Two weeks ago a friend rang me and asked me to see a 19 years old student whom he thought was dyslexic. I explained to him that I have not taught any child beyond year 6 (13 years old). He pleaded with me and I finally relented saying that I’ll just help to find out if the child is dyslexic.
The father and I met and he explained about his son. He started by saying that his son’s memory is bad. He said that his son could hardly repeat a short story after reading it. He had sent his son to various tuition centres / teachers over the years and yet he has hardly improved.
The following day the student came to my house and I asked him to read a simple story in Romanized Mandarin. He read it fluently. I then asked him to read a simple story book in English and he read it fluently as well. This was enough for me to decide that he was not dyslexic.
I then asked him to repeat the one page he had read and he was unable to tell me the story in his own words. I then took a book that I use with my primary one students – The proud swan. He read the whole book with ease. Let me remind you that I am talking about a 19 year old teenager. When I asked him to tell me the story, I found that he could hardly tell it to me.
Questions that came to my mind immediately were: Could the father be right in saying that his son has a bad memory? He did not have a problem in communicating and why then can’t he comprehend what he has read?
I then decided to ask him the meanings of a few of the key words and was surprised to realize that he did not know the meanings of many of the words. He read them correctly but did not understand their meanings. The key words that he did not understand the meaning of are:
Swan, Proud, Looks down on, Teases, Hunter, Surface, Trick, Dives, Ugly, Lifts, Neck, Strange
Raft and Floats.
It was obvious that his problem was not one of memory but one of language. He simply did not have the vocabulary to understand the story. I confirmed this by asking him to read a simple story book in Romanized Mandarin and asking him to tell me the story in his own words in Mandarin.
My heading for this article is dyslexic children and reading comprehension and yet I have said that this boy is not dyslexic. I will come to that in my next few articles. Meanwhile do think of what I have written above. A father has believed “experts” who had simply told him that his son has a memory problem and that is why he cannot repeat a story he has read.
What is very clear from the above is that dyslexic or not; if a child does not have the vocabulary he will not be able to comprehend what he is reading.
WARNING: Do not believe so called ‘experts’, even those with a PhD who say that ‘One of the problems of a dyslexic is reading comprehension’. This is far from the truth and we will explore this in the next few articles.