Dyslexia in English vs Chinese | A moment of science

If you are dyslexic in English, are you dyslexic in Chinese? The answer might depend on what we know about these languages ​​and about our brains.

Dyslexia is a learning disability. The reader has difficulty connecting the speech sounds of a language to letters and words. The brain has a hard time learning to automatically connect the pronunciation of a word to what it looks like on the page.

While scientists are still investigating the exact causes of dyslexia, the general agreement is that a dyslexic brain has trouble combining visual and sensory information. Consider the process our brains must go through to read: breaking the visual word down into its individual letters, converting those letters into sounds, and then mixing the sounds together to create the entire spoken word. This process of breaking down and merging can take a long time for someone with dyslexia.

But if you are dyslexic in English, you may not have this problem in Chinese. Indeed, while English is an alphabetic language, using letters as the building blocks of words, Chinese is a logographic language. A logographic language uses written characters, instead of a combination of letters, to represent words. In order to know how to pronounce a Chinese character and what it means, you must memorize the image of this character.

What effect does this have on dyslexia? In English, children with dyslexia often struggle with the phonetic approach to reading, while their ability to read logographically may well be intact. Since logographic Chinese requires its readers to know the whole word at once, the difficulties for a dyslexic English speaker might not be as severe if they try to read in Chinese.

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