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I've been told that dyslexia is unheard of in Spain, and presumably other Spanish-speaking cultures, because Spanish is pronounced as it is spelt. Is this true?

Example:

Cases of dyslexia and illiteracy after four years of schooling are extremely rare or undetected in Italy, Spain, Turkey, Finland, and other countries with highly phonemic or transparent orthographies.
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Is dyslexia unheard of in Spain?

It's heard of, as dyslexia has much broader meaning than just phonetic problems. There is for example FEDIS (Spanish Dyslexia Federation), which advocates for special treatment of children with dyslexia in Spanish education system.

However, there is grain of truth in this. Indeed Spanish children affected by dyslexia have much less problems reading and properly pronouncing words, than English speaking children. It has been demonstrated in this study: "Valoración del procesamiento ortográfico en niños españoles con dislexia: El papel de las unidades léxicas y subléxicas" (roughly translated title: "Evaluation of orthographic processing of Spanish children with dyslexia: The role of lexical and sublexical units").

Part of the conclusions:

Los resultados de la presente investigación tienen implicaciones en la práctica educativa. Sugieren que mientras que es necesario entrenar en la estrategia léxica a los niños con dislexia, ya que muestran un déficit en esta habilidad de procesamiento, no parece indicado entrenarles en habilidades morfológicas, ya que, en un sistema ortográfico transparente como el español, el morfema no es imprescindible para acceder al léxico.

(translation): Results of current investigation have implication in education practice. They suggest, that while it is necessary to train children with dyslexia in lexical strategy, given that they do have difficulties with processing abilities, it doesn't seem appropriate train their morphological abilities, as in spelling system as transparent as Spanish, morpheme is not indispensable to access the lexicon.

And the part that directly compares Spanish to English:

Sin embargo, algunas ortografías, distintas al español, no son enteramente predecibles sobre las bases de los fonemas ya que no son sistemas transparentes. Esto es así para la notoriamente lengua “irregular”, como el inglés y, por extensión, el danés y el francés. Estas lenguas están gobernadas, no sólo por la fonología sino también por la morfología.

(translation): However, some spelling systems, other than Spanish, are not entirely predictable on basis of phonemes as they are not transparent systems. This is the case of notoriously "irregular" language as the English, and by extension, also Danish and French. These languages ​​are governed, not only by phonology but also by morphology.

BTW. Spanish (and few other languages) are pronounced as they are spelled, but that doesn't work other way around. There are many homophones in Spanish.

  • +1. I found this very interesting. Alas, I am embarrassingly monolingual, despite several attempts to break free. I wonder if you, or another Spanish speaker, could translate a key passage, perhaps the results or abstract, showing the Spanish have less problems that the English. (I did have a stab at working it out from context, but failed.) – Oddthinking Jul 1 '11 at 9:33
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    @Odd: done, added translation of conclusions – vartec Jul 1 '11 at 9:50
  • +2! Well, I wish I could :-( – Oddthinking Jul 1 '11 at 10:06
  • Fascinating. There is literature out there that claims that the Sight-Reading approach to teaching reading actually causes one form of dyslexia (and even an early quote from Dr. Orton claiming that). Seems far-fetched and pseudo-sciency at first. So I looked for ways to test the claim. One would be whether other cultures with different languages had the same rate of dyslexia as the U.S. And this response seems to indicate that they don't. Regardless, your answer was immensely valuable information. Thanks for sharing it. – Charlie Flowers Mar 18 '12 at 9:24

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