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In the Wall Street Journal, Linda Himelstein writes that brain-imaging studies are identifying possible reasons to explain why some dyslexics have an easier time with languages like Japanese and Chinese.
English and other alphabetic languages require a separate letter for each sound in a single word. Certain dyslexic students have seemed able to learn these languages, in which characters represent complete words or ideas.
Education experts say this brain research could point the way to improved teaching techniques.
According to Maryanne Wolf, professor of child development and director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, “There are very real differences in the brain’s reading circuit for an alphabet as opposed to a language like Chinese. [Dyslexics] think visually. They analyze patterns.”
Dyslexics tend to rely on memorization, which is a skill needed in mastering character-based languages, according to Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity in New Haven Connecticut. Since language characters are more like pictures than letters, they can be easier for many dyslexics to reproduce.
People with dyslexia have difficulty splitting words into component sounds.
Dyslexia is the most common of all learning disabilities. It is a neurologically based disorder that causes difficulties in language-related tasks, and occurs regardless of a person’s intelligence or level of education. A Connecticut Longitudinal Study, which concluded in the early 2000s, suggests that as many as one in five people have some degree of dyslexia.
Another study compared how good readers and dyslexic readers learn language. Using brain-imaging technology, they found that when people with dyslexia read in English, they rely on the same region in the brain as do readers of kanji, a character-based language in Japan.
In contrast, a different region of the brain is used by good English readers as well as by children reading kana, another Japanese language but a language in which each character represents a sound, just like English.
It should be noted that people are not suggesting that studying Chinese or Japanese will help dyslexics learn to read English. There is no getting around the fact that reading English well demands the ability to identify and blend sounds.
But improved understanding of the way dyslexics absorb character-based languages can help with the building of curricula.
According to Dr. Wolf, understanding the different ways in which dyslexics’ brains are wired has helped her adapt teaching programs for their needs.
Repetition is important to help dyslexic kids memorize visual patterns of words and letters. Says Wolf, dyslexics may need 10 times as much exposure to the language patterns as do traditional learners.
In dyslexics some essential connections between the right and left sides of the brain are weaker or slower than typical learners. Wolf contends that simulating these connections by engaging kids in a wide range of simultaneous exercises, including teaching letters, sounds, words and their meanings is a fruitful way to proceed.
Future research will be aimed at enabling teachers to tailor their approaches to each dyslexic learner. She expects new interventions will occur earlier and be more personalized as a result of this latest research.
For Linda Himelstein’s complete article in the Wall street Journal visit http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303763404576416273856397078.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#printMode .
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