In 2004 one of my neighbours asked me to tutor his son. I said that I have not given tuition to any child and asked him to look for a proper tuition teacher. He replied that since my children have done exceptionally well in school I should be able to help his son. After much persuasion, I agreed to try. After three lessons which were nerve racking he told me that his son was dyslexic. His son John (not his real name) had just completed a year in a public primary school and was going to be transferred to a private school in Kota Kinabalu and would be placed in primary one as he could hardly read. I had not heard the word dyslexic and checked the internet to learn about dyslexia. Having checked a few sites I took it up as a challenge to teach John. By this time I had taken a liking to John as he was a jovial child.
I have to-date tutored children with dyslexia for 6 years and learned a lot from them as much as I have tutored them. I am writing this blog with the hope that it will be useful to parents and tutors of children with dyslexia.
I am not going to write about what causes dyslexia as I am not a psychologist or scientist and furthermore, there is enough written about this subject. I will however write about some of my students and my way of having taught them successfully. If you were to hear some of these children reading today you would absolutely not know they are dyslexic.
Where do I start? Perhaps I should start with the definition given by some of the authorities. There are many definitions. One of them is: "Dyslexia is a learning disability". This is far from the truth. It is in fact wrong. How can one say Dyslexia is a learning disability when there are many things children with dyslexia learn at a much faster rate/speed than children without dyslexia. They can solve jigsaw puzzles at great speed. Most of the children could do them faster than I can. Lee Kwan Yew, Tom Cruise and Jay Leno are dyslexics and I would not dare say that they have a learning disability. Most of our “learning abilities” are nowhere near theirs. Do Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have a learning disability?
Another definition is: "Difficulty in learning language". This I believe is because most of the people who write on dyslexia are from countries where they speak only English. All the children with dyslexia I had taught speak and learn at least two languages. They have to learn both Bahasa Malaysia (Malay language) and English. Most of them also had to learn Mandarin in school. I found that all of them had no problem reading Malay and Hanyu Pinyin (Romanized Mandarin). This prompted me to ask myself why they could read fluently (yes fluently) in Malay and Hanyu Pinyin and yet struggle with reading in English.
Is it correct to say that they have a language disability? I don’t think so. In fact, I completely disagree. It would be interesting to find out how many dyslexics have problems studying Japanese. I don’t think there will be any as Japanese spelling is similar to the Malay Language.
Recently I met a friend who is working in Mozambique and he says Portuguese is also phonetic. He pointed out that the people in Mozambique also have a hard time studying the English Language. I have had no time to check this out but I believe he must be right.
It is obvious to me that my students with dyslexia are very logical in their thinking and they have a problem not in learning phonetically correct languages like Malay and Mandarin in Hanyu Pinyin, but in learning the English Language which is not logical to them.
Another definition is that dyslexia is a lack of coordination between sight and sound. I will let you decide if this definition is correct. If you say that the definition is correct my question to you is, “Why is it then that my students with Dyslexia can coordinate between sight and sound and can read Malay and Mandarin in Hanyu Pinyin with ease?” “Are Malay and Mandarin not languages?
Another question that comes to my mind is, “Who are the people who coined these definitions?” My guess is that the definitions were coined by those who do not know how to write or speak in any language other than the English language.
I’ll let you think about the issues raised above and I’ll get back to you tomorrow. Meanwhile, if there are any dyslexics who read in any language other than the English language please give me your views. Your views on learning difficulties in learning other languages as compared to the English language would be very useful in continuing my research on dyslexia.
Please take a few minutes and leave your comments. It will be greatly appreciated.