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Please help my dyslexic 11 year old struggling to decode Arabic script

(37 Posts)
dyslexicboy Sat 22-Oct-11 08:37:17

I would really really appreciate some help here, especially from experts/experienced people who work in the dyslexia field in schools.

Basically, DS is English speaking and, like millions of children all over the world, is learning to read the Arabic script without understanding a single word of the language. By his age most kids (who also dont understand a word) would be able to fly across the page faster than you or I could read aloud in English.

DSs dyslexia comes with good level of intelligence, fairly sound phonic base (maybe that is why he can read?), and can read at age level BUT he skim reads (very effectively) to avoid reading accurately, has poor comprehension and muddles up words if reading aloud. Also has poor processing speeds and struggles to hold more than one or two pieces of information in his brain at a time (eg 3 part mental arithmetic sum is extremely difficult).

The problem is, there are many people who have taught thousands of "regular" nonArabic speaking students to read the Arabic script fluently, and many dyslexia specialists in native languages (even Arabic I am sure in the gulf), but noone with the specialist skills to help struggling readers decode a foreign script fluently when there are ZERO context clues for self correction ie if you dont know the language you have no way of knowing that you just said odg instead of dog

I'm almost certain noone will have direct experience but I know there are lots on this board who have plenty of knowledge that must be transferrable somehow, so if anyone thinks they may be able to help I can explain more about how Arabic script works and what the stumbling blocks are (as this is vv long already!!!).

Thank you

maizieD Sat 22-Oct-11 09:51:54

Why would your ds have to learn to read Arabic script without being able to speak the language? Is is for religious purposes?

WoodBetweenTheWorlds Sat 22-Oct-11 10:00:14

No advice but interested to see the answers. I am fascinated by how dyslexia affects people in different languages - I know a couple of Chinese people who never knew they were dyslexic till they started reading in English.

I presume you have already tried experimenting with coloured filters etc?

frankie3 Sat 22-Oct-11 10:04:10

I will watch this thread with interest as I have exactly the same problem with my ds learning Hebrew!

dyslexicboy Sat 22-Oct-11 13:34:31

just a quick response as am going out. yes he is learning for religious purposes. it is totally ordinary, honestly, 1000s of children in my own town can read super fluently without understanding a single word

arabic is much easier than English to learn in some way, but much harder than others. it think the strategies required will depend onthe nature of the language to be learnt, the fact that there is no understanding of what i read and the specific natur eof the child's difficulties.

have tried coloured filters, no success

sqweegiebeckenheim Sat 22-Oct-11 15:59:23

Wood, that's really fascinating about your friend - maybe it's not them, maybe it's out phonetically crazy language!

nailak Sat 22-Oct-11 16:14:14

i have a friend who is dyslexic, she says it still takes her ages to read arabic, i will ask her some coping strategies and get back to you

maizieD Sat 22-Oct-11 21:14:24

If he doesn't have to know what it means, why does he have to 'read' it. Why can't he just memorise the relevant passages?

dyslexicboy Sat 22-Oct-11 21:20:56

Maizie, I think you regularly post on the reading threads and if so I would really really appreciate your help. Please could we try to get past the 'why does he "have" to read it' - he wants to read it, he would love to read it fluently, he will probably be reading nearly everyday for the rest of his life, he will certainly be learning to read it every school day for the next 5 or 6 years, memorising ordinarily requires a great deal of reading fluency, the Quran contains close to 1000 pages - thats an awful lot for a dyslkexic to memorise!!! I would like nothing more than to make this a whole lot easier for him than it is now.

nailak - yes please, especially useful if this person is not an Arabic speaker

dyslexicboy Sat 22-Oct-11 21:29:37

Mazie - sorry if abrupt, cant hear your "tone" when reading on here

as for the mechanics:

Arabic is extremely straightforward in as much as each letter/combination only makes one sound (ie no foot/boot), and each sound is only represented by one combination (ie no read/seed)

What is rather more difficult is that to the less experienced reader it appears that there are few or no spaces between the words - so your brain may tell you that you have to decode a huge long string of letters

Secondly and very importantly, even if you knew where each discreet word ended, you do need to run the words together when you read them - in order to do so you must remember the last piece of decoding, at the same time as saying it, at the same time as decoding the next bit, THEN you have to read the the next bit (at the same time as decoding the following bit) without having forgotten it since you were busy reading the preceeding word aloud when you were decoding it in the first place.

So if my son read say individual 3 or 4 letter words with absolutely no pressure of time or volume, his reading accuracy would be about 4 or 5 times better than when he tries to juggle it all together when he begins to swap suffixes, substitute vowels, swap similar sounding words and read letters out of sequence.

nailak Sat 22-Oct-11 22:49:43

ok i asked her, she is not a native Arabic speaker, but now can speak some arabic, i will copy and paste what she wrote;

Arabic is easier than English because it's phonetically regular. just make sure it's logical and systematic, no sight word learning. teach him Arabic with the vowel marks, i.e. all the phonics so he doesn't have to rely on memorisation. Also re the different letter shapes, break the letter down into two, i.e. letter and tail. the letter stays the same and the tail changes to join with another letter or look fancy on the end of the word. you can call the tails hands if you want (i.e. the letters hold hands to join). when it comes to reading, let him sound out the words slowly at his own pace, however slow this may be. learning the Arabic langauge (if he's not an Arabic speaker already) will go a long way in helping with reading, although with Arabic you can read it using only phonics. Also with learning the letter names, mnemonics helps, e.g. ta' is a little face, and tha' is a little face with three eyes (well that's how I remember them *embarrassed smiley face*)
main thing is to remember that reading is getting the phonics right and understanding what he reads, not reading quickly. the worst thing she can do is try to speed him up instead of letting him go at his own pace. re tajweed I don't read for tajweed, I memorise because I can't read fast enough and can't focus on both the basic reading and the tajweed rules at the same time.

nailak Sat 22-Oct-11 22:51:01

so it looks like she never overcame the issues you are talkin about with tajweed.

maizieD Sat 22-Oct-11 23:36:34


I do apologise, I wasn't trying to be awkward or obstructive, I just wondered if memorising might be the best route. Surely memorising (from repeated readings by the teacher) would have been the method by which the Quran would have been learned in pre-literate societies?

I agree completely with the advice given by nailak's friend; get him secure with the sound/symbol correspondences (which may need lots of repetition to stick) and let him learn at his own speed. If he has a problem with 'remembering' all the sounds he has decoded when he starts to blend words let him blend them incrementally - first two sounds, get that secure, then add the next sound and so on to the end of the word.

I am sure that the mechanism for getting words into 'sight memory' must be just the same, whatever written language is being learned, and that mechanism really just consists of sounding out and blending a word several times (some children need more repetitions than others) Knowing the sound/symbol correspondences to the extent that he responds rapidly and automatically to a 'symbol' with its 'sound' is absolutely key. If he can do this very fast reading off of the 'sounds' will be a good 'second best' if he finds it impossible to get words into sight memory (but I don't think that he will find it impossible, it may just take many more repetitions). The lack of spaces to mark the ends of discrete words will make it more difficult, though. Is there no-one who can help him with this aspect?

I understand that Arabic is a very straightforward language to learn to read, but the fact that he is not an Arabic speaker, and that he has what appear to be short term memory problems will mean that he takes longer than most to learn. Don't let him feel bad about himself if he doesn't keep up with his peers, he will get there in time.

I do find the concept of 'reading' without knowing the languge a bit odd, because, of course, 'reading' is not usually just about decoding, but about understanding what is being read, too. (Having said that, I could 'read' pages of French without really knowing what it is all about...) However, I know that reading the Quran is an important part of your culture and I am not criticising in any way.

I wish him all the best and I hope he succeeds in the task he has set himself.

dyslexicboy Sun 23-Oct-11 00:08:18

Thank you maizie

sound symbol correspondence is quite good but not close to perfect, especially when feeling under pressure which is what a dyslexic must feel trying to read - i think an average child would have a rather higher accuracy rate but we have not been able to improve on it for him

he can remember the sounds he has decoded in a single word, but when he has to decode 2 consecutive words ( in reality it would be more like 5) you have to remember the previous one whilst saying it, at the same time as decoding the next - and I think this is where the problem lies - is it called working memory?

I will look into "sight" words. There is a list of 100 "high frequency words" (ha!) but this does not mean that they are the same each time they appear - for example word one might be a root word which appears in 20 different forms, so the 100 words is in fact considerably more, unlike English where 100 words actually cover a lot of the basic written language

I can show him where the spaces are supposed to be but it would feel maybe babyish to him to stop after every 3 letter word - he doesnt want to as he knows thats not how you do it, but hes not able to actually join it all up properly due to problem mentioned above

perhaps there isnt a solution but I was hoping some of the techniques used in a UK classroom would have been transferrable sad

dyslexicboy Sun 23-Oct-11 00:10:21

nailak - by not focussing on reading and tajweed rules at same time, is your friend referring to the basic joining up of words as tajweed, or the other stuff such ghunnah etc

nailak Sun 23-Oct-11 00:48:46

erm im not sure tbh

but i would guess from what you said that your son is finding it hard to look at the tanween and the letter after it to know when to do ghunnah etc, and i posted what you wrote after to her so she may reply again tomorrow,

but am i wrong, he doesnt know where to stop?

i think i am confused, but learning the basic grammer rules and endings would be helpful for him i think, so he can recognise where the end of the word is?

you could try these videos, the last section of each lesson deals with the endings, it is very simple and not hard, if you did one a week it would only take a few mins to watch and just repitition

childrens version i havent watched this.

as has been said learn some of the repeated words is helpful and to aid with this you could try here and [[ here]

i just started learnin arabic last year, and personally i found that the only way i realised where one word ended and the other bean was with practice, and it just sort of sunk in, but i am not dyslexic!

nailak Sun 23-Oct-11 00:49:26

oops [[ 80% words]]

nailak Sun 23-Oct-11 00:49:53

why didnt it work?

littleducks Sun 23-Oct-11 10:24:44

What level is your son at? I have some info for learning the basics phonetically (alphabet/fatha, kasra, dhamma/joining letter shapes/sukoon) but not so much for the rules you mentioned later on.

What type of Qu'ran are you using, I find an urdu script clearer, as a non arabic speaker.

maizieD Sun 23-Oct-11 12:19:49

why didnt it work?

It didn't work because you left a space between the first set of square brackets and the Try it again without the space...

80% words

maizieD Sun 23-Oct-11 13:02:38

he can remember the sounds he has decoded in a single word, but when he has to decode 2 consecutive words ( in reality it would be more like 5) you have to remember the previous one whilst saying it, at the same time as decoding the next - and I think this is where the problem lies - is it called working memory?

I don't quite understand why he has to remember the word he has just decoded. Once he has said it he can move on to the next word. He will be quite halting at first because he is learning, but, as I said, the more often he decodes a word the quicker it will get into sight memory (this is a totally different process from 'learning sight words) and he will improve in fluency.

perhaps there isnt a solution but I was hoping some of the techniques used in a UK classroom would have been transferrable

There is no magic key to teaching dyslexic children. They may need much more practice to achieve automaticity, but the body of knowledge to learn is the same, whatever their problems. If your son had a problem with discriminating the sounds in words you would have to focus more on training him to 'hear' them, but I understand you to have said that his phonic knowledge in English is OK, so such a focus doesn't appear to be needed.

I find that most struggling readers do have good 'phonemic awareness' (i.e they can discriminate the individual sounds in words) but the most 'challenged' children have difficulties with rapidly and automatically 'naming' the sound of a letter, or letters. This obviously affects their ability to decode rapidly and the only way round this is to practice, practice, practice the correspondences until they are absolutely automatic. Once they can do this they are able to sound out and blend words easily; the next problem comes with those who take hundreds of repetitions to get the word into 'sight' memory. This may take ages, but in the meantime, as I said earlier, so long as they can sound out and blend rapidly they will be 'reading' the word (however laborious it may sound to an observer) and, so long as the word is in their spoken vocabulary they will understand what they are reading. Obviously this last point will not apply to your son, who doesn't understand Arabic.

I do sometimes encounter children who can decode and blend and do know their correspondences but for some reason look at a letter and say something entirely different from the sound that letter represents. I don't know if this is because they have not previously been rigorously taught to 'say exactly what they see' (as I don't work with them until Y7!) or because there is some very real processing problem involved. It is not a problem which I have ever seen discussed in the literature on dyslexia and it is one which defeats me. Apart from insisting that that they say exactly what they see I can't find a way round it!

There is a mystique surrounding 'specialist dyslexia teaching' which quite unfounded, but does impress people! The Orton- Gillingham system, on which most 'dyslexia programmes' are based was developed in, I think, the 1930s and it basically nothing more that systematic phonics teaching, albeit taken extremely slowly and in an unduly complex way. It features 'multi-sensory' teaching, which has been elaborated to an absurd degree from the multi-sensory 'seeing, saying, hearing & writing' procedures advocated by the early developers of O-G. There is no research evidence to back the wilder flights of fancy, such as feeling letters in a bag, or having them written in a finger on the pupil's back, or making them out of clay etc. etc. Advocates of MST know this. If I had time I could link you to an MST advocates website which has a very recent appeal for research into MST.

What I am trying to say in this rather lengthy fashion is that there are no magic techniques used in English classrooms over and above learning the correspondences to automaticity and how to sound out and blend the written word to produce the spoken word.

littleducks Sun 23-Oct-11 13:18:46

The ending sound of one word will change dependant on the beginning sound of the following next word.

maizieD Sun 23-Oct-11 15:05:21

Aaahhh. I understand. That does complicate things.

EllaDee Sun 23-Oct-11 15:11:25

No advice, but just wanted to say I'm impressed with him and with you taking this on! And I am fascinated by the whole process. I am dyslexic and found learning another script very hard but I did get there in the end - I hope he does too! smile

MonstrouslyNarkyPuffin Sun 23-Oct-11 15:16:33

I know he wants/needs to read this particular text, but could you find him some arabic texts designed for younger readers to help him build confidence? Something with more limited vocab and shorter words?

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