Speed, accuracy, and types of errors in decoding lists of words and pseudo words and performance in two phonemic awareness tasks were assessed for German and American children in the first and second grades. German children were significantly better than American children only in pseudo word decoding measures across grades. Between group analyses showed that American children committed more vowel and word substitution errors in both decoding accuracy tasks than German children. Word substitution errors were more likely in word decoding than in pseudo word decoding for children in both languages. Within group analyses indicate that variance in decoding errors and speed accounted for by word substitution versus nonword and vowel versus consonant errors differed dependent on grade and whether real or pseudo words were read. Results suggest successful reading in English depends upon more complex grapheme to phoneme correspondence rules than does reading in German.