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Apr 14, 2008

Do you know why English and Chinese languages affect dyslexia differently?

Prof. Know Why answers for your general knowledge and awareness:

Millions of children worldwide are affected by dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that can include problems in reading, spelling, writing and pronouncing words. According to the International Dyslexia Association, approximately 8 to 15 percent of the students worldwide (if not more) suffer from this problem.

But very recently an interesting finding, reported in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, opened up a new angle to look at the problem on the whole - Dyslexia affects different parts of children's brains depending on whether they are raised reading English or Chinese.

"This finding was very surprising to us. We had not ever thought that dyslexics' brains are different for children who read in English and Chinese," said lead author Li-Hai Tan, a professor of linguistics and brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Hong Kong. "Our finding yields neurobiological clues to the cause of dyslexia."

Reading an alphabetic language like English requires different skills than reading Chinese, which relies less on sound representation, using symbols to represent words.

Past studies have suggested that the brain may use different networks of neurons in different languages, but none has suggested a difference in the structural parts of the brain involved.

Tan's research group studied the brains of students raised reading Chinese, using functional magnetic resonance imaging. They then compared those findings with similar studies of the brains of students raised reading English.

The research speculates that different genes may be involved in dyslexia in Chinese and English readers. The new findings suggest that treating Chinese speakers with dyslexia may use working memory tasks and tests relating to sensor-motor skills, while current treatments of English dyslexia focus on letter-sound conversions and sound awareness.

In their paper, the researchers noted that imaging studies of the brains of dyslexic children using alphabetic languages like English have identified unusual function and structure in the left temporo-parietal areas, thought to be involved in letter-to-sound conversions in reading; left middle-superior temporal cortex, thought to be involved in speech sound analysis, and the left inferior temporo-occipital gyrus, which may function as a quick word-form recognition system. When they performed similar imaging studies on dyslexic Chinese youngsters, on the other hand, they found disruption in a different area, the left middle frontal gyrus region.

If anything, this new research finding will help treating this learning disability, more scientifically and the therapists may now seek different methods of assisting dyslexic children from different cultures.

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