Monday, February 15, 2010

Dyslexia - Malay, Mandarin and English

Bahasa Malaysia (The Malay Language)

This is our National Language and all students have to learn this language. The only letter that represents more than one sound in Bahasa Malaysia is the letter ‘e’. It can be pronounced ‘er’ or ‘ay’.

You pronounce the 'be' in ‘besok’(tomorrow) as in the English word 'bay'. You pronounce the 'be' in 'berok' (monkey) with the ‘er’ sound as in the English word 'berate'. If you have not heard the Malay words 'besok' and 'berok' previously you would not know how to pronounce them. For example, how do you pronounce the word ‘lega’ (spacious or wide) if you have not been taught this word?

One can learn how to read the newspaper in Malay within a month of learning. Of course, one would not understand what one is reading. Take any long word in Malay eg. ‘rambutan’(a local fruit) the sound can be broken down to ram- bu- tan, 'kewarganegaraan' (citizenship) which can be broken down into: ke- war-ga-ne-ga-ra-an. I remember being surprised when my first son, Fadhil, read the word 'Tahun taksiran' on an income tax letter, he found in my car when he was in primary one. When I asked him who had taught him that word he replied, ”No one Daddy. Anyone can read this”. That was an incident that occurred in 1987 and is still vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

Another interesting point is that we don't have a spelling bee in Malay or in Hanyu Pin yin. Why is that? Simply because most who have finished primary one can spell any Malay word. Likewise for Han Yu Pin Yin (Romanised Mandarin).

Mandarin (Han Yu Pin Yin)
This is even easier than Malay. There is no exception as in the Malay letter ‘e’. One can read anything in Han Yu Pin Yin within a month of learning.

There is no way you can pronounce the following words if you have not heard them before. A few words, as an illustration, would be chalet, quay, island, salmon and bouquet.
Many words in English are irregular. They are not spelt the way they sound and this is basically why dyslexics have a problem reading English as opposed to reading Malay or Hanyu Pinyin.

There are:
1. Multiple pronunciations for the same spelling: wind (as in the winter wind) and wind (as in wind down the window).

2. Spelt similarly and pronounced similarly: cut, but.   
                However, there is an exception: put.

3. Different spelling but pronounced the same: pear - pair, road - rode, hare - hair.

4. There are many words where letters are silent e.g. the letter l in salmon, the letter b in plumber, and the letter b in debt, to name just a few.

In the English language, there are simply too many exceptions. Would I want to teach these children the exceptions? The answer is an emphatic NO! I know, after having taught these children for almost 6 years, that it is not necessary to burden them with this enormous task of learning the exceptions. They will learn it as they go. It is a natural process. I did not study English by learning what is a consonant blend or consonant digraph and yet I can read very well.

There are 26 letters in English to represent 44 sounds. Inadvertently some of the letters must have more than one sound. For instance:

a) The letter ‘a’ represents 5 different sounds as follows:

   1.                  2.               3.              4.               5.
 A,a               axe              agree          arc              all
 able              accent         ahead          Arctic         although
 alien             alibi             allow         arm             always
 anus             ample          amuse         art               awe       
 apron           apple            arrive         aunt             awful

b) Even consonants are not spared. The letter 'c' represents both the sound 'k' and 's'. The word 'cat' carries the 'k' sound while 'city' carries the 's' sound. The letter ‘g’ is used to spell  the words 'giraffe', ‘gift’ and ‘giant’.

c) There are some sounds that can be represented by more than one letter. The 'f' sound can be represented by the letter 'f' and 'ph' (as in phone).

Children should be taught the regular words and learn the others as they arise. From the onset I let my students know that many letters have different sounds and that we’ll learn them as we come to them. I point out to them the different sounds the letter makes when we come to those letters as we read. I then compare it with the previous sound the letter had made in a different word. For a student with dyslexia, this is very important. He should be informed from the onset that the letter ‘A’ and the other vowels, as you come to them, represent more than one sound. This prepares his mind when the time comes to learn the other sounds represented by the letters. I will clarify this again at a later date as this is an extremely important point as you will come to understand later in my web log.

This web log is not for children to learn to read. It is for parents and tutors to use to teach children with dyslexia as well as non-dyslexic children. All the children who have come to me for tuition had already learned the letters of the alphabet. As such I will not be teaching the letters of the alphabet in this web log.

Please take a few minutes to leave your comments. Thank you.


Unknown said...

I like your approach. Years ago when I first attended university I found that every student that did very well spoke a minimum of 2 languages.

English is a problem. When attending school I do remember English being taught in a fashion similar to, here is a rule and a list of exceptions. The list of exceptions where outrageous and I felt for years the language needed to be rationalized. In the late 70’s and early 80’s there was a move to rationalize the language that was quickly quashed by the “intellectual elite.” This is extremely unfortunate as it would have saved billions of dollars, much time and set a new path that could have mitigated many of the problems that those such as I suffer.

A year ago I tried to engage in a dialogue with an educator in Italy about the prevalence of dyslexia in her country as there language has been rationalized over the centuries. She shut me down and seemed quite indignant that language could be a factor. Unfortunate but there are other demonstrable effects associated with dyslexia.

Over thousands of years people have communicated but it has only been about a hundred years that literacy became wide spread. It has been in this period that dyslexia became a problem. To communicate there are 3 different languages, one is the spoken language, the second is the written language and the third is the reading. Life has become much more complicated.

I look forward to reading you blog.


Fadhil Luqman said...

Aah. The very thought that brewed in my mind from reading the previous post.

English is crazy.

Also, your son Fadhil has been known to be somewhat of a genius in many aspects. ;)

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you for your comments Bit.
Welcome to my blog and I look forward to seeing more of your comments.

razif said...

Although I have no statistical backing, children of intermarriages are commonly better in their cognitive or creative skills as exhibited by Mr Luqman's son.