Imagine knowing only English and being asked to read a textbook in Italian or write a paragraph in Danish. That's what each day is like for my teenage daughter who has processing disorder and dyslexia, a neurologically based disorder that causes difficulties in language-related tasks.
Although Albert Einstein could not talk until the age of four and did not learn to read until he was nine, researchers are not convinced he had dyslexia. But his inspiring quote does make me believe he understood the struggle to read that many dsylexics face.
My daughter— and others like her—has difficulty "decoding" words because she does not hear the sounds letters and syllables make—something most of us take for granted. She tends to rely on memorization of whole words because she can't sound out the words. In many ways she thinks visually and analyzes patterns.
New research in language-based learning disabilities identifies how the brain works when reading. English and other languages that use an alphabet based language use a different reading skill in the brain than character-based languages such as Chinese or Japanese. According to Unlocking Dyslexia in Japanese in the WSJ:
Researchers have long observed that some dyslexics have an easier time with languages like Japanese and Chinese, in which characters represent complete words or ideas, than they do with languages like English, which use separate letters and sounds to form words.
Dyslexia even makes forming alphabet difficult for some people. In this article, a young boy with had difficulty writing in his native English, but in his Japanese studies class he was able to compose characters sharply and distinctly.
In a recent study in Italy and France, children with dyslexia were able to read faster and more accurately when the letters in text were more widely spaced. Does the idea of spacing the letters farther apart support the idea that character-based languages like Japanese are easier for dyslexics to read because the characters represent a complete idea? Maybe.
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~ Chris Olson
Writer and illustrator/designer
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