My child is 4 year old and is reasonably fluent in 3 languages (based on the same alphabet). He is now interested to learn to read and write.

The problem being that alphabet, and reading approaches are language dependent. I would like to teach him myself, and I do partly, but maybe I should refrain and let him learn at school, where he'll learn it for another language, more useful for school...

Is there any study observing how multi-lingual children approach the read/write learning process and with which result?

  • 1
    Interesting question. Which languages is he learning? Due to the similarity of the languages (the shared alphabet) I'd perhaps focus on one language to start with. My reason for this is that if the phonetics are different for the same letters it could be incredibly confusing for him. If the languages are sufficiently different (ie, the child can clearly identify the languages as being separate), then perhaps it isn't a problem.
    – TryHarder
    Apr 14, 2016 at 0:01
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    @oooooo German, Spanish and French. So close and far at the same time. He knows well enough how to distinguish the languages... but upon learning to read and write, it isn't that clear. Apr 14, 2016 at 7:37

2 Answers 2


If a child shows genuine interest in learning to read and write it is normally appropriate to allow them to learn. If he is not ready he will probably show a lack of interest after struggling for awhile.

It is probably best to have him study the language he will use in school first to prepare him for academic study. At least one of his languages should reach an academic level of proficiency so he can continue with his studies.

However, at his age, the different languages may not be fully separated in his mind. If this is the case, there will be a great deal of code-switching as he tries to communicate.

See Owens, Robert, Jr. (2012) Language Development: An Introduction. Pearson


I would suggest the language which is most phonetic (same letter pronounced consistently same way), which would be German in your case.

  • Spanish is also quite phonetic. The number of irregularities can almost be counted on one hand (e.g. silent letter H).
    – Robert Columbia
    Mar 13, 2018 at 15:53

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