Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: Teaching the letter sounds before letter names.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Teaching the letter sounds
before letter names.

When my son was 4 month old, his Russian grandmother gave him a lots of books. One of them was "Russian Alphabet for boys", a colorful book with letters and pictures with a rhythm next to each letter. That was the time when I started thinking: Should I teach my son letter sounds or  letter names?  Thinking that letter names can't really help one to learn reading and can wait a few years, I decided to go for letter-sound correspondence.

Starting with one book, I later added more alphabet books into my son's library. I followed my son's natural interest in learning letters and reading books. By 18 month he could recognize and read all of the letters without a mistake. He looked for Russian letters everywhere: on the labels of water bottles, boxes of cereals... I still remember when at the doctor's office he was scanning an info post for the letters he knew. He was so excited to read them out loud !

Child cuting paper makes russian letter "Б" I was concerned that my son would get confused with the Italian and Russian alphabet . Some letters look similar, but they sound differently. The labels were written in Italian and I could not say it is Russian. Then I found a way to avoid the confusion. I was saying, "You are right! This Italian letter "p" looks like the Russian letter "r".
These days I try to read some simple words with my son, who is now 4 years old. He reads book's covers, chapter titles, short words. He still likes his wood letter cubes. I periodically use them to make a morning surprise for him. I lay out  several words different in length on the breakfast table as my good morning to him. He smiles seeing them and starts reading. I just love this moment!

This summer my son discovered how he could talk and keep things secret from his sister -- through word spelling! We started with some simple and short words such as "sok" which mean "juice" in English. I see the result, my son is eager to spell the words now more then ever before.

If your child has smaller siblings or relatives, you could show him the advantage of spelling words that the others children do not understand. This can motivate him to think more about the way words are build. Look at that special light in the child's eyes, when he discovers the power of spelling. I will never forget that light in my son's eyes!

All the above is of course comes from the Russian language perspective, since I teach it to my children; however, it could be applied to other languages as well. My experience shows that looking at the words from the letter sounds perspective and developing phonological awareness skill in your child early in life has its benefits.  Only recently I became aware of a methodology, where children with autism and other disabilities are taught letter-sound correspondence before the letter names were introduced to them; thus, a possible confusion is avoided.

If you teach your child Russian: please check the Russian book's list for Letters and Activity books.

You might also like reading:

7 principles to keep in mind while teaching your child to read. 

How to develop early phonemic awareness and reading readiness by using language play with kids from birth to preschool.

How to Read to a Toddler?

How much time do we have to influence a child's minority language development? 


  1. it is really very interesting article.Thanks a lot! The question is: what about the third minority language in your family - English? as to me I find it very important in todays life...

    1. Hi Irina, I focused on teaching kids reading in Russian, because they will be learning how to read in their second minority language English later at school.