Dyslexia Across Languages and Writing Systems

In this introductory piece written for a special issue journal about dyslexia across languages and contexts, Kenneth Pugh and Ludo Verhoeven do a great job at outlining what we know (and what we don’t) about dyslexia in other languages.

In their introduction, it is highlighted that when children learn how to read, they are also learning about their writing system.It is well established that children learn to read by coming to understand that the letters on the page correspond to sounds in their language (called the alphabetic principle). Underlying this is their ability to perceive, discriminate, and manipulate phonemes (i.e., sounds) in words. Children who struggle to learn to read often have a difficulty with these skills (i.e., phonological awareness) and, ultimately, are diagnosed with dyslexia. To better understand this learning disability, research is needed; however, current research solely focuses on the English language, which is considered one of the most complex languages due to its various rules and exceptions. Due to this, the research articles that are presented in the issue look into dyslexia in other languages to expand the knowledge surrounding the learning disability.

First, the authors outline some current theoretical frameworks that are used for dyslexia. Primarily, phonological processing is used to connect language to reading. Phonological processing refers to the ability to see or hear a word and break it down into individual sounds that are then put together to make the word. A child is doing this when you tell him to “sound out” a word. Despite widespread agreement about this, others bring up the argument that rather it is multifactorial and there exists a false connection between phonology and non-language aspects, such as behavior. As a result of this, an issue the authors bring up is differentiating between aspects of developmental dyslexia that are directly related to a certain language, and which aspects are universal across all languages. In addition, the question of universality becomes tricky when comparing languages that use different alphabet systems, such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Chinese.

The purpose of this special issue is to advance the knowledge on how reading reflects a deeper understanding of words and their meanings, something that is deeply connected to language. It is essential to do cross-sectional analyses of languages to uncover underlying cognitive principles that cause dyslexia. The research articles look into the languages of Dutch, German, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, and Chinese to gain a better understanding of their mechanisms. In looking toward the future, all of these articles can be seen as starting points for future research and development of what we know about dyslexia. Each study provides a different way to look at reading and language, and bring up important concepts that should be investigated further. Overall, it is essential that a cross language understanding is developed, both in theory and practice.

To read each individual research article in this special issue, follow this link.


Authors: Kenneth Pugh & Ludo Verhoeven

[Kenneth Pugh & Ludo Verhoeven (2018) Introduction to This Special Issue: Dyslexia Across Languages and Writing Systems, Scientific Studies of Reading, 22:1, 1-6, DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2017.1390668]