Japanese induced dyslexia

17 Dec

In my opinion, everyone should be a life long learner. However, this dictum is doubly important for those of us who teach.

Teachers have an obligation to be learners, not only because we need to be aware of new findings and ideas, but also because learning can help us empathize with our students. A point that was brought home to me last night at the Japanese Language Meetup that I attend every few weeks.


At the meetup we read out loud from a book written in the phonetic Hirigana script. I have only recently learned the Hirigana, so my reading is very slow and deliberate. At this stage, reading Hirigana places such a demand on my processing skills that I was unable to attend to the meaning of a passage while reading. I joked that I was suffering from a “Japanese induced dyslexia.”

Here is a paper that, by implication, suggests that my comparison was not far fetched.

Over time, I will have to develop what is called automaticity in my decoding of the Hirgana, if I want to be a fluent reader of Japanese.


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4 Responses to “Japanese induced dyslexia”

  1. Tomas December 17, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    I’ve had the same experience – in learning other alphabets, like Arabic, I have found myself making lots of basic mistakes (like reversing letters) that are stereotypically associated with dyslexics.

    Your joke sums up nicely a skeptical view of dyslexia (as summarised in, for example, Julian Elliot’s work). In that view, Dyslexia is basically just a fancy name for “reading difficulties in the absence of other problems”, and the concept of dyslexia doesn’t help identifying either the cause of a reading difficulty, or give any help in curing the reading difficulty.

    In this view, the label of “dyslexia” would be as appropriate for you as for a bright kid struggling with reading at school. There is no evidence of fundamental differences between the difficulties you have reading Japanese and the struggling schoolkid. And the typical remedy given for dyslexia – carefully structured, rigorous, step-by-step learning – is not much different to the rigorous, step-by-step approach that is effective for an adult foreign language learning.

    I’d be interested in your take on this. To what extent do you think there is evidence that the difficulties that you have with Japanese and the difficulties faced by the struggling dyslexic schoolchild are fundamentally different? Is there sound evidence to label one as “dyslexic” and the other not, and does that label help in solving the problems with reading?

    • jecgenovese December 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

      I am not an expert on dyslexia, but the conventional wisdom seems to be that that there are neurological differences between those with the diagnosis and those without. Here is an abstract from a typical paper:

      “Dyslexia is a common pediatric disorder that affects 5–17% of schoolchildren in the United States. It is marked by unexpected difficulties in fluent reading despite adequate intelligence, opportunity, and instruction. Classically, neuropsychologists have studied dyslexia using a variety of neurocognitive batteries to gain insight into the specific deficits and impairments in affected children. Since dyslexia is a complex genetic trait with high heritability, analyses conditioned on performance on these neurocognitive batteries have been used to try to identify associated genes. This has led to some successes in identifying contributing genes, although much of the heritability remains unexplained. Additionally, the lack of relevant human brain tissue for analysis and the challenges of modeling a uniquely human trait in animals are barriers to advancing our knowledge of the underlying pathophysiology. In vivo imaging technologies, however, present new opportunities to examine dyslexia and reading skills in a clearly relevant context in human subjects. Recent investigations have started to integrate these imaging data with genetic data in attempts to gain a more complete and complex understanding of reading processes. In addition to bridging the gap from genetic risk variant to a discernible neuroimaging phenotype and ultimately to the clinical impairments in reading performance, the use of neuroimaging phenotypes will reveal novel risk genes and variants. In this article, we briefly discuss the genetic and imaging investigations and take an in-depth look at the recent imaging-genetics investigations of dyslexia.”

      source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1096719213002266

      • Tomas December 18, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

        Thanks for your reply and the interesting link. There appears to be some evidence of neurological differences, although I’m unconvinced whether this means that there is an underlying “cause” of dyslexia, rather than it just being an umbrella term for difficulties with reading, which might be for any kind of reason (genetic or otherwise). The research on links to specific genes looks like its at an early, speculative stage – it will be interesting to see how it develops.


  1. The Fat City Workshop: Insight into learning difficulties | peakmemory - December 18, 2013

    […] My post yesterday reminded me of the Richard  Lavoie’s video How Difficult Can This Be? The F.A.T. City Workshop. I show this video to my educational psychology students (mostly future teachers) to give in them insight into the processing difficulties faced by children with learning disabilities. […]

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