Thursday, May 13, 2010

Who says dyslexic children are phonologically unaware? & Lesson 26

Many of the articles on dyslexia say that dyslexics are phonologically unaware. A little thought will clearly reveal that this statement cannot be true.

All my dyslexic students have no problem with phoneme awareness and neither do they have a problem with phonological awareness when they read in Malay and romanised Mandarin. As such it is definitely wrong to say that dyslexics have a phonological awareness deficit.

Let us start with phonics - phonics is an instructional approach that emphasizes the letter-sound relationships (which letters represent which sounds).

As mentioned in one of my earlier articles, except for the letter ‘e’, one letter has only one sound in Malay. In Romanised Mandarin each letter has only one sound. A dyslexic can learn to read in both languages with ease. What phonological problem are the people who write on dyslexia talking about? If a dyslexic has a phonological awareness problem should he not have it for all languages?

Phoneme awareness is being aware of the fact that rearranging of phonemes makes different words. It refers to the specific understanding that spoken words are made up of individual phonemes. Phoneme awareness is what is necessary for the child to understand that the letters in written words represent the phonemes in spoken words.

To make a new word from the word cat, for instance, replace the phoneme ‘t’ with the phoneme ‘n’ and you get a new word “can”.

Once again, when I teach Malay my dyslexic students do not have a problem with phoneme awareness at all.

The term "phoneme awareness" is quite different from another commonly used term, "phonological awareness." Phonological awareness is a general term describing a child’s awareness that spoken words are made up of sounds.

To be able to read, a child must be aware of phoneme – that is that words are made up of smaller sounds and that these sounds are represented by alphabets.

Having learnt hut, but, cut and rut will a child be able to pronounce the word ‘put’? Does being unable to sound out the word ‘put’ amount to being phonologically unaware?

Having learnt the word cough can he pronounce the word bough or dough?

How many adults (dyslexic or not)will be able to pronounce the word ‘quay’ if they have never heard this word before? In Malay however, a child after primary one will be able to pronounce any and all Malay words.

The following statements, which I completely disagree with, are taken from articles on dyslexia. I continue to see articles with statements like these.

“In general, they seem to have limited 'phonological awareness' (sensitivity to the sound structure in words). This 'phonological deficit' leads to difficulties in learning to read and spell because one of the early stages in learning to spell is to split a word into its component sound chunks, each of which then has to be spelled in order. The phonological deficit account was for many years the dominant hypothesis for dyslexia research, but the key question is why dyslexic children have this problem.”

As I mentioned above, I completely disagree with the above statement. Contrary to most of the articles written on dyslexia, dyslexics are not ‘phonologically unaware’.

If they are, they will not be able to read fluently in Malay, Tamil, Italian and in many other orthographically consistent languages. They cannot become famous authors.

Dyslexic children have a problem reading in English because teachers do not take the trouble to let the students know that many of the letters in English have more than one sound (phoneme). All the vowels have more than one sound –
‘A’ represents 6 sounds:
‘E’ represents 7 sounds
‘I’ represents 3 sounds
‘O’ represents 5 sounds
‘U’ represents 3 sounds

A dyslexic child is logical thinking and his mind shuts down when something is illogical. He will either not be able to learn to read or take a long time to read the following words if he is not told that the letter ‘A‘ represents 6 sounds.

Ant, ask, away, almost, ace & any.

If you let a dyslexic child know that the letter ‘A’ has different sounds (phonemes) his mind will be open, he will be more receptive and he will be able to learn at a faster rate.

The above is just part of the problem faced by a dyslexic in learning to read. As such it is best to let a dyslexic child know from the onset the inconsistencies in the English language. Teach him phonics and also teach him sight words. For example you can teach him but, cut, jut, nut and rut phonetically. However, point out that the word ‘put’ has to be learnt as a sight word. Similarly explain all exceptions as you come across the words. In fact, from my experience, I have found that once a dyslexic child knows that English is orthographically inconsistent he begins to read at a faster rate. Why? It is because he now knows that he should not try and make sense of the sound the word makes and the letters making up the word. He now knows that it is not he who is stupid but..........

I have written to Universities in UK and US, Dyslexic Associations all over the world, Yahoo Groups and to many other groups and asked them one main question and to-date have not received any answer. My question is if it is true that dyslexics have limited 'phonological awareness' (sensitivity to the sound structure in words) than why is it that they can read orthographically consistent languages as fluently as any other children. Refer to research reports I have attached in my articles.

For lesson 26 click here :


Anonymous said...

Articles are an extreme in 'watered down' information that are often written by people who have no personal knowlege of what they are reporting. And we also end up with different viewpoints, just as every rainbow is truly a different rainbow from the perspective of a person standing on point A, just two inches from the person standing on point B.

Defining dyslexia in a way that non-dyslexic people would understand it, would take a book...

I understand what you are saying, and...we do know that Spanish and Italian are, indeedy much easier to read because of fewer rules - I am one of those- an English speaker who prefers to read in Spanish, and for that very reason. And so-called 'righ brainer' dyslexics need fewer rules for ANYTHING, until they successfully learn how to visualize the rules.

But I am also one of those people who thinks in pictures and has CAPD who doesn't easily connect the spoken language with written language, nor the sounds...and no amount of teaching is going to make the difference. I know that, as for my son, my father (who does marvelously well with Hebrew and Greek) and I could ace any 'class' in phonics...but the knowledge, for us, would not help us read any better.** I am also one of those people with perceptual issues that still, at age fifty, mistakes letters for other letters...but I am a wonderful decoder. And for that reason, I also read early in life...just because I decoded and memorized words and patterns of language. But weakeness in 'decoding' is also a reason giving for dyslexia.

I think, that when people tackle the issues of dyslexia, more tend to concentrate on literature from one angle, instead of many. But at least five need to be paid attention to: Neurology, Psychology, Psychiatry, Educational, AND Personal Experience of parent/teacher/child. And that last one is not least: What does THIS teacher do for THAT child?

Lorri Centineo
Maine USA

** For us...the not-well accepted in educational situations (a pity), The Ron Davis method, worked miracles!

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you for your comment Lorri.
I hope more dyslexics who speak languages other than the English language will share their views.

Caroline L Savage said...

I have to agree with your artical LM. It certainly feels right. I only speak English, although I always wanted to learn another language. I felt too afraid because I found English so hard. Currently my son is learning Spanish at Infant school and he is encouraging me to learn as well. Although I still struggle to understand what people say to me from time to time, I do find that listerning to other people speaking other langauges, sounds much clearer to hear and recognise. Even if I don't know what their actually talking about, yet.

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you Caroline. I understand that Spanish is much easier to learn than English. Learn Spanish together with your son. It will encourage him as well and his Spanish will improve when he teaches you. Best wishes.

Duane Smith said...

I failed the first grade because I could not read - soon after I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I failed algebra five times. I failed English in the tenth grade. I graduated high school with a 1.9 gpa on probation for bad behavior. I failed out of three different community colleges. in 1991 a college professor asked me if I was retarded; however that same year, on the same campus another professor told me I had presence (a gift for public speaking) -- Now I am a college professor.

Duane Smith - The Dyslexic Prof

Luqman Michel said...

Sorry Duane I had not seen this inspiring comment. Please e-mail me and I may learn more from you.
Best wishes.

Duane Smith said...


My email is

also, my blog:

Take care