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Our child speaks native Finnish (appropriate to her age). We are moving abroad. Supposing the child learns to read and write in another language that uses essentially the same alphabet (probably some Germanic language; English, Danish or German, perhaps), will she also be able to read and write Finnish as a side effect, or with little extra instruction and practice?

Finnish is written and spoken in almost the same way, in that letters and pronounced sounds have an almost one-to-one correspondence. You can pronounce Finnish almost correctly by simply pronouncing each letter in order.

The issue of reading and writing in the formal "kirjakieli" versus the spoken dialect we use is a separate issue for a separate question.

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Based on personal experience I would say no.

I grew up bilingual swedish and finnish while living in sweden with one finnish speaking parent. While I did speak finnish almost exclusively with on parent and I a fast reader of swedish I can not effortlessly read finnish.

The things tripping me up are the small spelling differences, y -> u and o -> å as well as deciphering the large words with a lot of suffixes into sounds, while in swedish I just have to glance at a word and understand it in finnish I have to start looking at individual letters.

I think that if I put my mind to it and actually spent time reading finnish literature this barrier would be rather easily broken but it is not automatic and time have to be put into it.

So to conclude, I think that it would not be automatic but would be rather easy to achieve if you get your child to regularly read in finnish.

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    Any experience on writing? – Tommi Sep 19 '17 at 14:39
  • A little, I would say that the problems are similar to reading, my spelling is horrid but I can with effort make myself understood most of the time. – lijat Sep 20 '17 at 6:10
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    It's easier to read than to write. When reading one understands confusing words from the context. When writing one needs to decide which of those Finnish words to use: muta(mud), muuta (other), mutta(but), muuttaa(to change). Only practice helps. – Vitaly Sep 21 '17 at 15:00
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My answer is based on personal experience of teaching a child to read and write Russian while living in North America. Russian also has a fairly straightforward relationship between pronunciation and writing.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. As child grows up in a foreign environment, he/she lacks the environment to learn the native language from teachers, peers, mass media, movies. As such parents need to compensate for that. They need to provide opportunities to extend vocabulary, learn idioms, master the style of the native language. I know people who understand their native language but cannot carry an adult conversation in them, because they never learned "adult style."
  2. Teaching to read in my case was fairly easy. Finding a sufficient supply of age-appropriate books was slightly more difficult. Convincing the child to read them was considerably more difficult.
  3. Teaching to write was a much bigger exercise, than teaching to read. It was not only about spelling, but about grammar. How to change a noun in different cases. Which case to use with which verb and when. There are conjugation rules, negation rules, etc. I assume that Finnish has its own set of grammar to be learned even when writing in a dialectal form.

Teaching a child to read and write reinforces speaking skills and vice versa. Such exercises help the child to progress from the stage where he/she can decipher a sentence in Finnish to the stage when he/she can take a Moomintroll book and genuinely enjoy it.

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