Friday, July 6, 2007

As I was listening to the BBC World Service today, I was intrigued by a news topic about President Putin who was, unusually, speaking English rather than his native Russian. This led to a discussion on the impact of world leaders who make the effort to speak foreign languages. The guest invited into the BBC studio to comment on this phenomenon said that world leaders speaking foreign languages made a huge impact on their standing in the world of politics.

This led me, of course, to think about my own children and their opportunity at school and in other ways to learn foreign languages. Of course, with two dyslexic children, who are pulled out of class for special services usually during foreign language sessions, this provides little opportunity. But more significant is that modern foreign languages are said to be a challenge for dyslexic learners. These languages are based on Western letter-based alphabetical writing system and difficulties arise in matching the alphabetical symbols to the sounds they represent.

So, is the area of foreign language closed to the dyslexic learner? If so, are there avenues of life that are also closed? What about languages, such as Chinese, which is based on a non-alphabetical system? Research has found that Western dyslexic children have brain deficits in different areas of the brain than Chinese dyslexic children. Perhaps we should not give up on the possibility of mastering a foreign language for our children.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Today I have struggled with doing what is difficult but what I think is best for my child.

Our dyslexic daughter, Imogen, attends a local (how fabulous is that) private school dedicated to meeting the educational needs of children diagnosed with primary language learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. When we observed, with a growing realization, similar “symptoms” in one of our twin boys, Imogen’s younger brothers, we decided to apply for the same school. Ben was accepted and we have decided that he should attend for the next school year.

Making the decision was not a light task. The school fees are a huge commitment. Separating our twin boys and the complications that could arise from this was another big consideration. But, the opportunity for our second dyslexic child to receive regular one-on-one Orton Gillingham instruction with that multi-sensory systematic teaching that is recommended for language learning disabilities in a specialized school with an esteem-building environment, right on our doorstep, was not something to be dismissed.

The difficulty is the sweet and sour experience that Ben is now experiencing. Comprehending that he will be in an environment where classmates will not point out his incorrect spelling is a comfort. But leaving his friends is a grieving experience.

Seeing this grieving is hard and I feel like giving in. It would be easier to flow with the current and float downstream instead of struggling to fight the current and swim upstream. But I am prepared for the challenge and the difficulties we will experience in the next few months as the current school year comes to an end, Ben says goodbye to his school and 4th grade friends, his twin brother prepares for a 5th year where he fears he will be lonely and we have to answer the question of “why?” from classmates and their parents.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What it means to be dyslexic

My daughter, Imogen, is telling me how she was attempting to explain to girl of her age at church what it means to be dyslexic. This girl’s mother tongue is English but she also speaks fluent French and attends an international French-speaking school. Imogen knows that, for her, a foreign language is far from a possibility.

She must explain her dyslexia in her own way and words but it makes me wonder if we and her education specialists and teachers have equipped her to do so.

Imogen has been told, by her educators, that dyslexic children are on average 20% more intelligent than their peers. This was a huge boost to her confidence.

The girl with the fluent French does not watch television but spends “down time” reading. A second-language and reading for leisure are incompatible with my daughter.

Imogen explains lightheartedly to the bi-lingual avid reader that her memory does not allow her to memorize things. It does not allow her to learn another language. Reading is not an easy task because she is dyslexic.

Who knows, perhaps this encounter and innocent exchange between the two girls will help our bi-lingual friend to understand the world of the dyslexic. And perhaps my daughter does not need to be given the words to explain her dyslexia. She is perfectly capable, equally intelligent and speaks the language that a fellow 12-year-old would understand and perhaps hold in her memory for future reference.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


My friend was telling me how her daughter, in eighth grade, had applied and been accepted to a very good private school. It was her first choice of schools and mom and daughter were obviously very pleased. I was pleased for them too but little did they know the turmoil that was occurring in my mind.

The daughter had applied to eight different schools and each application had required its own separate essay. Eight different essays had been written.

It is not my friend’s fault that she would not see that this school, or any of the eight schools, would not be on the radar screen for my own daughter. How would my own dyslexic daughter handle that application process as she struggles with writing? She is in sixth grade, so we do have two years in which to build towards such a process. But, as my friend innocently expressed her delight, I had already come to the conclusion that these schools would not be an option for my daughter. I hope I am proved wrong. Would I like all options to be available to her? Of course, but at the moment it appears they are not. We will wait to see.

Monday, May 21, 2007


It’s funny how in our Western culture there are just some things you expect will be a “definite” in life, like being able to read and write! In our culture, learning to read and write is easily available. But, being able to take advantage of that availability does not mean that reading and writing will be learned easily.

My expectation was that my children would learn to read and write, just as I did. But two out of three of my children struggle with reading and writing! They would probably like to read. But they can’t - easily. It’s a uphill struggle for them. Therefore, they read little and they write little.

My wake-up call is continually telling myself that reading to learn and writing to convey knowledge is not the way for them! They need alternatives and so I am on a journey to find those alternatives.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Dyslexia can display itself in many different ways, so it seems. For instance, it can look different in different people or the mix of traits displayed can be different in each dyslexic person.

Our daughter has issues with word retrieval. She often cannot find the word she is looking for and so, when she talks, "thingy" and "umm" are very common words in her vocabulary.

Before we understood the issues surrounding our daughter's communication we probably did not help her to converse with ourselves or other people and were too hard on her form of articulation.

Now it is endearing to hear her speak about "thingy". We know it's okay. If we can help her find the right word, that's even better. And it enhances the conversation on both sides.

Does she know? I think she does, although we have not talked about it specifically. Conversation is so automatic, just like word retrieval - for most of us!