Researchers found that dyslexia issues may vary depending on the language we speak. Alex is a good example of this phenomenon. The boy, who lived in Japan with his two native English-speaking parents, spoke English at home and Japanese at school. Although Alex loved languages and books, he was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 13. His test results showed that his English reading level was that of a six-year-old. Surprisingly, Alex was tested again three years later, but this time in Japanese, and his score was excellent.
For fluent readers, reading may seem an easy and natural task. Yet, the process of making sense of the marks on a page is really hard work for our brains. The English language requires good verbal memory. And above all, English readers need to understand the correlation between letters and sounds (a skill called phonological awareness) and how to combine them to make up words. For instance, kids affected by dyslexia have difficulties grasping the connection between the sound and the word "hot" and its difference from "hat."
Alex's experience demonstrates how reading and writing may depend on the language we are speaking. It's interesting to consider how long it takes kids to learn to read in different languages and use different spelling systems (orthographies). Karin Landerl, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Graz in Austria, said, "There is quite a lot of evidence that learning to read in English just takes longer because it's harder than other orthographies."
Students who learn Spanish, Welsh, Czech, Finnish, and many other languages tend to do it more easily than English speakers. In fact, Welsh children learn to read more words in Welsh than their peers of the same age can in English. In Finland, most students can read only a few months after starting school, while it takes English-speaking students much longer. A comparison between kids learning to read in English, Spanish, and Czech revealed that the performance in the two latter languages bloomed soon after the beginning of instruction. At the same time, their English-speaking peers needed more time.
One big problem is that English words are spelled rather chaotically. The way words look on the page doesn't consistently correspond to how they are pronounced. Often, there are several ways to write the same sound, such as the "ite" in light and kite, and the same group of letters may be read differently, such as the "ea" in words learn, bread, meat, and steak. Meanwhile, "ink" is always consistent in think, sink, pink, etc., and "int" in mint, lint, and tint. However, this is not the case with the word pint. Some words, such as yacht, just have to be memorized, while other words, such as cat, can be read letter by letter.
Where is logic in this jumble? "If you try to learn to read in English, and you don't have a good phonological awareness – an awareness for the sounds of spoken language – it can lead to massive difficulties," says Karin Landerl. Not really what we want for our children.
Picture: A child reading a book aloud in a kindergarten classroom (ChildUp & DALL-E - 2023)