See also: 1999, 2001 reports, full 2001 report: Dyslexia: Cultural Diversity and Biological Unity, dyslexia articles.

English spelling. Excerpts from books about dyslexia.

Many dyslexia experts have said, or done research to show, that English is more difficult for reading and spelling, particularly at the early stages, than the writing systems of other languages.

International Book of Dyslexia: A Cross-Language Comparison and Practice Guide. Edited by Ian Smythe, John Everatt and Robin Salter. 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

A second topic discussed by many authors was the transparency of the language. Transparency refers to the relationship between the written symbol of the script and its associated sound in speech. Some languages have a more regular script (i.e., a high correspondence between written symbols and speech sounds), alternatively referred to as a transparent/shallow orthography (see, for example, Chapters 18 and 13 on Spanish and Italian). Other languages have a much more inconsistent (irregular) correspondence between symbols and sounds, and are often referred to as non-transparent or deep orthographies, of which English is the most quoted example.

Literary Arabic is written in an alphabetical system with 28 basic letters. It is a system of consonants, and it is read and written from right to left. In literary Arabic there is a predictable sound-symbol correspondence between the letters and their sounds if the text is vowelized. However, there are certain irregularities ...

(summary) There are many languages, but one script. Strokes form a character which represents a phoneme. There are over 40,000 characters but only 3000 are needed for literacy. Pinyin has Roman characters and dyslexic reversals show more than in the morphographic script.

Dutch orthography appears to be rather transparent when compared to other languages.

... Greek, like English, is a morphophonemic script but is much more transparent than English in the representation of phonology. The English spelling system has variable and inconsistent grapheme-phoneme relationships due to many irregular spellings and it is considered a deep orthography, with higher level morphological constraints (Chomsky and Halle. 1968).

Children learn to read in pointed Hebrew, which has almost perfect one-to-one grapheme-to-phoneme correspondence, hence decoding is mastered very rapidly.
... this diacritical system provides a complete and unambiguous representation of the vowels by means of tiny dots and dashes appearing mostly under letters.
... certain children have unique difficulties negotiating the transition from pointed to unpointed script.

The Hungarian language is a phonetic, transparent language of the Finno-Ugric group, of which Finnish is said to be the closest relative. However, vowels with acute, umlaut and tilde accents, combined consonants, agglutinated words (prepositions added to nouns making very long words) all cause difficulties.]

... each of the five vowels has only one orthographic rendition in Italian. Consonants have only one graphemic rendition and vice versa, except for a few stop consonants and affricates ....
A recent cross-linguistic comparison among different European orthographies (Seymour et al., 2003), has confirmed that in languages with shallow orthographies, children become accurate and fluent both in reading simple words and non-words at the end of the first Grade, differently from children who must learn to read French, Danish and particularly English. The difference between a 'deep' orthography like English and a 'superficial' one like Italian has been also documented using a PET study by Paulesu et al. (2000).

In Polish an alphabetical script is used. Unlike English, Polish script is basically phonetic, however, there are a number of differences between speech and script.

The Portuguese script is a fairly transparent orthography with regular grapheme-phoneme correspondences and rules of pronunciation (Lemle, 1991) that account for most noncanonical correspondences.

Authors undertaking studies in Russia (Andreopoulou and Bogiotopolou, 2000) and in Greece obtained confirmation of data that reading is an easier skill to acquire in countries with a phonetic principle of writing, and dyslexia is less common there. Reading is a more complex skill in countries with a traditional (historically formed) principle of education (English, French), where a break has occurred between changed spoken language and historical spelling.

... the orthographic regularity of Spanish ...

The relatively shallow Swedish orthography ...

Dyslexia in context: Research, policy and practice. Edited by Gavin Reid and Angela Fawcett. Whurr. 2004. (book of the British Dyslexia Association International Conference, 2004.)

Chapter 3. Developing flexible mapping in an inflexible system?

Page 53.

"One of the main differences between reading development across languages is how soon the readers are confronted with the need to use more complex mapping options and grapheme/phoneme conversions. In turn, a wider range of cognitive skills will have to be engaged, making the learning process more difficult. This explains why learning how to read and spell results in lower word and non-word reading performance after the first year of instruction and practice in a deep orthography (English, followed by the English, Portuguese and French) than in a more simple and/or shallow one (Finnish, followed by Greek, Italian, Spanish, German) (Seymour et al., 2003). For example, at the end of grade one, in most European languages - with the exception of Danish - the children read words and non-words with an accuracy of 70% or above, whereas the children in the UK still identify only about 30% correctly."

Page 60.
"Dyslexics who read languages with little complexities in split-syllable mapping and only a few multi-letter peculiarities such as Finnish, Italian and Hebrew should mainly be (very) slow readers. In contrast, languages such as English (and, possibly, French and Danish) with many multiple consonants and multi-letter inconsistencies should not only cause slow speed but also inaccuracy. Languages such as German and Dutch, with an intermediate level of syllabic and orthographic complexity, should be somewhere in between."

Landel, K., Wimmer, H. and Frith, U. (1997) The impact of orthographic consistency on dyslexia: A German-English comparison. Cognition, 63, 315-334.

Thus, there are good theoretical grounds to expect that consistent regular phoneme-grapheme relationships result in faster learning than irregular relationships.

The preliminary conclusion from the present findings is that orthographic inconsistency imposes a heavy burden on the beginning reader. The acquisition of phonological recoding in English is slower than in German.

A consistent orthography lends itself to systematic teaching by a phonics method, while an inconsistent orthography demands more complex methods of teaching.

Dyslexia in Different Languages. Cross-linguistic Comparisons, edited by Nata Goulandris, PhD., University College London. 2003 Whurr Publishers, London & Philadelphia.

Chapter 1. Introduction: developmental dyslexia, language and orthographies.

The level of transparency (how reliably a letter maps onto a speech sound) measured on a continuum with 'transparent' or 'shallow' at one end and 'opaque' or 'deep' at the other, has been shown to determine how easily children learn to read. In a transparent orthography the mappings between a grapheme (the letter or letters used to represent a speech sound) and phonemes (speech sounds) are reliable and children can use this information to sound out unfamiliar words. In 'opaque' orthographies there are numerous mappings between letters and sounds (consider the spelling of the long o /əʋ/ in the words 'hole', 'road', 'low', 'so', 'though' and 'toe') and phoneme-grapheme correspondence rules are much less reliable. The degree of consistency of sound-letter mappings may also vary according to word position. In highly consistent orthographies, a grapheme is pronounced the same when it occurs in any position in a word. Transparent languages are much more consistent than opaque languages.

Existing cross-linguistic research (e.g. Wimmer, 1993) indicates that for alphabetic languages the most important linguistic characteristic for ensuring success in learning to read is the consistency of the orthography, defined as the extent to which learners can rely on phoneme-grapheme mappings to help them identify unfamiliar words. Transparent orthographies, those that represent the phonological or sound features of the language, such as Italian, Spanish and Greek, present few problems for young readers and most children can read the majority of written words after only one year of schooling (Seymour, 1998). Opaque and inconsistent orthographies, on the other hand, such as English (and to a lesser extent French, Polish and Danish), which give precedence to the morphemic level of language over the phonological level (Albrow, 1972), are far more difficult to master and reading difficulties are more prevalent. Moreover, whereas measures of reading accuracy are a useful diagnostic tool in English, they are of limited value when assessing poor readers of transparent languages who are often as accurate as good readers. In highly transparent orthographies, many studies report that only reading rate differentiates poor and good readers (see Wimmer, 1993, 1996; Chapter 4). In moderately transparent orthographies, reading error differences are also in evidence (see Chapter 5 - but note that Chapter 2 also reports accuracy deficits in German-speaking dyslexics).

... orthographies that incorporate numerous irregular words, such as English, confuse the learner and render the task of extracting rule-based regularities more difficult and prolonged. ...

The influence of instructional methods on the cross-linguistic manifestations of dyslexia must not be overlooked. The majority of languages with shallow, transparent and consistent orthographies are taught using highly structured phonics methods that explicitly teach letter-sound mappings and consonant-vowel (CV) syllables that can be combined into familiar words. Considering the reliability of the mappings, this teaching method is extremely effective because learners receive positive feedback throughout the learning process.

This book sets out to explore these issues by presenting current research into dyslexia in non-English languages, including: alphabetic languages such as Afrikaans, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Norwegian, Swedish and Polish; semi-syllabic and semi-alphabetic scripts, such as Kannada, Tamil, Hiragana and Katakana; and logographic scripts, such as Chinese and Kanji. Its objective is to explore a variety of languages and to identify both the typical reading and spelling difficulties characteristic of each language, considering its unique linguistic properties, and the common core or universal deficits that can be considered to be the defining characteristics of developmental dyslexia regardless of language. Each chapter begins with a description of the linguistic features of the language in question, how that language differs from English and what problems beginners may face acquiring literacy. We begin by examining the more transparent languages and proceed through the less regular to the opaque orthographies. Logographic scripts are considered at the end of the volume.

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