Let's take a look at Malaysia's national language (Malay) which all students in
Malaysia have to learn.
The only letter that represents more than one sound in Bahasa Malaysia is the
letter ‘e’. It can be pronounced ‘er’ or ‘ay’.
You pronounce “besok” as if it is “bay-sok” (meaning tomorrow) and “beruk” with
the “er” sound
pronounced as in the first two letters of the English word ‘berth’.
If you have not heard the word previously you would not know how to pronounce
One can learn how to read the newspaper in Malay within a month of learning. Of
course one would not understand what one is reading. Take any long word in
Malay eg. “rambutan” (a local fruit) the sound can be broken down to
ram-bu-tan, kewarganegaraan (citizenship) which can be broken down into:
I remember being shocked when my son Fadhil, in Year One, read the word “Tahun
taksiran” on an income tax letter he found in my car. When I asked him who had
taught him to read those words, he replied, ”No one, Daddy. Anyone can read
this.” That was an incident that occurred in 1987 and is still vivid in my
Mandarin (Han Yu Pin Yin)
This is even easier than Malay. There are no exceptions as in the Malay letter
There is no way you can pronounce some of the words in English if you have not
heard them before. A few words as an illustration would be: chalet, quay,
island and know.
Many words in the English language are irregular. They are not spelt the way
they sound and this is basically why dyslexics have a problem reading English
as opposed to reading Malay or Han Yu Pin Yin.
- Words with multiple pronunciation for the same spelling: wind (as in the
winter wind) and wind (as in wind down the windows).
- Words spelt similarly and pronounced similarly: cut, but (however, there is
an exception to this rule – put)
- Words with different spellings but are pronounced the same way: pear, pair;
road, rode; hare, hair.
- Words with silent letters: Salmon, plumber, debt.
In English there are simply too many exceptions. Would I want to teach these
kids the exceptions? The answer is an emphatic NO! Having taught dyslexic
children over the last five years, I know that it is not necessary to burden
them with this enormous task of learning the exceptions. They will learn the
exceptions as they go along. It is a natural process.
I did not study English by learning what is a consonant blend or consonant digraph
and yet I can read very well.
Children should be taught the regular words and learn the others as they arise.
From the onset I let my students know that many letters have different sounds
and that we’ll learn them as we come to them. This is a very important point as
far as the dyslexic child is concerned.
I believe that a dyslexic child is very logical in his thinking and his mind
will “shut down” the moment you read, say, “A cat”. This is because the sound
represented by “A” is “er” while the sound represented by “a” in “cat” is
I point out to them the different sounds the letter makes when we come to those
letters as we read. I then compare it with the previous sound the letter had
made in a different word. Once the dyslexic child learns that a letter has more
than one sound (unlike in Malay and Han Yu Pin Yin) it will be easier for him
to read in English.