Bilinguals use inter-language transfer to deal with dyslexia

June 14, 2018, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT)

Dyslexic children learning both a language that is pronounced as written, like Spanish, and a second language in which the same letter can have several sounds, such as English, are less affected by this alteration when reading or writing in the latter language. The authors a new study say that this is less a cure than a reduction of some of the symptoms.

Dyslexia or dsxyliea? Anyone without a reading disorder could read the first word without any problem. But someone with a reading disorder would likely perceive something similar to the second word. Dyslexia is a deficit of reading ability that hinders learning and affects up to 10 percent of the population. It is partly genetic, and its diagnosis is made in children between ages eight and nine, although the symptoms appear earlier.

Today, the only way to treat this disorder is through early training adapted to the patient's age and symptoms. Now, however, research developed by the University of Bangor (Wales) and the Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL) of San Sebastian has shown that some combinations of bilingualism, transmitted from very early ages, can reduce symptoms.

The main goal here was to verify if bilingualism acquired by children who learn to read in English and Welsh at the same time could benefit those suffering from dyslexia assessed in the English language. "And the answer is yes," says Marie Lallier, a BCBL scientist and one of the authors of the study, published in Scientific Studies of Reading.

The study subjects were chosen for a fundamental reason: Welsh is among the so-called transparent languages, which means that letters are always pronounced the same way, as in Spanish and Basque. However, English, like French, is in the opaque category, because the same letter can have several sounds when read.

These new findings, for the first time, reveal a clear and unequivocal difference between the symptoms shown by bilingual and monolingual dyslexic persons. And its importance lies in the fact that a transfer between languages has been proven in the case of people who speak two languages.

"Bilingual people can rely on the resources they use in one language to help process the other language, and that is important because it can be very helpful for adults with language difficulties," stresses Lallier.

The experts proposed a hypothesis: If a child learns a transparent language along with an opaque one, the former will contribute to "decoding or acquiring the reading of the more complex of the two (that is, the opaque one)." And the results were conclusive.

"The English reading and writing deficit of dyslexic people who had learned to speak Welsh and English was less pronounced than among those who had acquired only one opaque language (English). It was a significant and quite clear difference," as Lallier explains.

The researchers worked with 60 people of between 18 and 40, divided into four groups: The first group comprised 15 adults with English monolingual dyslexia, and the second group comprised 15 bilingual dyslexics in Welsh and English. The other two, also containing 15 members each, were so-called control groups, composed of monolingual and bilingual non-dyslexics used for comparing the results.

All participants received the same stimuli in English to see if dyslexics trained to read in both languages had less severe symptoms in reading and phonological processes than those who did not know Welsh. "Everyone had dyslexia, but we showed that bilinguals suffered less severe problems in English than exclusive English speakers."

A second language does not cure dyslexia

And how does this bilingualism influence schoolchildren, who are potentially the hardest hit by the effects of dyslexia? Lallier specifies that this study has only been tested on adults, but says, "These English-speaking bilingual people had fewer difficulties with literacy in English and overcame certain disorders with less difficulty than children who hadn't learned Welsh. You cannot say that a second language cures , because the adults in the study still suffer from it; it's simply that some of the symptoms have decreased. Generally speaking, it's good to fight against it, but there are different types of bilingualism—some learn a second from birth, others at age six. That's why it can't be said yet that it's good for all cases."

The authors maintain that bilingual persons affected by this disorder should always receive support and re-education from speech therapists and specialized personnel.

Explore further: Spoken languages affect reading strategies and cognitive foundations of literacy

More information: Marie Lallier et al, Learning to Read Bilingually Modulates the Manifestations of Dyslexia in Adults, Scientific Studies of Reading (2018). DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2018.1447942

Related Stories

Spoken languages affect reading strategies and cognitive foundations of literacy

May 10, 2017
The way bilingual people read is conditioned by the languages they speak. This is the main conclusion reached by researchers at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL) after reviewing the existing scientific ...

Bilingual brains activate different networks when reading opaque and transparent languages

October 26, 2016
Three Spanish researchers have discovered that bilinguals use different neural networks to read languages that are pronounced as they are written - such as the Basque language - from those in which this correspondence does ...

ESL students with special needs fail to get language instruction, study finds

March 1, 2018
Students learning English as a second language who also have special needs are more likely to fall between the cracks of elementary school education, finds researcher Sara Kangas of Lehigh University in a paper to be recognized ...

If your child is bilingual, learning additional languages later might be easier

October 2, 2017
It is often claimed that people who are bilingual are better than monolinguals at learning languages. Now, the first study to examine bilingual and monolingual brains as they learn an additional language offers new evidence ...

Bilingual children are better at recognizing voices

June 12, 2017
Bilingual children are better than their monolingual peers at perceiving information about who is talking, including recognizing voices, according to a study by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Recommended for you

New research has revealed we are actually better at remembering names than faces

November 14, 2018
With the Christmas party season fast approaching, there will be plenty of opportunity to re-live the familiar, and excruciatingly-awkward, social situation of not being able to remember an acquaintance's name.

The illusion of multitasking boosts performance

November 13, 2018
Our ability to do things well suffers when we try to complete several tasks at once, but a series of experiments suggests that merely believing that we're multitasking may boost our performance by making us more engaged in ...

Brain changes found in self-injuring teen girls

November 13, 2018
The brains of teenage girls who engage in serious forms of self-harm, including cutting, show features similar to those seen in adults with borderline personality disorder, a severe and hard-to-treat mental illness, a new ...

Major traumatic injury increases risk of mental health diagnoses, suicide

November 12, 2018
People who experience major injuries requiring hospital admission, such as car crashes and falls, are at substantially increased risk of being admitted to hospital for mental health disorders, found a study in CMAJ (Canadian ...

Nearly one in ten Americans struggles to control sexual urges

November 9, 2018
(HealthDay)—The #MeToo movement has given many Americans a glimpse into an unfamiliar world that may have left many wondering, "What were they thinking?"

Brain activity pattern may be early sign of schizophrenia

November 8, 2018
Schizophrenia, a brain disorder that produces hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive impairments, usually strikes during adolescence or young adulthood. While some signs can suggest that a person is at high risk for developing ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.