“Whether You Think You Can or Can't, You're Right” Henry Ford
Last week my first dyslexic student John came to my house for a casual visit.
I asked John to read a story book he has not read before and he read it as fluently as any kid can. I asked him if he has a problem with English and he said he has a problem spelling in English. He continued and said that if he has read the word previously he could usually spell it correctly if given enough time to write. However, under examination conditions he usually gets them wrong as when he writes fast he begins to write the word the way ‘ it should be spelt’ and not the way it is spelt in English. He said the other problem is in remembering words with silent letters and homonyms. He continued, “If I spell Wednesday the way I hear it pronounced by you I’ll spell it ‘Wensday’, so in my mind I have to think of the word as – Wed- nes- day. Otherwise I’ll get it wrong. I would also spell Salmon as ‘Samon’ if I write it the way you pronounce it. So most of the spelling problem is because English words are pronounced one way and spelt in a different way.
I then asked him about spelling Malay words and he said that Spelling and reading in Malay is really easy. I asked him to spell the word dyslexia in Malay and he spelled it with ease – disleksia. I then asked him, “Out of ten of your friends how many do you think will be able to spell the word dyslexia in Malay?” Without hesitation he said, ’All ten’. This is despite the fact that John has not seen or read the word ‘disleksia’ before this.
I asked him to spell dyslexia in English and he said he cannot as he has not learnt this word before. When I asked the same question about his friends as I asked above, again without hesitation he said, ”None of the ten will be able to spell the word Dyslexia.”
Many articles in the internet say similar things to what I copied from one of the sites – “Dyslexics have what is described as "poor short term visual and auditory memories". This means that they cannot recall the look of or the sound of the sequence of letters in words.
The above and many other articles which say similar things are obviously written by those who know how to read and write only in the English language. Belief in these statements and statements that dyslexics have a phonological awareness deficit are all limiting factors as far as dyslexic and their reading and spelling is concerned. It gives dyslexics a reason to fail to read and spell.
The question I have is ‘Why don’t these dyslexic children have similar “poor short term visual and auditory memory” when it comes to reading and spelling in Malay and Romanised Mandarin?’ ‘Why is it that confirmed dyslexics like Agatha Christie, Tom Cruise and numerous other famous personalities do not have a “poor short term visual and auditory memory”?
The answer as to why dyslexic children have a problem with learning to spell in English is simply because they are logical thinking children. As such they spell the words logically, that is, the way it should be spelt. A few simple examples will be wos for was, lite for light and ilend for island.
I teach my dyslexic students to spell Malay and Romanized Mandarin with their ears but spell most English words with their eyes. I teach them to look at the English word until they know it and ask them to slowly say it to themselves. They are then told to write the word without looking at the word. I then ask them to write it out several times to practice getting it right. This way they have learnt to spell the word with their ears, their eyes and their hand. This is what is spoken of many times as multi-sensory method of learning.
I, for one, find it easier to spell many of the difficult words correctly by writing than if asked to spell orally. I find that when these dyslexic children are in grade 3 or 4 their spelling automatically improves because the motor patterns for handwriting becomes well established. Many, like me, may sometime decide on the correct spelling of a word by writing it down and then reading what has been written. This is not possible with oral spelling.
Many of the 220 common Dolch words are irregular in their spelling. They cannot be spelled by simple phonics and spelling rules. For those of you who have been teaching your dyslexic child using my lessons you will know that I have introduced all the 220 Dolch words as sight words at about 5 words per lesson. These words, which are the most common words which can be found in any article, are the most difficult first words for a dyslexic child to learn.
Spelling is enhanced through frequent reading. Repeated exposure to words in print makes it easy to retain the words in a child’s memory as it provides more opportunity to visually observe how words are spelled.
I have continuously encouraged my readers to read to their children and get their children to read. One of the best and most-overlooked techniques for learning hard to spell words is simply reading as much as possible. The more times the eye sees words spelled correctly, the easier it is to spot mistakes. It becomes less a matter of following rules as much as gaining an intuition as to when a word simply feels "wrong."