A Japanese first grader can write a letter by the end of May. Considering this is 2 months into her first school year, this is an interesting situation. I don't think this holds true for American first graders.
The Japanese phonetic alphabet (hiragana or katakana) is a "what you see is what you get" alphabet. You read the name of the letter, and that's how that letter is pronounced (I understand Korean and Nepali are also like this). Not so in English. The name of the letter and its pronunciation are two different entities.
When I was in first grade, I remember my teacher, Mrs. Carter, doing phonics flashcards with us. The first graders would happily shout "ah! aaaaaay!" "ih! aaaaai!" "yuh! ih! aaaaaai!" as she flashed cards labeled "A," "I," or "Y."
Then we moved, and we went to a different school in a different state. This school did not do much by way of phonics. The kids were taught to read by recognizing short words.
I have started to try to teach the Pumpkin Princess English. I found a text I thought I liked, and I got the textbook and workbook and teacher's book, but it didn't make sense to me until last night, when I figured out that the Pumpkin Princess
WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO LEARN THE NAMES OF THE LETTERS UNTIL SHE HAS MASTERED THEIR PRONUNCIATION!
Apparently this is how they currently teach reading to children in the UK and Australia these days. It's called synthetic phonics, and when you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense, and it's probably easier (if time consuming) to both children and teachers.
So I have the textbook, workbook, and the teacher's book.
But I am too cheap to pay 7000 yen for the set of flashcards.