is, as least as I've gleaned, is that there is prime opportuntity for language with children and it gets harder with age.... unless one is multilingual to start with. I think language comfort early is good, though that sounds sophomoric, I know. Will be quiet and wait for those of us more experienced in languages to see your thread.
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 07:54 pm
One of the people who amazes me here on a2k is J-B. He has made prodigious leaps in English since I first tuned in to any of his threads, and his analytic savvy shines through - over a relatively short time.
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Reply Tue 24 Apr, 2007 08:08 pm
My question was a provocation, somehow.
There are certainly dozens of American Indian languages spoken in US homes.

Do Navajo children learn to read and write in Navajo, or in English?
What about Athapascan, Hawaian, Cherokee or Chippewa children?
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Reply Wed 25 Apr, 2007 10:42 am
I am writing from Austria.
Our school system is different from yours.
First, what we call "Kindergarten" is no-compulasary and has nothing to do with schools. There is a curriculum, but this doesn't include teaching the ABC.

School attendance is compulsory for all children permanently resident in Austria, and lasts for nine years. Compulsory schooling starts on the first of September following the child's sixth birthday and is generally fulfilled by attendance of four years of primary (elementary school), plus levels 5 to 8 at a secondary modern school ( Hauptschule) or the lower stages of an AHS (academic secondary school providing general education) and the pre-vocational year, or attendance of an intermediate or higher-level school.

To enter a lower grade AHS class one students must have successfully completed class four of elementary school. Students must have rated above "average" (ratings in Austria being "very good", "good", "average", "sufficient" and "insufficient", from 1 - 5) in compulsory subjects German and mathematics unless the respective elementary school can prove a student's readiness to attend an AHS-school on other grounds. In case of non-aptitude students must take an entrance examination in German or mathematics or both during the last week of elementary school or on the first two days of AHS school.

More here

Literacy rate is 97.7 (source Unesco)

Usually you have one teacher during all 4 years of elemantary school. If there are children who need more specialized care you have a co teacher with that special extra training.

Right now there is a discussion to change this system. The goal is the abolition of the two-track system for ten- to fourteen-year-olds and for combining the Hauptschule and the first four years of the AHS into a new comprehensive middle school.
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Reply Wed 25 Apr, 2007 10:47 am
boomerang wrote :

My brother lived in Germany for 12 years. He said even from differnt areas of Germany that he had problems understanding what was said. And really, Germany isn't that big.

i can tell you that there are occasions when germans from different parts of the country have problems understanding each other .
i am sure that nowadays , germans from various areas (provinces) of the country don't have as much trouble understanding each other as prior to WW II . increased travel has , no doubt , helped .
i well remember that people visiting hamburg from bavaria had a hard time understanding and being understood by the locals .
even within north-germany , as an example , there are many sub-dialects of the "platt deutsch" (low german) with considerable differences from each other .
kids in school are , of course , being taught german (hoch deutsch = high german) in all parts of the country , but dialects still persist in some regions .

btw we did have a thread on this subject quite some time ago - two years back ?.
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Reply Wed 25 Apr, 2007 10:52 am
Age 6 or first grade seems about right to me for teaching reading.

Teaching reading in kindergarten is a relatively new development. I've ranted about this before, but in America, preschool is the new kindergarten and kindergarten is the new first grade. Kindergarten standards are relatively new, for example. Kindergarten was recently more about just socializing, getting used to the school environment, getting used to structure, and generally having fun -- that's now more a description of preschool.

Some preschools, anyway. I chose sozlet's in part because it purposely eschewed the whole "readiness" curriculum and focused on play -- several people praised another preschool nearby as being more "rigorous." It's preschool!
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Reply Wed 25 Apr, 2007 04:16 pm
I spent many years of my youth surrounded by friends with two word last names (Man Killer, Many Feathers) and those kids wouldn't have recognized a Native American laguage if it bit them. Sadly, their tribal culture had been wiped clean from recent memory.

In the houses of Mo's neighborhood friends you can hear many languages but every kid speaks English. Some of their parents don't speak English well but they are pretty recent arrivals and they do speak English.

All this information is fun to read and very educational but it isn't really answering my question: at what age are kids taught to read in public schools around the world.

America: Kindergarten, 99% literacy rate.

Canada: Kindergarten, 99% (CIA factbook)

Austria: (I'm not sure), 97% literacy rate
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Reply Thu 26 Apr, 2007 06:09 am
In Austria children are tought to read in 1 grade-
they are 6 years old.(Compulsory schooling starts on the first of September following the child's sixth birthday ..)

BTW- right now I am teaching first grade and all children can read now. Of course there are differences in speed, but they understand what they are reading.

Literacy rate quoted from CIA -The WorldFactbook:
Literacy rate 98%

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 98%
male: NA
female: NA

I agree with sozobe, Kindergarten has different tasks. It is about socializing, and practicing body skills ( like fine motor skills), body awareness, listning, training eye hand connection, phonological training, and much more. A good Kindergarten is giving a child a good start in school.

There will be always some children who are ready earlier and who start earlier to read or do to math, these children do need special care too.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 26 Apr, 2007 06:22 am
In Germany (school is stae's affair) it is nearly as it is in Austria:

- Kindergarten is what the word says: no school. (In our state, children learn, however, basic reading capalities and start with English lessons).

- at the end of the 1st grade (age 6 or 7), children can read and understand easy texts (end of 2nd grade write summaries of what they've read).

English is compulsary from 3rd grade onwards; most primary schools teach it from 1st grade onwards.

Other states have similar or even better rules.
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