English is the most difficult language to learn, read her `why` and `what` to do about it.
English worst to learn
English is ''the worst'' language to learn to read - of those that use the Roman alphabet with French a close second. Research has confirmed what thousands of international students in Australia have known for years. Students take at least two years to grasp reading English, as opposed to three or four months for a ''transparent'' language such as Italian. However: Chinese and Arabic are even more difficult to learn than English and French, but because they used a different alphabet, they were not included in this research.
English: Impossible spelling
''The spelling of English is impossible,'' renowned French brain expert Stanislas Dehaene said in the Age. ''If you learn Italian, you learn the sounds for each of the letters and then you can read Italian. The letter-to-sound correspondence is transparent.'' But that is not the case for English - or for Professor Dehaene's native tongue, French, which he admits is the ''second-worst'' language to learn to read.
Professor Dehaene, author of more than 150 scientific papers, is considered a world leader in the science behind reading. He spoke in Melbourne about his latest book: Reading in the Brain. His latest research has shown that the complexity and irregular spelling of English resulted in significant delays in learning to read. ''Comparisons in European countries have shown that this has a huge impact of several years of delay in reading for children learning English,'' he said.''
Brain reads pieces of word
On top of this, learning to read English required more cortical space in the brain. His research using brain imaging has shown that once eyes land on a printed word, a specific point of the brain lights up. This area of the brain does not function well among children with reading difficulties such as dyslexia.
The theory that the brain learns to read by whole-word recognition was incorrect, Professor Dehaene said, and should be taken into account when teaching students to read. ''The brain gives an illusion of whole-word recognition because it's processing all of the letters at once, but in fact the retina is decomposing the word into little pieces … and the brain puts the word together like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle,'' he said. That process happens in a fifth of a second - which is why it seems a one-step process. Professor Dehaene heads the Cognitive NeuroImaging Unit at the Commissariat A l'Energie Atomique in Saclay near Paris, France's most advanced brain imaging centre.
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