The Significance of Non-Literary Skills in the Efficient Reading of Hebrew

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Concepts of Dyslexia *

Standard Concepts of "Dyslexia" *

Discrepancies between definitions *

Difficulty of defining Dyslexia *

DYSLEXIA SUB-CATAGORIES *

GENETICS *

BRAIN PATHOLOGY *

Characteristics Often Accompanying Dyslexia *

Present Model of Learning *

Regular Remediation *

Classical Hebrew and Ivrit *

Differences between Classical (Biblical) Hebrew and Modern Hebrew (Ivrit). *

Differences between English and Hebrew *

1. Relationship between consonants and vowels *

a. Status on the line *

b. Configurations of the vowel characters. *

c. The functions of consonants and vowels *

2. Reading Accuracy *

a. Letter recognition *

b. Errors in letter identification *

c. Errors in letter sequence *

3. Simple words and complex words *

4. The presence of consonants and vowels in words *

5. The "Information Content" of each word. *

6. Verb, Subject, Object Relationships *

7. Punctuation *

8. Descriptiveness of Text *

9. The Role of Phonics *

Conclusion *

 

Many specialists in Reading Remediation meet with frustration when trying to apply their expertise to the remediation of reading Hebrew.

The following paper is an account of differences between reading Hebrew and reading English and explanation of why some issues which might be considered insignificant when remediating English reading can be critical to efficient Hebrew reading.

 

Concepts of Dyslexia

 

Standard Concepts of "Dyslexia"

The word dyslexia is derived from the Greek "dys" (meaning "lack of") and "lexos" (words or language).

According to the DSM-IV Dyslexia 1994, Dyslexia, also known as Reading Disorder, is marked by reading achievement (i.e., reading accuracy, speed or comprehension as measured by standardized tests) that falls substantially below that expected given the individual’s chronological age, measured intelligence, and age appropriate education).

The British Dyslexia Institute describes Dyslexia as being a specific learning difficulty that hinders the learning of literacy skills. They state that this problem with managing verbal codes in memory is neurologically based and tends to run in families and other symbolic systems, such as mathematics and musical notation, can also be affected.

The Institute explains that Dyslexia can occur at any level of intellectual ability. It can accompany, lack of motivation, emotional disturbance, sensory impairment or meager opportunities. But, they explain, Dyslexia is not a result of these accompanying factors.

The effects of dyslexia can be alleviated by skilled specialist teaching and committed learning. Moreover many dyslexic people have visual and spatial abilities that enable them to be successful in a wide range of careers.".

According to The International Dyslexia Association (formerly The Orton Dyslexia Society) Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by problems in expressive or receptive, oral or written language and problems may emerge in reading, spelling, writing, speaking, or listening.

The International Dyslexia Association asserts that Dyslexia is not a disease, and so it has no cure. They explain that Dyslexia describes a different kind of mind, often gifted and productive, that learns differently. Dyslexia is not the result of low intelligence.

Furthermore, they explain, intelligence is not the problem, but an unexpected gap exists between learning aptitude and achievement in school. The problem is not behavioral, psychological, motivational, or social. It is not a problem of vision; people with dyslexia do not "see backward." Dyslexia results from differences in the structure and function of the brain. People with dyslexia are unique, each having individual strengths and weaknesses. Many dyslexics are creative and have unusual talent in areas such as art, athletics, architecture, graphics, electronics, mechanics, drama, music, or engineering.

Dyslexics often show special talent in areas that require visual, spatial, and motor integration. Their problems in language processing distinguish them as a group. This means that the dyslexic has problems translating language to thought (as in listening or reading) or thought to language (as in writing or speaking).

Discrepancies between definitions

Understanding of Dyslexia is so diverse that even the characteristics of the condition are not agreed upon. Some professionals focus heavily on characteristics which others dismiss as irrelevant. The very definition of the condition has been constantly changing since it was first documented in 1886, by W.A. Morgan who described it as "congenital word blindness" (Wagner, 1974. pg16). In the late 1920's, Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton defined it as "mixed hemispheric dominance", which meant that sometimes the right hemisphere of the brain did what the left side was suppose to do and vice versa, causing confusion (Davis, 1994. pg 8).

Since its debut, the term dyslexia has been used to describe various learning difficulties. Over time, these difficulties have been divided, redefined, recombined, generalized, swapped, renamed and some eventually found their way back under the heading of 'dyslexia'. There are now more than 70 names to describe dyslexia's various aspects.

One of the earliest beliefs which is still current is that "dyslexia is an anomaly of development and not simply the result of normal variation. (Miles and Haslum 1986)". Others have said that it appears to be caused by a malfunction of the language processing area on left side of brain (Hynd & Semrud-Clikeman, 1989 (Coon, 1995. pg 421))

One of the more 'common' definitions, states that dyslexia is "...an inability to read with understanding" (Coon, 1995. pg 420) or that "[it] refers to several impairments in the acquisition and development of written language, [even though the individual's IQ is average or above average]" (Gleason, 1993. Pg 386-7).

These definitions assume that dyslexia is a condition related only to written language; this leaves out a large portion of the over 70 named aspects attributed to the condition, such as difficulties with understanding spoken language. Further more, neither definition is truly diagnostic, telling us what causes the difficulty. The second definition mentions 'impairments' bit it does not specify what kind.

By these definitions, a student whose impairment is deafness qualifies as 'dyslexic'. Their IQ would most likely be average to above average, but because of their limited or non-existent contact with spoken language to reinforce new words, grammar and phonetics, these individuals would likely struggle with both reading and writing, and may never be able to read past a 4th or 5th grade level-(Hammermeister 1972;Trybu & Karchmer, 1977).

Another definition describes dyslexia as "..[a] language disorder that affects a person's ability to listen, store, process, retrieve and express language efficiently" (Punt, 1991. Intro). This may exclude the hearing impaired because the medium of language is not specified, and American Sign Language can be substituted for English in their case. But there are plenty of other conditions which maybe included, such as autism and the common psychotic symptom of disturbed speech.

 

According to Dr. Harold Levinson, Dyslexia is not just a sreading disorder characterized by reversals, neither is it due to brain damage as traditionally thought for the past century. It is a syndrome of many and varied symptoms affecting over 40 million American children and adults.

Ever since the early 1970's, Dr. Harold Levinson's research demonstrates that the symptoms of Dyslexia or Learning Disabilities (LD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and related Phobic symptoms are due to a simple signal-scrambling disturbance of inner-ear (cerebellar-vestibular) origin.

The inner-ear acts as a "fine-tuner" for all motor (balance/coordination/rhythm) signals leaving the brain and all sensory and related cognitive signals entering it. As a result, normal thinking brains will have difficulty processing the scrambled or distorted signals received. And the final symptoms will depend on:

  1. the degree of signal-scrambling,
  2. the location and function of the varied normal brain centers receiving and having to process these scrambled signals, as well as
  3. the brain's compensatory ability for de-scrambling.

Dyslexia is not just a severe reading disorder characterized by reversals, claims Dr. Levinson, but that it is a syndrome of many and varied reading and non-reading symptoms, all stemming from an inner-ear-determined dysfunction.

Difficulty of defining Dyslexia

In order to research dyslexia, one must have a working definition of the condition, but because there is no consistent definition which is accepted by all authorities, the researchers must formulate their own definition to work by. Because each researcher is interested in certain aspects of the condition, varying definitions arise. This means that if two independent researchers surveyed the same school district with the same standardized test, their interpretations and published results could very well be drastically different. For example, according to various surveys:

 

Dyslexia Sub-Catagories

 

Dyslexia is more prevalent among first-degree biologic relatives of individual with Learning Disabilities (DSM-IV, 1994).

Numerous genetic loci have been located, specifically chromosome 6 and chromosome 15. No consistent pattern has been located as to which chromosome is chosen and why (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development--Human Learning and Behavior Branch, Center for Mothers and Children, 1992).

Phonological coding (the ability to represent and access the sound of a word in order to help remember the word) has been found to be significantly heritable, while orthographic coding (the ability to put letters together to form whole words) appears to be more strongly related to environmental influences (National Institutue of Child Health and Human Development-- Human Learning and Behavior Branch, Center for Mothers and Children, 1992).

 

Brain Pathology

Several types of brain pathology are related to dyslexia:

 

Characteristics Often Accompanying Dyslexia

Few dyslexics exhibit all the signs of the disorder.

 

According to the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-III-R, 1987) there are often deficits in expressive language and speech discrimination which may be severe enough to additionally diagnose:

 

 

According to the American Medical Association (Council on Scientific Affairs, 1989), the following conditions are also often associated with Dyslexics:-

 

These appear as:

 

 

Present Model of Learning

By the late 1960s, the generally-accepted model of learning disabilities was established. This model distinguishes four stages of information processing used in learning:

Input is the process of recording in the brain information that comes from the senses.

Integration is the process of interpreting this information.

Memory is storage of information for later retrieval.

Output of information is achieved through language or motor (muscular) activit.

Learning disabilities can be classified by their effects at one or more of thesestages. Each child has individual strengths and weaknesses ateach stage.

 

Standard Remediation

At one time, dyslexia was treated by operating on the language centers of the brain.

Some authorities relate to the language-processing aspect of dyslexia and remediate it accordingly. They explain that individuals with dyslexia require a structured language program. Direct instruction in the code of written language (the letter-sound system) is critical. This code must be taught bit by bit, in a sequential, cumulative way. There must be systematic teaching of the rules governing written language. This approach is called structured, or systematic language instruction.

Some authorities are more holistic in their approach. They claim that individuals with dyslexia require multi-sensory delivery of language content. Instruction that is multi-sensory employs all pathways of learning --at the same time, seeing, hearing, touching, writing, and speaking.

Other authorities employ various techniques, such as hemisphere-balancing, diet adjustments, and exercises. Dr. Levinson's treatment includes medication usually used to prevent travel-sickness.

 

Classical Hebrew and Ivrit

 

Texts are usually written without vowelling. The reader is expected to recognize the word from the consonants.

 

Differences between Classical (Biblical) Hebrew and Modern Hebrew (Ivrit).

All words of Classical Hebrew are derived from several hundred three-letter roots. Words are developed from the roots by a rigid system of word-structures (binyanim). Within the parameters of the system, the relationships between the binyanim is completely logical and differences are effected by permutations of limited schedules of prefixes, suffixes and root-parts.

Modern Hebrew includes many words derived from non-Hebrew sources, such as Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Arabic and, increasingly, the transliterations of English words. Ivrit slang comprises mainly pure transliterations of English words and phrases. Often, the conjugations of these "imported" words do not follow the rules of Classical Hebrew. Modern Hebrew is therefore becoming more "European" in its nature.

Modern Hebrew employs English-style punctuation signs. Punctuation of Biblical Hebrew is achieved by inflection signs (Ta'amim).

 

Differences between English and Hebrew

1. Relationship between consonants and vowels

a. Status on the line

In the English language, consonants and vowels share the same status in the alphabet. They also share the same status on the sentence line. Therefore, to read an English-language sentence, the eye needs to scan along a straight, horizontal line.

In the Hebrew language, vowels comprise symbols placed above, below and in line with the consonants. Therefore, when reading a line of Hebrew text, the eye needs to scan both horizontally and vertically.

Example:

English

When you go to the store, please buy me a loaf of bread

Hebrew

 

 

 

 

 

o

 

 

 

 

 

o

 

Wh

n

 

y

 

g

 

to

 

th

 

st

re,

e

 

 

ou

 

 

 

 

 

e

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

oa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

p

l

se

 

b

 

m

 

a

 

l

f

 

 

f

 

b

r

d

 

ea

 

 

uy

 

e

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

 

 

 

ea

 

Therefore, the efficient reader of Hebrew needs to have a higher level of saccade skill than is required for reading English and the pattern of saccades needs to include vertical saccades as well as horizontal saccades.

 

b. Configurations of the vowel characters.

In the English alphabet, consonants and vowels share the same character-style status. They all comprise distinct styles of letter.

The Hebrew language vowels comprise various combinations of dots and dashes, many of which are similar and which occupy various positions around the consonants. For example, a single dot can represent one of several different vowels, depending upon its position relative to the consonant.

This means that the efficient recognition of Hebrew language vowels requires a higher level of visual discrimination than is required for recognizing Alphabet vowels.

 

c. The functions of consonants and vowels

In the English alphabet, the differences between consonants and vowels are defined as depending on the relationship between the tongue and the palate when the letter is being said. There is no intrinsic physiological difference between consonants and vowels.

In the Hebrew language, consonants define the way in which the required sounds are to be produced inside the mouth. Thus, traditionally, consonants are classified into five major groups, depending upon the parts of the mouth used to produce the sound:

  1. letters of the throat;
  2. letters of the teeth;
  3. letters of the lips;
  4. letters of the tongue;
  5. letters of the tongue and teeth.

Vowels define the way in which the sound is to be modified as the sound goes out from the mouth. Each vowel defines a specific shape of the lips and/or opening of the mouth, as is usually indicated by their name:

Kometz = gathered, describing the shape of the lips

Koobutz = grouped, describing the shape of the lips

Shooruk = whistle, describing the pursing of the lips

Shv'ah = passive, describing the passive shape of the lips

Chirik = skid, describing the close positioning of the teeth

Patach = open, describing how the jaws should be open

Tzsairi = flood-burst, describing the expletive nature of the way the air is to be emitted

The Hebrew word thus comprises a two-tier arrangement in which the reader looks at the letter to see how to produce the required sound and then he looks at the vowel to see how to simultaneously shape his mouth and lips so as to modify the sound as he emits it from his mouth.

Reading Hebrew thus requires a higher level of ability to multi-task than is required for reading English.

 

2. Reading Accuracy

a. Letter recognition

An error of one letter when reading an English word does not always change the meaning of the word significantly.

When reading Hebrew, every letter must be recognized accurately. Reading Hebrew is like reading a chemical formula - any little mistake changes the meaning drastically.

b. Errors in letter identification

In English, a mistake will usually change the word into a "nonsense" word. This flags the reader to realize that he has misread the word and he needs to looks again to correct it. Then he is able to guess the identity of the intended word from the rest of the word or from the context. Alternatively, if he reads the word globally, the reader might not even realize that he has seen a mistake.

When reading Hebrew, a mistake usually converts the word into another "sense" word. Therefore the reader continues reading, unaware that he has made a mistake, until he might, or might not realize from the context that somewhere along the line an error has occurred.

He must then retrace his steps to look for the error.

Example:

To every puestion there is an auswer

לכל שעלה יש חשובה

 

In English, the words, puestion and auswer are meaningless; the reader automatically understands that he must correct himself and the identities of the intended words are obvious.

The misread words of the Hebrew seem to make sense, "To all who go up (שעלה), there is importance (חשובה)".

Therefore, there is a greater need for instantaneous, accurate letter identification when reading Hebrew than is required for reading English. This prerequires higher levels of visual discrimination, visual maturity and visual integration.

 

c. Errors in letter sequence

Incorrect sequencing of letters in a word is a common dyslexic characteristic. As mentioned above, when reading English, such a mistake will usually change the word into a "nonsense" word. This flags the reader to realize that he has misread the word and he needs to looks again to correct it. Then he is able to guess the identity of the intended word from the rest of the word or from the context. Alternatively, if he reads the word globally, the reader might not even realize that he has seen a mistake.

When reading Hebre, such a mistake usually converts the word into another "sense" word. Therefore threader continues reading, unaware that he has made a mistake, until he might, or might not realize from the context that somewhere athe line an error has occurred.

He must then retrace his steps to look for the error.

Therefore, there is a greater need for instantaneous, accurate letter sequencing when reading Hebrew than is required for reading English. This prerequires higher levels of visual discrimination.

 

3. Simple words and complex words

A simple word can be identified instantaneously by sight-recognition of the word as a single unit.

A complex word comprises a core, root-part and additional letters which modify the meaning of the core. Reading a complex word therefore comprises

  1. analyzing the word to isolate the root,
  2. understanding the root
  3. identifying the ancillary letters,
  4. identifying the way which the ancillary words modify a root
  5. applying the effect of the ancillary words to the root.

The meaning of a simple word can be recognized at sight. The amount of time and brain-power required to extract the meaning from a complex depends on the complexity of the word and the sophistication of the power of the ancillary letters to modify the meaning of the root.

Most words of the English language are simple words. Ancillary letters - prefixes and suffixes - nearly always only modify the meanings of the roots in a simplistic way.

Most words of the Hebrew language are complex words. Ancillary letters - prefixes, suffixes and letters inside the root - modify the meaning according to complex schedules to form many permutations of meaning. Furthermore, in certain word-forms, one or two of the three root-letters might be missing.

Therefore, efficient understanding of Hebrew words requires not only accurate identification of the letters but also:

  1. knowledge of the various root words
  2. knowledge of how the root letters change according to the various word forms
  3. thorough knowledge of the effect of the ancillary letters
  4. knowledge of how the ancillary letters interact with the root letters

Therefore, in order to enable understanding of each word, the reader of Hebrew needs to have far more brainpower available after letter and vowel identification than is required for understanding English words.

Consequently, non-literary "problems" which use-up brainpower will hinder the intelligent reading of the reader of Hebrew far more than the reader of English. Also, when reading Hebrew, visual tracking skills need to be sufficiently skilled to enable the reader to sometimes saccade and sometimes dwell on a word, depending on how long the reader needs to analyze each word.

 

4. The presence of consonants and vowels in words

 

English-language words are always written out in full, comprising all the required consonants and vowels. True ambiguity is rare and can usually be eliminated after a moment's thought.

Example:

He will read the will after the lawyer has read it.

 

Usually, only the consonants of Hebrew words are written. One set of consonants usually fits several different words. Therefore, the reader of unvowelized Hebrew must have:

  1. A sufficient "bank" of vowelized words to enable the reader to identify all the possible words that might fit the set of consonants.
  2. The ability read ahead and be able to judge from the context which word from the available selection would be the most suitable choice.

Example:

ùìîä ùìîä ùìîä ùìîä ùìîä

?ùÑÆìÈîÈä ùÑÇìÀîÈä ùÑÀìÉîäÉ ùÒÇìÀîÈä ùÑÀìÅîÈä

Consequently, non-literary "problems" which preclude the formation of a sufficient bank of whole words and which use-up brainpower, thereby preventing the reader from being able to understand the context, will hinder the intelligent reading of the reader of Hebrew far more than the reader of English.

 

5. The "Information Content" of each word.

 

Because most words of Hebrew are very complex, each word of Hebrew usually contains more information than words of English. One, two or three words of Hebrew can be the equivalent of a whole sentence of English, and a sentence of Hebrew can be the equivalent of a whole paragraph of English.

Consequently, non-literary "problems" which use-up brainpower will hinder the intelligent reading of the reader of Hebrew far more than the reader of English.

 

6. Verb, Subject, Object Relationships

 

In the English language, the subject of a verb precedes the verb and is either a noun or a pronoun. The direct or indirect object of the verb follows the verb.

Example:

He said, "Go to the store."

Jack said that he has no time.

 

Every verb of Hebrew contains a built-in pronoun subject. If the sentence identifies the subject, then the pronoun is ignored. A noun following the verb might be the subject of the verb, or it might be the object, depending on the context.

Example

And he said

 

ויאמר

And he said, "Moshe!"

 

יאמר משה

And he said, "Moshe!" to the Children of Israel

 

ויאמר משה אל בני ישראל

or

And he said

 

ויאמר

And Moshe said,

 

יאמר משה

And Moshe said to the Children of Israel

 

ויאמר משה אל בני ישראל

 

Therefore, when reading every verb, the reader of Hebrew needs to look ahead to next few words and then back to the verb to enable him to see how to understand that verb.

Therefore, the efficient reader of Hebrew needs to have a higher level of saccade skill than is required for reading English and the pattern of saccades needs to include backwards saccades as well as forwards saccades.

 

7. Punctuation

 

The punctuation of English language text is clearly indicated by punctuation marks in-line with the words.

Hebrew language text often contains little or no punctuation marks. The reader then needs to scan ahead to try to pick clues from the context before deciding how to read or punctuate his text.

Therefore, the efficient reader of Hebrew needs to have a higher level of saccade skill than is required for reading English and the pattern of saccades needs to include backwards saccades as well as forwards saccades.

 

Furthermore, such Hebrew-language unpunctuated text is usually also written without vowels.

 

Example

n th nglsh lngg cnsnnts nd vwls shr th sm stts n th lphbt thy ls shr th sm stts n th sntnc ln thrfr t rd n nglsh lngg sntnc th y nds t scn lng strght hrzntl ln n th hbrw lngg vwls cmprs smbls plcd bv blw nd n ln wth th cnsnnts thrfr whn rdng ln f Hbrw txt th y nds t scn bth hrizntlly nd vrtclly

 

Therefore, the efficient reader of Hebrew not only needs to have a higher level of saccade skill than is required for reading English and the pattern of saccades needs to include backwards saccades as well as forwards saccades but also non-literary "problems" which use-up brainpower will hinder the intelligent reading of the reader of this type of Hebrew text far more than the reader of English.

 

8. Descriptiveness of Text

 

A reader of text needs to be able to become aware of the reality of the information contained in the text. The reader achieves this through building up a picture in his mind. This ability to image acts as a translator, translating information from the "word-processing" stage of reading to "real-life" understanding.

Sophisticated English-language text is usually replete with descriptions and illustrations.

Sophisticated religious Hebrew-language text is usually terse and succinct to an extreme and without any illustrations.

Therefore, the reader of sophisticated religious Hebrew-language text requires a more highly developed ability to image than is required for reading English.

9. The Role of Phonics

The pronunciation of letters of the English Alphabet rarely follows strict rules, to the extent that the phonetics of a word is often a stronger indication of the identity of a word than its spelling. Hence the success of reading systems which depend on phonics.

Some Hebrew consonants sound similar to each other, but the identity of a word always depends only on the way it is spelled. The phonetic identity is never a stronger indication of the meaning of a word than its visual identity. Hence, if a reader learns Hebrew from its phonics, without the aid of the context he will not be able to determine the idof words.

This means that the efficient recognition of Hebrew language worrequires a higher level of visual discrimination than is required for recognizing English Alphabet words. Furthermore, a reader of Hebrew sufferfrom a vision impairment is less able to compensate for his impairment by his relying on phonetics than a similar reader of English.

 

Conclusion

Some authorities on dyslexia believe that the condition is "hard-wired" into the brain and is therefore incurable. The best that can be expected is that the dyslexic will learn to live with his condition and remediation comprises teaching him to compensate.

Other authorities believe that dyslexia can be remedied. Remediation is then usually based on language-training techniques or neurological reprogramming.

Because of the phonic nature of the English language, issues such as vision skills, multi-tasking, visual maturity and brain-power availability are regarded as secondary and are usually ignored as being effectively irrelevant. However, some experts do relate to these issues.

The reader of Hebrew needs to pay greater attention to letter-identification than does the reader of English.

Hebrew letter and vowel discrimination is visually more challenging than that of English. Interpreting and processing Hebrew words requires more brain-power than does English.

Hebrew texts are often presented in a format which challenges the skills of the reader to a greater extent than does English

Therefore, issues such as vision skills, multi-tasking, visual maturity and brain-power availability might critical to the ability of the reader of Hebrew to efficiently read and understand Hebrew text.

Furthermore, attempting to remediate without addressing these issues could lead to consistently lengthy programs and unsatisfactory results.

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