Culture Plays a Role in Dyslexia

I got an email today pointing me to a Reuters article, Culture Plays a Role in Dyslexia , and a little note saying “what do you think?”

Hrmmmm, very very interesting stuff. There is a difference in language acquisition between Chinese and English, and I suppose you could say that’s cultural, but you know… traditional dyslexia is showing up in China in elementary school kids when they are learning pinyin, and many folks don’t know how to cope with that as a learning disability except to make kids rewrite things 1000 times (this actually happened with a friend’s son).

But I will try to get my hands on the Nature article sometime in the near future. I’m planning on getting to Boston Public Library soon anyway. I’d be interested to see more than a blurb of where they’ve gone with this. Actually, what I’m really interested in as a developmental model is what happens to international kids… or at least kids who move. I think that would show a lot more of what happens with the process. I think that some of the quirks could also show some ideas for ways to strengthen language training. I know that kids in Shanghai learning English spend too much time on grammar and too little time on fluency both in speaking and writing (never mind that their reading material is lousy).

For folks who read this, American or otherwise, what grade did you start learning English? Shanghai’s standard now is Primary grade 1, but in Hefei it’s only some of the schools that start at grade 1.

It’s funny that they headline it as Culture… I think the issue is really difference in language. Chinese does not have a phonetic word representation. That’s really important. When I took Chinese at Amherst the professor was very proud of the fact that the language structure meant that no Chinese kids had dyslexia (though that confused me because like me there’s no reason they couldn’t confuse number order). That can’t be true, because I started flipping radicals when I first wrote Chinese… Wang Liyao and Huang Baohan thought my Chinese homework was really funny because I couldn’t write “with” correctly. On the other hand, in China, kids growing up do it all by endless repetition. Worst case scenario, a kid who wrote backwards would get the crap beat out of him, and in most cases he’ll only write it wrong once before he gets coaching in the proper way to write. Flipping things that the child writes wouldn’t become a discernable pattern, so to speak.

I’m sure they must deal with that in the study. I’d be interested to see what the trends are (comparatively) in Japanese, where there is some phonetic representation (albeit syllabic) or Hebrew or Arabic, which classically don’t incorporate vowels. Also, just to widen the scope a little, what happens for Greek kids, or Russian kids? I think that the manifestation of dyslexia should be much the same in those two languages since it is still an alphabet, but is it as prevalent as in the US? That would point to some education system differences, which is all about culture. See, here I go taking this all to a bigger scene of more interdisciplinary thinking.

In short, that’s what I think. Hopefully sometime next week I might think a little more on it, but that’s my first glance knee jerk reaction.

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