DYSLEXIC children can get their education off to a flying start if they learn to read and write in Welsh rather than English, say experts.
Welsh is one of several languages where spelling and pronunciation are connected by consistent rules, which makes learning the basics simpler for the 10% of children thought to have some form of dyslexia.
But on the other hand, say academics at the University of Wales, Bangor, coping with the eccentric spelling that English uses is even harder for older dyslexics who had learned to write in Welsh than for dyslexics who start off with English.
They also warn that Welsh grammar is more confusing to dyslexics in some respects than English grammar is.
The effect of different languages on dyslexic children will be discussed at a conference in Bangor on Saturday, June 9.
One of the speakers will be Usha Goswami, professor of education at the University of Cambridge.
She will talk about how the rhyme and rhythm of nursery rhymes can influence the process of learning to read and spell words, and how this can be affected by dyslexia and by the language that is being learned.
In a session on bilingual teaching and dyslexia, people involved in research in Wales and abroad will be able to exchange information.
The conference is organised by the university’s dyslexia unit and its recently formed centre for the study of bilingualism.
Ann Cooke, acting co-director of the dyslexia unit, said, “If a language has a regular sound-to-spelling system, it is easier to learn for reading and, particularly, spelling.
“It’s easier to get the words off the page and probably to learn the words as well. Welsh is such a language, as are Italian and Spanish.
“English is much more complicated. Children learning both Welsh and English have no problem with the visual side. They can be dyslexic but the symptoms would be less pronounced.”
But she said children who started in Welsh could run into difficulties later.
“Our experience as teachers in the unit is we notice that dyslexic children go on using Welsh spellings for English for a long time.
“In the past they haven’t been picked up (as being dyslexic) until they’re nine or 10 – people said they were having trouble doing English spelling. A trained eye can see where the difficulties are in Welsh as well.”
Children’s progress in Welsh could also hit a snag as they move to more complex grammar.
“We’re beginning to think that Welsh children have more trouble with Welsh grammar than English children have with English grammar.
“One of my colleagues looked at the phrase, ‘He was running’ and found 23 variations in Welsh, counting a lot of obsolete ones.”
Welsh plurals were also inconsistent and confusing to dyslexics, she said.
Her advice to families with a history of dyslexia was only to send their children to Welsh-medium schools if at least one parent spoke Welsh.
Dyslexic children from non-Welsh-speaking homes could struggle with Welsh written work in secondary school and parents would not be able to help and support them effectively.
How English sentences would be written if the language used the strict phonetics of Welsh
Then he was a free man.
Dden hi wos ei ffri man.
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
Ddy cwic brawn ffocs jymps owfer ddy leisi dog.
To be or not to be: that is the question.
Tw bi o not tw bi: ddat is ddy cwestiyn.
A little of what you fancy does you good
Ei lityl of wot iew ffansi dys iew gwd.
I will write it then you can read it
I wil reit it dden iew can rîd it