281.   Subject: Re: Dyslixic students.    I am a Reading Specialist evaluating and working with dyslexic students in Texas.  My district needs to locate materials and teaching programs for our Hispanic students who are dyslexic.  Are you aware of any resources that would actually address the problem as it relates to a child learning English with Spanish as his or her primary language?  Do you know of any research that focuses on the exact language problems these children encounter?  A program in English that has been "translated into Spanish" may not address the particular difficulties these children have when they must use English.  I hope my question makes sense.  This is a difficult idea to convey.  Basically I am questioning whether dyslexia in Spanish is the same as dyslexia in English.  Locating valid research on this issue is more difficult than I first imagined it would be.    Thank you for any help.


Good morning, and THANK YOU for visiting my Web Sites!!!! 

The answer to your question depends on the meaning of "Hispanic students."

1- Are your Hispanic students Spanish-dominant speakers with a strong oral language proficiency in their primary language (Spanish)?

2- Are these students actually becoming English-dominant speakers and have, consequently very weak oral language proficiency in their primary language (SPANISH) and, probably, very weak oral language proficiency in English?

3- What grade level are we talking about?

4- Have these students ALREADY received a diagnosis of dyslexia?   If so, what was the language of the test to determine their diagnosis?

In trying to answer your question I MUST address the issues indicated in my questions.  For example:

1- STRONG oral language development in the primary language --Spanish-- in Hispanic children offers a very effective opportunity to BEGIN reading instruction in Spanish.   The Spanish language has a more consistent sound-to-symbol correlation than English simply because the Spanish language has LESS sounds than the number of the letters of the alphabet.   It is NOT a perfect correlation --Spanish is NOT a "phonetic" language-- but, compared to English --which has an incredible number of sounds (phonemes) and only a very limited number of letters to represent these sounds-- Spanish IS a MUCH MORE DESIRABLE system to BEGIN to learn to read.   Once a child understands the "READING" process --what reading is about-- reading in English should be a very easy task to master --IF THE CHILD develops a very strong oral language proficiency in ENGLISH before or concurrent with BEGINNING to read in English. 

In addition, Spanish has an almost language-wide sound-consistent syllabic pattern:  "Consonant + Vowel."   Thus, words are mastered by mastering syllables:   One syllable words ("me"); repeated-two-syllable words (Papá); two-syllable words (pase), and more-than-two-syllable words (páseme).  The other possible syllabic pattern ending in vowel, "C + C + V," has a very limited number of combinations of double consonants  (blanco, tranca, cráneo, etc.).  Syllabic patterns ending on consonant, "V + C" and "C + V + C" are, again, very restricted with only very few consonants appearing in the FINAL position (toman, tomas, tomar, papel, etc.) 

Spanish, thus, has a very low probability of REVERSING or reading syllables backwards -- such reading will produce immediately non-Spanish sounds and non-Spanish combinations of sounds.  The prescription for a Hispanic child with strong oral language proficiency in the primary language, then, is BEGIN teaching reading in Spanish.   Build STRONG oral language proficiency in English and THEN, BEGIN to teach (actually "BEGIN to transfer") to reading in English.

2- For Hispanic students with WEAK oral language proficiency in the primary language (SPANISH) and almost as weak oral language proficiency in ENGLISH (or proficiency in ENGLISH only for BICS -- Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) reading instruction MUST FOLLOW a strong program of building oral language proficiency and development in English. 

Teaching these Hispanic students to read English through the "Phonics" approach or through the "Linguistic Method" that emphasizes "word families" (-at, cat, rat, fat, mat, hat, etc.) will NOT work because these students do NOT have in their expressive (active, oral) vocabulary the monosyllabic words used in the Phonics or Linguistic Approach to teach the monosyllabic English patterns of words.   For these Hispanic students with WEAK oral language proficiency in Spanish and in ENGLISH, reading forwards or backwards --reverse-- makes no difference:   The words used in the Phonics or Word Family drills have no MEANING for them.  In addition, the SOUNDS in these word patterns cannot be recognized by these students since they really cannot HEAR many of the sounds in English.  

Teaching READING in English to Hispanic students with WEAK Spanish and ENGLISH oral language proficiency should be done through the building of the four skills:  (1) FIRST and FOREMOST Listening, (2) SECOND and SECOND FOREMOST Speaking, (3) Then READING (in THIRD PLACE, not FIRST PLACE) and (4) writing (which is usually taught concurrently with reading skills development).  A strong program of listening and speaking to build MEANING BEFORE tackling the now known English words that were HEARD and SPOKEN BEFORE reading and writing them makes more sense.

3- The grade level of Hispanic students is, of course extremely important.   Many older Hispanic students may come from rural areas where they may not have had enforced compulsory schooling.   Once again, their oral language proficiency level in SPANISH should be the determining factor to BEGIN reading instruction in Spanish or in English.   Visual exercises to establish left-to-right word attack skills may be needed FIRST with pictures or non-grapheme-symbols to help student learn HOW to look at words from left-to-right.   

For younger Hispanic students, a very STRONG, SYSTEMATIC, CONSISTENT, EXTENSIVE oral language development program in English with total emphasis on LISTENING and SPEAKING and extensive vocabulary development MUST precede READING instruction in English.

4- If the above (1-3) considerations were NOT taken into account BEFORE testing for dyslexia, then I very seriously question the diagnosis and the method used to arrive at the diagnosis of dyslexia for Hispanic students.        

I do not know of any research on the insightful problem you are trying to address (a GREAT dissertation topic for  Master's or Doctoral thesis, I think!!!!)  

I agree with you regarding "translation," and my recommendations are listed above.   The two languages (English and Spanish in this case, but the principles apply to any other languages) are so totally different that translation cannot possibly be the solution.   Professional decisions must be based on knowledge.   We know about Spanish and we know about English.   We must now think in terms of what the student BRINGS to the teaching-learning situation and prescribe what the student needs in terms of effective and efficient instruction to BEGIN to learn to read.

You have the RIGHT question.   In fact, I am NOT sure you will find any research on dyslexia in Spanish because the chances of reading the very consistent Spanish syllable patterns backwards just makes no sense.  Reading backwards "C + V" syllable patterns will JUST NOT SOUND like Spanish at all!!!!

I am sure it is very difficult to find the research you are looking for.   Before coming to the US in 1961, I had NEVER heard of Spanish-speaking children suffering from any form of reading difficulty.   Literacy programs in Spanish were offered through public and private schools throughout Latin America.   Access to such programs --and thus, literacy or illiteracy-- was determined by factors other than reading difficulties in learning to read. 

Thank you for a wonderful question and hope we can get a Master's degree or doctoral degree candidate to follow up on your very insightful question.  


Dr. Sadek,
Thank you for your extensive, thorough reply.  I have printed it and will share it with my department before I respond.  We will meet again this Friday. Again, thank you for your thoughtful answer.




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