Dyslexia group looks to help more kids with Chinese

He has been going for two hours of tuition every week and completing assessment books, but Madam Carol Wright's Primary 5 son still struggles with Chinese as it is not used at home.

"It is a very taxing language. He might know the word, but not its meaning or how to pronounce it," said the 33-year-old stay-at-home mum, a permanent resident from Australia, whose husband is a Chinese Singaporean.

Her son, who is in Yew Tee Primary School, is required to take a mother tongue language.

Children like him may be able to get more targeted intervention in the future. The Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) is conducting a study to see whether its Chinese remediation programme for dyslexic children can also help those who struggle with Chinese even though they do not have dyslexia, a condition which affects how one reads and writes.

About 50 pupils, a mix of those with and without dyslexia, are involved in the study, which started in June. Ms Kong Yun Rui, who manages the Chinese programme at DAS, said it gets two to three inquiries from parents with children struggling with Chinese every month.

She said these kids are not diagnosed with dyslexia and coping well in school in general. But they cannot cope with Chinese and "are not responding to conventional Chinese tuition programmes".

She said: "However, our Chinese programme is currently open only to students with dyslexia."

More than 200 primary school pupils have attended the programme, which offers specialised teaching in small groups, since it started in 2013.

They either take Chinese as an examination subject or have been exempted, but would still like to learn the language.

The initial evaluation of the programme, published in 2014 in the Asia Pacific Journal Of Developmental Differences, showed that it has led to significant improvement in pupils' understanding of things like Chinese character structure and vocabulary.

Students can also better recognise Chinese characters and thus read them correctly.

The programme is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach and teaches students through hands-on activities, storytelling, as well as the tracing and tracking of characters or words.

The DAS said the new study will be completed in December. It hopes to expand the programme, which costs about $50 for a one- hour lesson for primary school pupils, to include secondary schools.

Madam Wright hopes that such a programme is made available to children without dyslexia soon. "Something more needs to be done for those struggling with the language, especially for families who don't use the language at home," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline Dyslexia group looks to help more kids with Chinese. Subscribe