• Question: I am from Dubai and in my class many pupils are bilingual, trilingual and English is only spoken at school. What is best for them: 1) to learn to read and write in English and then later in their other languages or 2) to learn to read and write in all two or three languages at the same time? This particular question was asked by a mother whose child speaks English at school but French with her and German with his dad. Thanks

    Asked by pascale007 to Sarah, Michael, Matt D, Katherine, Joe, Daniel, Catriona, Anna on 20 Apr 2015.
    • Photo: Joseph Devlin

      Joseph Devlin answered on 20 Apr 2015:

      I have to admit that I don’t know — I’ve never seen data on the advantages/disadvantages of learning to read multiple languages at once. Hopefully one of the others will have more information because now I’m curious too!

    • Photo: Sarah Kuppen

      Sarah Kuppen answered on 21 Apr 2015:

      Hi there, I will give this one a go.
      Multilingualism in children across the world is now becoming the rule rather than the exception. In terms of whether to learn to read in more than one language simultaneously, I would say first and foremost it is important to look at the individual child. Some children enjoy and excel in their literacy development, while others can struggle. To gauge the child’s aptitude, the teacher can assess how easily the child deals with language sounds. For example, the teacher can consider the facility with which the child learned the alphabet, how easily he/she can produce long lists of rhyming words, break words down into individual sounds etc.
      While I wouldn’t want it to be a hard and fast rule, children who struggle with these early literacy tasks may benefit from focusing solely on learning to read and write at school. English presents a great deal of irregularities in reading and spelling and it can take longer for children to master. Saying this, there is some research to suggest that biliteracy can confer advantage. In one study, six year olds who were learning to read in an additional language at home, made more progress in their English reading skills at school. While I don’t know the research on learning to read in three languages simultaneously, it sounds like a lot for a six year old to take on.