Blog Parents Teaching Tips What Every Singaporean Parent Needs To Know About Mother-Tongue Dyslexia

What Every Singaporean Parent Needs To Know About Mother-Tongue Dyslexia

Dyslexia is more common than you may think. Also called a ‘reading disorder’, the most commonly exhibited symptom is difficulty with reading. You may have a child of average or even higher intelligence. If they have problems with reading, they may be dyslexic.

Something has become more and more obvious in Singapore recently. More children are opting out of the Mother Tongue test in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Of the top three reasons, dyslexia is the first as a reason for requesting an exemption. Before, it was commonly assumed that dyslexia was predominantly in the English Language.

According to the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS), this may not be the case. A lot of concerned parents and children in Singapore are going to DAS for help with dyslexia in other languages.

Dyslexia is a problem that differs from one language to another. Children in Singapore with reading problems in their mother-tongue may be able to read other languages well. Before you start arranging for a tutor and special needs tuition, you should know some more about dyslexia. Armed with this information, you will know how to handle mother-tongue dyslexia better.

Differences Between Dyslexia In English And In Chinese

You may be wondering if dyslexia is the same in Chinese as it is in English. Dyslexia is a learning problem that is based on language. As such, the differences in the Chinese and English language lie in the structure and nature of both languages. The reading problems your children may have will lie in these two factors.

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On the one hand, the English language uses alphabets and an atonal system. As such, children with dyslexia in English will have these problems:

Many letters will look alike, such as ‘b’ and ‘d’
They will change the sequence of letters in certain words. For example ‘but’ for ‘tub’
They create anagrams with certain words, for example, ‘worth’ could be ‘throw’
Words that start with the same letters could be mixed up, such as ‘four’ ‘forth’ ‘fort’
Leave out certain letters when spelling words, for example, ‘fee’ instead of ‘free’
Have trouble writing words, even as they are spelt out to them
Have trouble with identifying letters by their sounds or identifying sounds by their letters

On the other hand, the Chinese language uses a logographic and tonal system. The characters of the Chinese language have a phonetic and semantic element to them. These elements guide you as to pronunciation and meanings of characters and words. So, a child with dyslexia in Chinese would have these problems:

They will mix up words that look similar, such as 家 – 象
They will also mix up words that sound similar, such as 就 – 球
They will confuse the characters in words, for example, 男人 and 南人
Have trouble with writing strokes correctly
Have trouble with writing characters in their correct sizes, for example, 好 is written as 女子
They may also write words with additional strokes/strokes missing
They may also write characters in the wrong order

What does this all mean for children with dyslexia in the mother-tongue?

Can Techniques That Are Taught In English Applied To Dyslexia In Chinese?

Since the structure and nature of the languages are different, the techniques taught in one language will not be the same for the other. The differences in these languages make it necessary for the techniques to be different. However, the principles guiding the tuition of dyslexics are used for both English and Chinese.

To teach dyslexics in Chinese, there is one basic factor that you have to target. Tuition for Chinese dyslexics should be directed at three areas:

The semantic elements
The syntactic elements of the Chinese language
The Orton-Gillingham method has been used to tutor dyslexics in English with positive results. The method is also quite flexible, and studies have been carried out to adopt this method to tutor dyslexics in other languages.

The Chinese language is more complicated than English. This makes it difficult to adopt techniques for English dyslexics in teaching Chinese dyslexics. However, there are certain methods that are being worked on so as to use them for English and non-English dyslexics.

How Does Dyslexia Work In Bahasa Melayu And Tamil?

Singapore is an environment with diverse languages. As shown in English and Chinese, dyslexic symptoms are different for every language. The nature and structure of each language determine how dyslexia works in each language.

The English language uses an alphabetic system
The Chinese language uses a logographic system
Bahasa Melayu, or Malay, uses a Roman alphabetic system
Tamil uses a Brahmi, syllabic system

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The majority of all research on dyslexia has been done in English. As such, finding out how dyslexia works in Tamil and Bahasa Melayu may not be so straightforward. More studies are finding out the differences in dyslexia in different languages. This will make the information possible in the future.

Dyslexia in your children doesn’t mean your kids are dull, or that they are mentally impaired. With the right help, they can overcome their difficulties and lead normal lives. There are current celebrities who are dyslexic who are leading successful lives.

If you were wondering if your child may have problems with dyslexia in English and Chinese, don’t worry too much. The number of bilingual dyslexics is not high. Given the different natures and structures of Chinese and English, your kid may handle one as well as the other.

For instance, a good visual memory makes Chinese easier for a dyslexic to learn than English. This is despite the fact that Chinese is more complex than English. It may take them a lot of work to learn languages, but they will learn.

That said, if your child shows symptoms of dyslexia, contact the Dyslexia Association of Singapore. Get them the help they need to succeed in their academics, and in life.

For similar help articles, you may like to explore these:

How To Spot Dyslexia In Your Tutor Students
How You Can Tell Whether Your Child Needs Private Tutoring


Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors. You may try out his free home tutoring services via or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.