Although there is still much to be discovered, there is a lot scientists now know and understand about dyslexia in the English language. Interestingly, new research has shown that what we know about dyslexia in English may not be the same in other languages, specifically Chinese.

Chinese writing is comprised of special characters, many of which are quite similar and often difficult to distinguish. Memorizing thousands of these characters is not easy for anyone, but it is especially difficult for those with dyslexia.

Until recently, it was assumed that dyslexia had a universal biological origin despite what language a person was reading. Wai Ting Siok of Hong Kong University has discovered that being dyslexic in Chinese is actually not the same as being dyslexia in English. Her team’s MRI studies showed that dyslexia among users of alphabetic scripts such as English versus users of logographic scripts such as Chinese was associated with different parts of the brain. Chinese reading uses more of a frontal part of the left hemisphere of the brain, whereas English reading uses a posterior part of the brain.

The reason for this is that there is a difference in the way the two languages are processed. Reading English requires sounding out words segment by segment. The letter-sound conversion does not apply in Chinese.

Chinese maps the graphic form on to the meaning. This means that the phonetic sound of the character does not necessarily correspond to the form of it, so different parts of the brain are used to interpret the two languages.

One important lesson from this research is that a dyslexic Chinese reader may not be dyslexic when reading alphabetic scripts, and vice versa. More research will have to be conducted to discover further implications.

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