How do bilingual children handle dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects an individual’s ability to read, write, and spell. One interesting aspect of dyslexia is how it manifests itself differently in different languages.

Bilingual individuals who speak more than one language can experience dyslexia in all languages. Nevertheless, dyslexia can appear differently: it presents the same weakness but not the same challenges in each language. This is due to various factors, including the writing system, phonetic rules and grammatical structures of each language.

Is it possible to be dyslexic only in one language?

It is possible to be dyslexic only in one language and not in another because the characters of each language are different. The difficulties can appear according to orthography, phonological awareness and the writing system of language learning, which are most complicated for the child.

A child whose first language is more accessible in terms of phonetic sounds and spelling may not know that he or she is dyslexic. When the child starts to learn a new language, he or she may have learning difficulties that were not present in the first language.

In fact, some languages can be ‘easier’ such as Spanish, German or Italian for people with dyslexia. These languages are most transparent with correspondence between sounds and letters. While French, English or Danish can be most difficult to learn because sounds in these languages do not predictably match the spelling of words. Moreover, these languages present many rules and orthographic exceptions. The writing system of each language is unique and has its own set of symbols, characters, and rules that govern how words are formed and written.

What impacts a dyslexic child in the learning process?

Every language has its own system, English uses an alphabetic writing system with 26 letters, while Chinese uses a logographic writing system with thousands of characters.

Dyslexia can cause difficulties in decoding and understanding these systems, which can manifest in different ways depending on the language. For example, individuals with dyslexia in English might struggle with letter-sound relationships, while in Chinese, they might struggle with memorising symbol-sound associations, characters and their meanings (what we call word-retrieval, and can affect dyslexic children in any language).

Phonetics can play a significant role in the manifestation of dyslexia. Different languages have different phonetic rules that can cause difficulty for individuals with dyslexia. For instance, English has many irregular words that do not follow standard phonetic rules, which can cause confusion for individuals with dyslexia who rely on phonetic cues to decode words.

Grammar structures can also play a role in dyslexia differences between languages. Each language has its own set of grammar rules that govern how words are combined to form sentences. These differences in grammar structures can cause difficulty in reading and writing for individuals with dyslexia.

The level of proficiency in each language can affect the manifestation of dyslexia. Dyslexia can be more pronounced in a language that an individual is less proficient in, as they may rely more on decoding strategies and struggle with comprehension.

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