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 again 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 learned a lot from them, as much as much as they have learnt from me. I am writing with the hope that what I write will be useful to parents and tutors of children with dyslexia.
I am not going to write about what causes dyslexia as I am neither a psychologist nor a 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 wouldn’t even know that 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". The truth, I believe, is far from this. In fact I believe this definition is wrong. How can one say Dyslexia is a learning disability when there are many things that children with dyslexia can learn, and, they learn faster than children without dyslexia. They can solve jig-saw 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 wouldn’t dare say that they have a learning disability. (Most of our “learning abilities” are nowhere near theirs.)
Another definition is: "Difficulty in learning language". This definition, I believe, arises because most of the people who wrote about dyslexia are from countries where the people speak only English. All the children with dyslexia that I taught speak at least two languages - Malay and English. And most of them had to also learn Mandarin in school. I found that all of them had no problem reading in Malay and Han Yu Pin Yin (Romanized Mandarin). This prompted me to ask why could they read fluently (yes fluently) in Malay and Han Yu Pin Yin and yet struggle when reading in English.
Is it correct to say that they have a language learning difficulty? I don’t think so. In fact I completely disagree.
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 Han Yu Pin Yin (that is Romanised Mandarin), but in learning the English language which they find is not logical to them. English is an orthographically inconsistent language wherein letters can have more than one sound each.
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, reading Malay and Romanised Mandarin 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 speak read and write solely in the English language.
I’ll let you think about the issues raised above and I’ll get back to you soon. Meanwhile, if there are any dyslexics who have difficulties in learning any other 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 to me in continuing my research on dyslexia.