Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Unlocking Dyslexia in Japanese language class

After her 12-year-old son spent two years at a specialized school for children with learning disabilities, Lisa Lunday decided he was ready for a more challenging, mainstream environment.

The school she chose, however, required all students to study Japanese as part of its academically rigorous curriculum. Ms. Lunday was unsure how her son, who is dyslexic, would cope.

The result surprised her. The boy, now 13, excelled in his Japanese studies. His lettering of Japanese characters was sharp and distinct.

That was in stark contrast to his writing in English, which appeared to be the work of a kindergartner. Sometimes his English letters were so poorly composed that they were hard to read, a common problem among dyslexics.

"I looked at his Japanese binder and was amazed at how perfectly formed everything was," says Ms. Lunday, of San Mateo, Calif. "Just comparing two pieces of paper tells the story."

Experiences like that of the Lundays are providing scientists and educators with clues about how people with dyslexia learn and how best to teach them.

Researchers have long observed that some dyslexics have an easier time with languages like Japanese and Chinese, in which characters represent complete words or ideas, than they do with languages like English, which use separate letters and sounds to form words.

Now, recent brain-imaging studies are identifying possible reasons for the differences, and education experts say such research could point the way to improved teaching techniques.

"There are very real differences in the brain's reading circuit for an alphabet as opposed to a language like Chinese," says Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development and director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. Dyslexics "think visually. They analyze patterns," she says.

Character-based languages are mastered through memorization, a skill that dyslexics tend to rely on more than do typical language learners, says Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity in New Haven, Conn. And language characters are more like pictures than letters, which can be easier for many dyslexics to reproduce, she says.

Read More of this article here: Unlocking Dyslexia in Japanese - WSJ.com

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