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When should you teach your child to read in German?: Alphabet Garten

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When should you teach your child to read in German?

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by Sarah Mueller

Do you remember when you first learned to read?

I don’t, but I have enjoyed watching my children learn.

When a person learns to read, something magical happens. It’s like a whole new world is opened up to them; a world that was always there but that they never noticed.

All of a sudden, they are reading street signs and cereal boxes, perhaps picking up books and taking a new interest in magazines and the mail. There is information all around them and they see it with new eyes, wanting to take it all in and make it theirs just by reading.

It’s an exciting time for a child!

 ABC Blocks

If you want your child to be fully bilingual and biliterate, you will want him to be able to read in German.

Basic reading skills are a necessity if one wishes to travel comfortably in a German-speaking country and if your child wishes to communicate with German relatives and friends or read fun and exciting German literature, he’ll need to go beyond a basic comprehension.

Reading in German can interest and motivate your child to further his German study.

Literary works are usually best enjoyed in their original language. Once you’ve started Tintenherz (Inkheart) in German, you’ll find it just isn’t the same in English. There are many wonderful German authors and when your child can read them on his own, a whole world will be opened up to him. There’s only so much time in the day for read-aloud, don’t you think?

At what age should I start teaching my child to read?

That depends on the child. The most important thing to look for is signs of reading readiness. These signs are the same for English or German. Some children are ready to read at age 4 while some are not truly ready until age 8 (although unfortunately the school system will likely not let them wait that long).

Here’s what to look for:

Your child asking.

This is the most obvious sign. If your child is asking to learn to read, go for it! But be aware that his interest may wax and wane. If he wants to practice reading one day but is not interested the next, don’t take it personally. Many young children express interest, but aren’t ready to put in the effort it takes. You don’t want to squash his enthusiasm by making him work too hard if he’s young and not quite ready. It’s better to stop a lesson early rather than have a frustrated kid on your hands.

Another sign of reading readiness is your child recognizing letters and sounding out words, either in English or in German.

Many children pick up letter sounds through play or pre-reading lessons at preschool. My 5 year old has learned to read in English this way – he’s received almost no instruction – he just absorbed it. If your child is sounding out words in English, he’s ready for German! Go for it! (Just make sure to not overdo it and frustrate him as noted above.)

Your child recognizes his own name in print.

His name will probably be the first thing he can truly read. It's very exciting for a child to gain this initial recognition. He has cracked the code! He finally understands that those letters actually mean something and he knows what to do with them!

Your child pretends to read books and shows an understanding that we read from left to right.

Should I start before my child can read in English?

If your child has been speaking some German (not necessarily fluent) for 6 months or longer, I highly recommend teaching reading in German before reading in English where possible, as long as he’s showing signs of readiness. If he’s not ready until he’s learning English reading in school, that’s OK too, but you may find a bit more confusion until he gets things sorted out. Again, this will happen differently for each child but some may need several months to a year to get the two languages straight.

Why teach reading in German first?

German, as the second language, will always be a bit disadvantaged, due to the overwhelming influence of English. If you can give German a bit of a headstart, that will help to even things out as opposed to allowing English to dominate even more. I’m not saying that your child has a finite capacity for languages but there are only so many hours in the day. English and German are competing for your child’s attention. Give German a boost wherever possible. In addition, your child will certainly learn to read in English in school so you won’t have to worry about that. This leaves you free to pursue German with your child. If you homeschool, you can choose the order yourself to best suit your child’s needs.

How can I teach my child?

How to teach reading is a very large topic and one for a future article. Stay tuned for more information on ways to teach reading to your child.


  1. Look for signs of reading readiness.
  2. Go at your child’s pace.
  3. Stop a lesson before fatigue sets in.
  4. Start with German if possible.

The world of the written word is an exciting place for a child. When you teach him to read in German, you’ll give him the keys to a new kingdom, one that he can enter for the rest of his life whenever he pleases.


Browse our selection of Easy Readers and Educational Resources that you can use to teach reading in German


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