How do children learn to read in your country?

How do children learn to read in your country?

edited March 11 in General Discussion
I have a little Russian language primer book my dad gave me. Looking at it this evening, I wondered how do Russian children learn to read? Do Slavic children use a Reading Primer? If so, what is it called? Do you feel your reading instruction taught you to read fluently, accurately and with expression?

In USA, we have three primary methods of reading instruction.
[If I were @Kapitán Denis , I would put a clip art of a Russian bear reading a book with its mama. :D Since I am not @Kapitán Denis , you get nothing.]
1. Alphabetic Approach
2. Phonics Method
3. Whole Language method

(Excerpt of an article about Russian reading instruction from 1998.)

The Russian language is so emphatically phonetic that if you ask someone to spell his name, he'll pronounce it slowly and distinctly. Ask again -- how do you spell it? -- and he'll pronounce it again, perhaps shouting this time because, if you haven't understood, you're obviously hard of hearing.

Russian words sound just like they're spelled. While English afflicts its speakers with rule-breaking words like "would" and "might," Russian follows its rules so devoutly that words like "obrushivshuyusya" (it means collapsed) just roll off the page -- if not the foreign tongue.

So why does Lidia Y. Zhurova, who supervises the primary education center of the Russian Education Academy, laugh so merrily when asked if there is any debate here over how to teach children to read? Wouldn't logic dictate that such a phonetically stern language demands phonics, no argument allowed?

"I think it's like a very good American detective story," Zhurova says. "Of course, we don't agree on how to teach children to read."

For more than 50 years, Americans have been going back and forth on how to teach children to read English -- by phonics, in which children learn the sounds that correspond to the letters, or by "whole language," which emphasizes learning whole words, guessing at unknown words from context and pictures, and motivating children to learn by nurturing a love of literature.

Olga Viktorovna Pronina chuckles in recognition when told about the debate in the United States. She had so much trouble finding satisfactory phonetic materials in Russian that she recently wrote and published her own beginning reader.

"Everyone is trying to work out something new and rejecting what worked," she says, talking about Russia -- although many American teachers would insist she must be talking about them.

Pronina presides over a classroom of 26 extremely well-behaved first-graders who attend Grammar School No. 1506 in the Babushkinsky region of northern Moscow. She has done so for a long, long time.

"This is my 29th year teaching," she says. "I have always worked at this school in this classroom. I've had many invitations to do other things, but school for me is something sacred."

Reverent as she is about the business of her classroom, she attacks her work with a jolliness that keeps her pupils in good humor. They sit before her -- boys in little coats and ties, girls in pigtails and great fluffy bows -- paying attention and doing what they're told.

"Why is reading important?" she asks the class.

"You can read any book," Dasha says, standing up next to her desk to answer. "You can read Pushkin."

"You can read a telegram," says Evgeny, standing up next to his desk.

Pronina has brought the letters of the alphabet to life with her drawings. She has turned the letter that looks like an e with two dots above it into a hedgehog (the dots are eyes) because that letter begins the word for hedgehog. The first letter of the word for apple has been made to look like an apple hanging from a branch. (The letter looks like a backward R and is pronounced yah.)

She begins with a game. "When you hear the sound 'zh,' clap your hands," she says. Then, "clap when you hear 'i'." Now and then, there's a dissonant clap, and everyone laughs affectionately at the mistake. But mostly the children are correct, clapping when they hear the word for caviar (ikra) or play (igra.)

Next comes dictation. "This is their favorite work," she says.

"Before you start writing, your hands should be very warm," she says, telling the children to stand up. She leads them in exercises, wiggling their fingers, pretending they are the wind blowing. Then their hands turn into feet, climbing steps in the air. They play imaginary pianos, violins and trumpets. Finally they are ready.

"Take a sheet of paper," Pronina instructs, "and a pen or marker. I'll name a letter -- and this will be serious work -- and you will write it. The first word I will spell for you. The next one you will write."

She dictates slowly, carefully enunciating each word. "Some of you work excellently," she says, "without disturbing your neighbor."

Traditionally, Russian children begin school at age 7, but today's parents are eager to have their children get an early start. Half of Pronina's class started the year at age 5, though they were close to 6. Pronina doesn't object.

"The results are best if they begin at an early age," she says.

She calls on children to read aloud. "Remember," she says, "reading is a joy."

Next, she passes out papers. "Now we're going to carry out scientific research," she says. "The first task is to find a flag. Take a blue pen. Draw a circle around the flag with blue ink and write the word flag accurately to the end of the line.

"I'll see who likes me best, who wants to please me with good work. Very beautiful, good work, thank you, very good," she says as children hold up their papers. "The first line is a present to me and the second line is a present to mama."



  • [If I were @Kapitán Denis , I would put a clip art of a Russian bear reading a book with its mama. D Since I am not @Kapitán Denis , you get nothing.]
    And since I am myself, you get what you want.

  • in Serbia we use bukvar (буквар). With it we go over all letters of alphabet starting with a (а) or m (м) (can't remember) so we can spell mama first :) ending with dž (џ). It's based on letters' frequency in use I guess. If I remember correctly every letter is accompanied with some small text in which words that use "unknown" letters are presented with pictures. We also had practice note books in which we would write the letters we learned in all the ways we know (Caps/small, printed/cursive). In first grade we learned Cyrillic and in second we learned Latin alphabet. Every letter is always pronounced the same and foreign words (including names) are transcribed, so that methods debate doesn't make much sense when talking about Serbian.
  • edited March 12

    We use a bukvar too, but it's called šlabikár instead.
    In Slovakia we have a "basic school" with grades (classes) from 1 to 9. They're usually split into 2 levels (1-4 and 5-9) and usually a school has 2 buildings for each of these levels (I mean 1 per level). I think there are some schools which only have the first level (1-4) and then the pupils have to move to another school. And if I remember correctly, in the first level we had only 1 teacher for all classes (math, Slovak, literature, geography, PE, etc). But we had a special teacher for English.
    I don't know how much has changed since then.

    You ferment in the basic school since you're like 6 y.o. until you're about 15.
    Šlabikár books are used only in the 1st grade.
    Svisiaci obrzok httpseshoporbispictusskeshopfilesimages_bookstit_img_larg100201-7jpg

    Just a little note about the word šlabikár:
    It should be called slabikár, because it's a cognate with word slabika (syllable), but during codification of Slovak language the word was kept, because it was already popular in that form.
    The word for syllable before the codification was sylaba, but then we borrowed slabika from Czech.
    The letter Š is pronounced as SH in English.

    You learn to write in the first grade as well. First you have to go through these. You have to copy the dotted lines with pen.
    Svisiaci obrzok Svisiaci obrzok Svisiaci obrzok

    Only then you learn to write letters, syllables and words.

    Aside from šlabikár, we also use čítanka (from word čítať - to read), which is a book with poems.
    We read from it together with the teacher.
    Vsledok vyhadvania obrzkov pre dopyt tanka

    I don't know if čítanka is used in the first grade, or only from the second.

    The word čítanka is pronounced like cheat + uncle (without "le") + uh. More or less...

    We're not taught to read by bears like Russians, though.


    When I was in Маша's age, I didn't like to read. I only watched at the illustrations in the books. I still don't like to read. :D

    in Serbia we use bukvar (буквар).
    It would be a good name for an alcoholic drink or a soup made of beech leaves. :D (buk + var)
  • @Dusan @Kapitán Denis  Thank you so much for the informative posts. I have a specialist certification in reading instruction. I don't work in this field, though. I've been fascinated with how children acquire language and learn to read since high school. 

    @Dusan Serbian education is ahead of American education in that you are exposed to at least two languages from an early age. Research has shown that children who understand multiple languages are more intelligent than those who understand only one language.

    @Kapitán Denis When I was in Маша's age, I didn't like to read. I only watched at the illustrations in the books. I still don't like to read. 

    You are like my bf! If I say to him, "You need to read the book before we see the movie, he will say, "I'm sure the movie will tell me all I need know." He also hates to read except about sports. His aunt bought him loads of books when he was little. All he did was scribble in them with crayons.  :D 

  • @Karpivna
    Serbian education is ahead of American education in that you are exposed to at least two languages from an early age.
    Cyrillic and Latin are writing systems, not languages. Do English speakers use "language" and "writing system" interchangeably? :o
  • @Kapitán Denis Good question! Generally, American English speakers use "language" for oral and written language. "Writing system" isn't used often except in academia. 

  • We can use 2 standard words for "language".
    1. jazyk - literally tongue
    2. reč - literally speech
    Writing system is písmo - from verb písať (to write); also used for "font".
  • Here is the Russian reading/language book my dad gave me. It is for children. It looks pretty ancient.  :D

    Here is an American reading primer that was used for many years in schools, at least until the 1980s. The book was banned for being racist (too much White people).

  • @Karpivna
    Here is the Russian reading/language book my dad gave me.
    The front page says "Russian bukvar for learning writing and reading Russian and Church Slavic".

    Is Church Slavic there too? :o
  • That American primer is stupid. Who talks like that? "What a good chair!" "What a good home!"  :D

    At my house, my dad was yelling, "Who broke this glass and just left it in the sink?!"  :D 
  • edited March 12
    @Kapitán Denis It says that? I don't know about the Church Slavic part. I'll have to check. It does have a bunch of Russian folk tales in it. One about a family pushing a giant turnip. (It has illustrations.) :D
  • @Karpivna
    "What a good chair!" "What a good home!" "Who broke this glass and just left it in the sink?!"
    What's wrong with those sentences? :D
  • @Kapitán Denis @Karpivna we also use čitankas (читанка), of course it's accented diferently. We use them through out our education from first/second grade (can't remember either) till we finish high school, they consist of stories, poetry and parts from novels and similar. Of course beside that we have mandatory literature every year.

    Yes those two are scripts, but children here do get introduced to foreign languages early. Children start learning English in second grade and another language in fifth. In my time we got English in fifth grade and that second language in first year of gymnasium (plus  Latin) other schools didn't have it.
  • @Karpivna
    Who talks like that? "What a good chair!" "What a good home!" 
  • edited March 12
    In Bulgaria we have bukvar in first grade too and chitanka from first till fourth, but I don't remember personally using them much - I learned to read when I was 5, due to one girl I liked in the kindergarten. Then my parents forced me to learn to write (chengelcheta, yuh - that's probably why I write with block letters till this day) when I was 6, which was further annoying because I write with my left hand (with a very ugly handwriting). Btw, I learned to read at home, not the kindergarten itself. Though I remember we had a few lessons in basic maths and English then, plus English in first grade at school and then from fifth on (plus second foreign language from eighth on), though by that time I had already learned most of what I know of English from watching Cartoon Network. In other words - homeschooling seems to have some merit.

    >One about a family pushing a giant turnip. (It has illustrations.)
    You mean pulling? "Dyado vadi ryapa", as we call it. I liked that tale.
  • @NikeBG ;
    You mean pulling?
    In capitalist countries it was pushing and in socialist countries it was about pulling. :D
  • @NikeBG Yes! That is the story. The illustration is almost exactly the same as your image, except black and white. Indeed, a closer look shows me the family is pushing the turnip, not pulling.  :D
  • edited March 13
    Remember kids: don't do drugs, or you might end up pushing turnips.
  • And pushing daisies if you get overboard.
  • Only if you're pushing them up.
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