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How illiteracy silenced my father Only in death did he escape the drowning machine

"He carried the burden of illiteracy, silently, since he was a boy." Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

"He carried the burden of illiteracy, silently, since he was a boy." Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images


November 3, 2022   8 mins

The signs were there throughout his entire life that my father could not write. I can see them now but only with the benefit of hindsight and only when it is far too late. In fairness, he hid them well. He was an old-school stoic and there are many things a man, particularly of my father’s time, could conceal behind a beard, a host of tattoos, and silence. “Still waters run deep” my mother would say of him, or “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch” at other, more apprehensive, moments.

Some of the signs seem obvious now. A heartfelt but garbled message he’d chalked for my mother’s birthday before he left for work. How he would hover around, very slowly and subtly, trying to get us, his primary school-age children, to fill in forms he needed. In terms of boundless curiosity and the vastness of his references, from the intricacies of Brehon Law to the Latin names for plants to obscure battles of the Second World War, he was perhaps the smartest man I’ve ever met. And yet he carried the burden of illiteracy, silently, since he was a boy. Were I not his son in terms of unsentimental temperament, it would break my heart to think about.

In the end, there was no space to hide it any longer, no room left to evade or disguise. It was silence itself that revealed the condition. Unexpectedly and brutally stricken with Covid, my father ended up critically ill in ICU. Breathing via a ventilator and tracheostomy, it was impossible for him to talk. When the nurses approached him with pen and paper, and then an alphabet chart to point at in order to communicate, he waved them away. At first, they thought it was intransigence, but it soon became clear what the real issue was. Though an avid reader, he could not spell even the simplest of words.

For the next six months, they tried their best to understand him at his bedside, as did we; attempting, on glitching video calls, to read his lips. Due to the facial necrosis he suffered when they had laid him in the prone position to initially save his life, there wasn’t a great deal to read. In my weaker moments now, waking in the blue hours of night for instance, I feel haunted by the one word he mouthed that I could unmistakably make out — “home”, a place to which he never managed to return.

Since then, I have sought to understand the origin of my father’s illiteracy, which has led me deeper and deeper into the issue itself. Though I have worked in schools and witnessed, first-hand, children who struggled or were left behind, I hadn’t fully appreciated the immense scale of the issue. In global terms, according to UNICEF: “Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.” The OECD has found that one in six adults in England, over seven million people, “have very poor literacy skills”. Though studies differ in measuring terms, they do point to literacy difficulties being even more prevalent in Scotland (one in four people) and Northern Ireland (one in five). The Treasury’s Leitch Review of Skills in 2006 aired on the conservative estimate that “one seventh (five million) are not functionally literate”. In truth, the numbers vary and are frequently contested but all the studies suggest that millions of lives are profoundly impacted.

Why, then, is there such silence on the issue? One reason is the marginalisation of those who are affected; chief among whom are children, a group who can’t advocate for themselves, and, in particular, poor children. According to the Department of Education in 2019, 65% of children leave primary school having achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics, meaning that 35% will not.

Poverty plays a massive part in this, coupled with lack of resourcing, social exclusion, familial cycles of deprivation and so on. In 2019, End Child Poverty claimed there were 4.3 million children (30%) living in poverty in Britain. The correlation between poverty and illiteracy comes up again and again, both additionally linked to mortality. The National Literacy Trust’s findings in their Literacy and life expectancy study are staggering and scandalous: “A boy born in Stockton Town Centre (which has some of the most serious literacy challenges in the country) has a life expectancy 26.1 years shorter than a boy born in North Oxford (which has some of the fewest literacy challenges).” The issue casts a shadow over entire, foreshortened lifespans.

Economics go a long way in terms of explanation, but aren’t the only factor. Instead, we face a complex tapestry of failings and unmet needs that suggest negligence at best and, at worst, the wilful discarding of swathes of the population in terms of class, geography, demographics and so on. End Child Poverty has pointed out that “46% of children from black and minority ethnic families are growing up in poverty, compared with 26% of children in white British families”. Meanwhile, a 2018 government study of Year One pupils in England who have met the expected standards in phonics, one of the building blocks of literacy, found attainment by children from Roma and Irish Traveller backgrounds to be around half that of every other demographic (roughly 40% compared to 80%+). Between the groups are disadvantaged/working-class white boys, with 62% meeting the standard. Many groups are being let down in different though related ways. A society can be judged by how it treats its young. Children do not fail but rather are failed.

There are always outcomes to consider. In 2009, KPMG declared that: “Low levels of literacy undermine the UK’s economic competitiveness, costing the taxpayer [up to] ÂŁ2.5 billion every year.” In some ways, the possibilities are even worse than they were in my father’s day. At least he had the refuge of almost-entirely manual labour to move into. Most jobs now require a degree of literacy, with the digital revolution spreading into every aspect of life. The DCMS No Longer Optional report claimed digital skills were essential for two thirds of occupations, including 77% of so-called “low-skill jobs”. The WEF indicate the issue will only get worse, with many at risk of being left behind: “In the future, nine out of ten jobs will require digital skills, yet today 44% of Europeans aged 16-74 lack even basic digital abilities.” Employers are already feeling the deficit. In 2013, the CBI’s Changing the pace study found 32% of employers were dissatisfied with the literacy levels of young people, while a BIS report in 2016 found that “one in eight (12%) workplaces in England report a literacy and/or numeracy gap whereby at least one member of staff is unable to perform certain literacy
 tasks to the level required in their day-to-day job”. While enlightening, statistics and particularly the managerial approach to society may be part of the problem, however. We need, instead, to look at the cost from a human level.

The issue is exponential and cyclical, something akin to a phenomenon called “the Drowning Machine”, which requires some explanation. My father worked for the council and though his role as a gardener-groundsman was a largely peaceful horticultural one, it involved the use of heavy machinery; equipment that could, if one were not careful, result in the loss of an eye or a finger, the permanent damaging of one’s back, and so on. One of the methods employed by managers, to underline the need for health, safety and endless vigilance, was to show the crew footage that would sear into their minds. My father would come home, take off his Hi Vis vest and boots, shake his head and say to my mother: “Christ, you wouldn’t believe what we watched in work today.” Then, thinking he was out of earshot of his kids, he would relate the real-life video horrors they’d witnessed of the Bradford City stadium fire, footage of some poor factory worker being sucked into a machine or sinking into a silo. I was a curious child, of a slightly morbid disposition, so my ears pricked up at each pitiful and graphic description.

One account became rich material for my nightmares for years to come. My father had to cut grass and tend plants on all manner of landscapes from hills to ditches to the edges of waterways. Given that his parents had both drowned in the local river, I imagine he would have been somewhat cautious — but to drive home the point, he and his colleagues were shown a video on the dangers of canals, rivers, reservoirs and other waterways. One of the most perilous were low head dams, which look fairly innocuous; a slowly drifting river that pours over a small weir with apparently minimal turbulence. Yet in certain cases, a “submerged jump” forms near the base of the dam, creating a loop of circulating water pushing downwards, back towards the dam, upwards and downwards again, in a spinning cycle. If a swimmer or kayaker is unlucky enough to be pulled down into a particularly strong version of this — and the force of water can be immense — they can find themselves stuck in a loop or maelstrom known as a “keeper”. Warning signs of this phenomena show a pirouetting figure under the water, trapped in “the drowning machine”, unable to extricate themselves and endangering the lives of would-be rescuers, who make up around a quarter of its victims.

During my father’s six months of silence, my mind kept returning to the image of the stricken figure spinning over and over in the water, and no matter how strong they were and how bravely they fought, each time they tried to surface, another wave would hit them and successive cycles would weaken them until there was nothing left. It reminded me of the cycles of poverty I’d witnessed to which I’d lost loved ones. When someone’s life begins to fail in already difficult circumstances, there’s a tendency for problems to multiply. Disaster is effectively intersectional: spiralling finances, deteriorating psychological and physical health, social alienation, dependencies, legal issues and so on. Self-extrication is rare.

Those who leave school functionally illiterate have often been trapped in the drowning machine since childhood. Life goes wrong early — whether its poverty, abuse, neglect — and if intervention is not early, it is much harder to extricate. The “Every Child A Reader” programme notes that “70% of pupils permanently excluded from school have difficulties in basic literacy skills”. This flows, demonstrably though not inevitably, into adulthood with the Social Exclusion Unit reporting: “80% of prisoners have writing skills at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old child; the equivalent figure for reading is 50%.” The Ministry of Justice found in 2021 that 57% of prisoners had literacy levels below those expected of an 11-year-old, with the Skills Funding Agency reporting in 2018, over a third of prisoners reported that they have “a learning disability or difficulty”. This hampers the abilities of prisoners to keep in contact with the outside world and reintegrate into it, especially through employment, with the Shannon Trust emphasising the importance of literacy in terms of reducing recidivism.

Many problems emerge from illiteracy. Some pose as solutions. If education or family cannot or will not offer a lifeline, others will step up, preying on frustration, lack of legitimate options for betterment and low self-esteem. It provides a hunting ground for exploitation by older predatory “rescuers”, in the form of gang leaders, sex traffickers, drug dealers and extremist groups. These routes seem a way out of the drowning machine but are merely a deepening of the cycle. Chances of real escape decline once you have a criminal record, are identified on the Gang Matrix or by MI5, or end up with a drug addiction.

Here we find another troubling element to the silence surrounding illiteracy. Many of the most shameful scandals in recent decades have been to do with the abandonment and betrayal of children — paedophilia in the Catholic Church, Savile and the BBC, rape gangs in numerous English towns preying on young working-class girls, the death toll of young people through knife crime, and the epidemic of childhood poverty. All of these have faced a wall of silence, effectively disappearing the victims, for a number of reasons — deference towards powerful institutions, ideological inconvenience, callous indifference masquerading elsewhere as compassion. One overlooked factor is the gentrification of journalism away from the local and investigative, increasingly into cloistered upper-middle-class lifestyle commentaries, hot takes on passing fads and clickbait distractions. Without addressing this silence and the noise that disguises it, little will change.

All my life, I had thought that my father had escaped the drowning machine. I believed he had extricated himself from a youth of deprivation, violence, and prison. He had done so by choosing his family, his trade, his camaraderie with his workmates, his music, his bodybuilding, his love of nature, his stoicism. He was a proud man, who showed me how to live and how to die with bravery and nobility. He would never have claimed to have been a victim.

Yet I saw in those last months that he hadn’t escaped the drowning machine. As a little boy with undiagnosed dyslexia (a condition 10% of the population share), my father had been failed and, though he did the best he could to get out, it caught up with him at the end. He never made it out entirely. There are children right now in this country who are forced to carry and hide the same burden. The shame they feel has been given to them. It belongs to us.


Darran Anderson is the author of Imaginary Cities and Inventory.


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Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago

This article brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it helps all who read it to be kind in their day-to-day life. You never know when a kind word can make all the difference; people don’t advertise their struggles. Assume they bear some secret sorrow, and act accordingly.

Max Price
Max Price
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Yeah, me too. And expressed with a real tender sadness. Thanks to the author indeed.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

A fine article.

A friend of mine was a headmaster in several schools and he said his main task was to try to ensure that children were helped so that their reading age matched their chronological age.

It is hard to believe that so many have such poor literacy and cannot access the opportunities available to the rest of us. I know it’s true but I still can’t believe it.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

Illiteracy is a sad story. Today the problem, from my experience, is that there is a proportion of a school population, varying in number from school to school and sociology-economic groups, that refuse the education offered to them. They have no respect for education itself, none for the school and none for the teacher. What they create is a situation where the teacher’s efforts are directed more towards class management, the disruptive behaviour, which impacts on the students trying to learn. Many of the parents of these children also hold no respect towards education and teachers. There are numerous programs out their for children with dyslexia and leaning difficulties, difficulties acknowledged, understood and addressed. But there’s no shortage of opportunities for learning. Until children understand and respect their learning environment nothing will change.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

That’s hardly a situation unique to today. Talking to my grandparents (aged 80-100) and they tell the exact same stories of school being seen as a waste of time by large numbers of students

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“That’s hardly a situation unique to today. â€œ
I didn’t mean to suggest it was, only what I’ve observed. So it seems to be a consistent truth. Which is not addressed.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

When I was a young teenager (1960s Scotland) ‘education’ (in addition to certain artistic leanings – learning the piano and so on) was held in open contempt by certain working-class boys of my age. To take an interest in these things was ‘cissy’ or ‘effeminate’ (a more usual slang word for ‘gay’ was employed here). There is also the connotation of succeeding to others’ detriment, a lack of ‘solidarity’, often expressed positively as ‘never grassing’, in which the cohort of young men (women in such circles are viewed essentially as ‘trophies’ not as humans) is seen as in opposition to ‘straight’ society, its rules and requirements.

When I worked in a solicitor’s office in the early 70s there were two ex-policemen employed as evidence collectors in civil cases. One day they said to me “You’ve probably never done any real (sic, that is non-intellectual, physical) work (as it happens they were wrong) Show us your hands.” When I did they said “Thought so.” or other words to mocking effect.

Didn’t bother me. I, being educated (first person in family to go to Uni etc.etc.), had a somewhat broader mental world to investigate and revel in (occasionally). I left them to theirs, wondering how content they were with it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt
Iris C
Iris C
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I would suggest that that is because the curriculum and the subjects the teachers have learned to teach are directed towards those who have academic ability.
The government wants to place an equal emphasis on technical subjects – are there enough qualified teacher?
I fear that some children will leave Primary School without a basic understanding of English and will be forced to learn a foreign language and other subjects which do not hold any interest and engender terminal boredom.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

“There are numerous programs out their for children with dyslexia and leaning difficulties, difficulties acknowledged, understood and addressed.”

In my experience that isn’t the case. In my extended family, there was a girl (and this was noticed by her grandmother who had left school aged 15) who wasn’t reading properly. After much pushing, by the grandmother, the school had the girl tested and, lo, she was dyslexic. All the (state) school could offer were some vouchers for private remedial lessons. Those lessons made a difference, but more were needed.

In the end the girl was moved to a very expensive, elite, private school, which, with remedial work got the girl up to a good, university acceptance standard. She is now an astrophysicist. One of the issues for children with learning difficulties is the poor self-image they develop – it’s self-reinforcing: they fail, they feel stupid, they give up, they fail. It shouldn’t depend on if your family has the financial resources to get the help you need.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

That really does seem to confirm my post. But I feel that you took my comment out of context a little, which was that learning difficulties are different from disruptive students who have no respect for learning. Those who have learning difficulties are helped more than they have in the past, and they are not to be judged because of their learning difficulties. But the others have no real excuse for not engaging with the opportunities given to them,

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Anna Knowles
Anna Knowles
1 year ago

I had a similar experience in my own family. My grandson, a bright, clever, articulate boy, simply could not master reading, and consequently writing, despite every encouragement at home. He was diagnosed severely dyslexic and was given extra lessons at his primary school but made little progress. I was in despair. We are a family of fanatical readers and were distressed at how much he was missing.
Then came Covid and home schooling for my grandchildren in which I was involved. I did some research on the internet and came across a teaching programme for dyslexics which claimed a 90%+ success rate. It cost ÂŁ150 a month. We signed up. The online lessons lasted 15 minutes each day and were largely game-based. In a few months, my grandson, who had struggled with ‘dog’ and ‘cat’ throughout his primary school, was reading three and four syllable words. Imagine his joy (and mine) when he progressed to his first reading book for dyslexics, a simply-worded but exciting tale of pirates, buried treasure and a heroic ship’s cat. He is now doing well at secondary school and hopes to fulfil his dream of becoming a marine biologist.
When one considers the human misery and lost potential that illiteracy causes, funding schools to access programmes such as this to help struggling and de-motivated youngsters, while seemingly expensive, is surely a cost-effective investment,

Last edited 1 year ago by Anna Knowles
Jack Phil
Jack Phil
1 year ago

Both my children have dyslexia. One mild, one not so mild. One was diagnosed at Uni. She’s now a brilliant dental hygienist and the other, only diagnosed when I paid for private testing in desperation at age 16 is a very successful software developer who I might add is self taught, who also went to uni and obtained a good history degree.
The comprehensive school they attended just ignored their issues as they didn’t cause problems and they just tried through working hard to overcome issues. How my sons primary/ comp schools failed to realise their issues are beyond me.
They still have enormous self image issues even though they are successful good citizens who contribute to society. But they were failed by our school system and it’s still happening everyday.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Children who know that they are failing in school will become disaffected and disruptive. The key is to identify specific learning difficulties at an early stage and address them.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

There are also many parents who would love to help their children but are possibly illiterate themselves or who do not speak English. Children who lack home support, say with homework, are at a tremendous disadvantage. Many of those children, along with their parents, long to do well.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago

”For the next six months, they tried their best to understand him at his bedside, as did we; attempting, on glitching video calls, to read his lips. I feel haunted by the one word he mouthed that I could unmistakably make out — “home”, a place to which he never managed to return.”

So he was dieing long and slow of covid and you had to video-conference? Nuremberg trials time… When my wife quickly became terminal (not covid – but it would not have mattered, they would have had a time keeping me out if she had) I had her home to die as soon as it was known the hospital could not do more. Hospice delivered a bed and oxygen and some end of life medications that day, and she was home by evening, and died in my care, at home.

When I was young, and recently moved to USA I did my high school in a Junior college because I had dropped of school essentially – also dyslexia was my reason, they did not make allowances so I turned rebellious… , but learned to deal with it later. Anyway I also took a course in Nursing Aid wile doing my high school as an adult, in Florida, which licensed Nurses Aids back then – and worked in one of the worst hel-holes where they sent the poor and senile to die. None had family – we would tie them in a wheel chair and tie one wheel, and they would turn circles for hours – because otherwise they would wander off and fall… it was a bad place, 1970’s. I learned about end of life there… I Kept my father in my house his end of life….will my mother too…

But here is my long story point – these dementia patients – they did not know who they were, where they were…. But One thing they did know was they wanted to go home.
‘Nurse….Nurse..’ they would call when they saw you – mostly they were alone – and then they would say… ‘I want to go home….’ in the most wretched and plaintive way……. They did not know their house was long since sold or rented to another – their stuff in the Dump – all they knew was they were lost, and they wanted to go home….it was so sad, they were lost and wanted to go back to that vague memory of some place which they belonged in once, they knew they needed to be back there where they belonged………I can hear it…Nurse,,, I want to go home…….

In the Movie ‘Forest Gump’ his best friend Bubba is dieing, all shot up in a firefight in Vietnam, and he puts his hand on Forest’s arm and says ‘I want to go home’……. and dies…. I saw that part – and it came back – how it is at end of life, before the comas begin and they are still aware – they always just want to go home…..

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Thanks for that moving insight Aaron.

Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
1 year ago

My PhD holding brother-in-law recently told me that he has never read a book just for pleasure. As someone who gets very twitchy without something to read, I was staggered. (We are both in our seventies.)

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

I keep encountering people who don’t get fiction. They seem to me like aliens.

Jane McCarthy
Jane McCarthy
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

I read fiction like a thirsty sponge when I was young. Now, the older I get the more I want to read non-fiction.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane McCarthy

When you’re young you want to find out how things MIGHT be. When you’re older you want to find out how things ARE.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane McCarthy

I can just about understand that. At least you can remember what it was like to enjoy fiction. The people I’m talking about seem never to have had this appetitive faculty.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane McCarthy

I’m the opposite!

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

I wonder if that helped him get his PhD — no distractions.

Teresa Baker
Teresa Baker
1 year ago

If you would like to help people learn how to read, please find your nearest Read Easy group and volunteer. They offer one-to-one coaching to people who struggle with reading all run by volunteers. I have just set up a group in my area and I already have a list of 20 people who need to learn how to read. There is a real need out there. Or if you cannot volunteer, please donate to your nearest Read Easy group.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Teresa Baker

I’d love to hear what you have to say about illiteracy; apart from immigrants and learning difficulties, why are they illiterate?

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Probably victims of trendy teaching methods and the tyranny of low expectations.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Teresa Baker

Curiously there appears to be a complete absence of such groups in the North East of England were I suspect there are pockets of high levels of illiteracy.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

That seems really odd.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Pat Rowles
Pat Rowles
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Odd that they might exist, or that Jeremy suspects they exist? The article does mention “Stockton Town Centre (which has some of the most serious literacy challenges in the country)”, presumably referencing Stockton-on-Tees. (Not being snarky, by the way; I often find myself upvoting your comments.)

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Pat Rowles

Odd that there doesn’t seem to be any access to learning groups.

Pat Rowles
Pat Rowles
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

My bad – I thought you were referencing the high levels of illiteracy rather the absence of groups to address it.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Teresa Baker

I’d never heard of Read Easy, and have just this moment volunteered on the strength of your post. However, I harbour some doubt about whether they will take me on, having been fairly upfront about my zero woke tolerance.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Why? Are you supposed to attend a diversity lecture? Or is there some weird teaching method they expect you to adopt? My wife suffered from being taught some whole word flash card method in the 1970s.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I don’t know. I just prefer to nip this nonsense in the bud. If I’m upfront about not tolerating wokeness, they have no basis for complaining about any refusal on my part to undergo unconscious bias testing or any other diversity bolleaux.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

If you look at Marriage records of the last century it is striking how many were unable to sign their own name let alone meet the standards of literacy embraced today in functional illiteracy. There were then large ranges of occupations that did not require even the most minimal literacy. That is no longer the case.

Almost any interaction with the state requires the filling in of ill-designed forms requiring those completing them to read elaborate instructions to try to interpret their ambiguities.

At the same time more and more information and entertainment can be absorbed from the TV, YouTube and other videos reducing the incentive for anyone suffering from dyslexia to keep up the struggle to read. Those who read for pleasure are becoming a minority in the population. Many other skills that we previously took for granted would be widespread such as the ability to cook have been similarly affected by modern technology such as the convenience provided by the fast food industry. The easy availability of digital music has devastated the number of those able to play the piano or other instrument. There has been a reduction in many previously widespread skills.We have become more dependant in many ways and the exercise of many skills has become illegal unless you have the right up to date certificates.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Interesting observation. It occurred to me the other day; all these young people paying with their card or phone are no longer required to count out the money and then count the change. Though by that stage you would hope they had mastered rudimentary arithmetic. But then suddenly they don’t need it and the skill dies.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

A friend’s daughter in college had a part time job in a convience store. She told us that one of the other women who worked there literally did not know how to make change but disguised the fact by pretending. She would randomly pull out coins and bills and give them to customers. Many either didn’t care and wouldn’t even look at what she’d given them. Others would correct her, and basically tell her what to give them. She would scoff as if she’d had a momentary mental glitch. Nobody wanted to share a till with her because at the end of the day it would be way off and they’d have to report it or fix it out of pocket. She didn’t get fired because she was related to the owner.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

However the literacy rate in dear old Scotland has been much higher since at least the 17th century, due to the inadvertently benign result of the Reformation.

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
1 year ago

Not any more. Did you look at the statistics in the article?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Yes, hopefully a temporary aberration and no doubt soon to be by restored by Saint Nicola and her SNP Cohort.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

Having been raised in a working-class community in the North of England, and attending Catholic schools, i was staggered how so many of my peer group, many of Irish immigrant descent, could spend 12 years (4-16) in school yet emerge functionally illiterate. The predominant ethic was ensuring you had good mates so you didn’t fall victim to bullies, and beyond that, making it onto a school sports team to stand out – particularly during secondary school when hormones kicked in. For the majority, actual learning came a poor second to the need to simply survive and compete at a basic level.

I’ve no idea why i differed from the majority, probably just the randomness of genetics. Two generations back, my forebears were struggling and failing to eke a living out of the Irish soil, hence arriving in England.

My point here is: “drowning” isn’t inevitable. The author is himself a vivid manifestation that it’s not. I must admit, i’ve simply no idea what the answers might be, when several decades later, the same problem persists for so many. Is it the educational establishment? Anecdotally, i was dating a rather attractive young lady in sixth form college. We went our seperate ways: myself to university, she to teacher training college, but kept in touch. Meeting up at the end of our first year away from home, i was dismayed by how much she seemed to have been ‘captured’ by the education blob (although that wasn’t a term recognised back then.) Whilst we were no longer an item, we met with a small group of friends and she started talking down to us all, as if addressing a class of children. With the benefit of a longer perspective, I wonder if perhaps that’s just another survival instinct kicking in, that teachers have to acquire in order to function in the face of the daily grind that many of them must face outside the privileged elite?

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I agree that we need to look at the teachers rather than jump to blaming students and their families. I worked occasionally with teachers whose main skill was successfully hiding ineptitude. Many parents lack the confidence to challenge this.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

We can thank the late Tony Crosland (1918-77) and his manic destruction of the Grammar Schools for this shambles.

Simon James
Simon James
1 year ago

Good piece. It is important in developed nations to have as many people literate as possible but human beings will never be as good at reading and writing as they are at talking. We have evolved for face to face discussions. Our politics has increasingly become a language game played mostly in print by university graduates and postgrads. The solution isn’t necessarily to get increasing numbers of people playing that game, but to ensure that actual voices can be heard.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon James

I like that.

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon James

This was one of the reasons I think the last Labour government made it so difficult for pubs, as they used to be, to survive. The old pubs pre-1998 when beer was more easily affordable were where the working class gathered, talked and shared ideas and thoughts; much much too dangerous for the social engineering New Labour had planned.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

I’m confused by this sentence: Though an avid reader, he could not spell even the simplest of words. Surely, illiterates can’t read, let alone avidly. I would like to know more about this aspect of the author’s father’s very sad story.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

Very good point! I thought that when reading it, but then forgot about it due to the general heft of the piece. Which also reminds me… it’s not just the ability to read; retention matters!

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
1 year ago

His father wasn’t dyslexic, but dysgraphic: they’re often confused. My sister was the latter, though in our day (she’s 66), neither term was commonly used in education.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Okay, but the author describes him as illiterate, which he apparently was not.

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
1 year ago

Indeed – you’re quite right, and I agree that the author is confused.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

I think the point must be that there are two ways to be illiterate, namely dyslexic and dysgraphic. Evidently you can be dysgraphic without being dyslexic, as was the case for the author’s father. Whether you can be dyslexic without being dysgraphic I don’t know.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

You can be dyslexic without being dysgraphic. See Stanislas Dehaene ‘Reading in the Brain’ for a very thorough discussion of this and related matters. It’s a great read, a perfect Christmas gift for anybody who likes reading about science.
Note: if on the basis of this you end up buying the book, and your copy has only black and white plates, not colour ones, make sure you get the colour ones from here: https://readinginthebrain.pagesperso-orange.fr/figures because the black and white only ones are incomprehensible.

Last edited 1 year ago by Laura Creighton
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

Thanks, your comment is illuminating.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Isn’t there a third way too? Not dyslexic but simply has not learned to read? I read about a man who didn’t learn to read until his fifties, but didn’t seem disabled in any way.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

Yes, that’s a good point. Thanks for supplying my omission.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

Stickler here: Illiteracy is an inability to read and write. It is not ambiguous, any more than Man and Woman. If one has to redefine words to make a point or advance a premise, the argument is already suspect. I’m not accusing the author of this. I think he’s confused about terms. But many commenters aren’t; they appear to be part of the Redefinition Of All Things movement.

John Solomon
John Solomon
1 year ago

Just an anecdote to reflect my shock, horror, and sadness (yes, it’s a ddleiberate Oxford comma!) at the plight of the functionally illiterate.
One day there was a knock at my front door : it was my neighbour’s gardener. My neighbour was out, and had left him a note. The gardener said “Can you help me with this – I can’t read his handwriting.”
It was in block capitals.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Solomon

“ddleiberate”? Cambridge?

John Solomon
John Solomon
1 year ago

Are you being unkind about my tremor? Time I hhad a snack to get my blood sugar back to a reasonable level (do you know, when I typed this, I did actually type “hhad” and didn’t at first notice. I leave it in there to back up my ‘tremor’ excuse!)
Now, where are those jelly babies…………………….

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Solomon

Certainly not!
Just repaying an earlier kindness.

John Solomon
John Solomon
1 year ago

Touché!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

Edited

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

A sad, but strong article. But sometimes we have to realise we are all illiterate at some level.
In an increasingly form-driven world, even the literate don’t know what they are signing or what written regulations they might be breaking. Real people glide over words and things they don’t really understand all the time, hoping it is all of no consequence. Until it is. When some pen-pusher tries to enforce the letters to compel and harry and constrain. “That’s what the rule says” ignoring the question “Is it reasonable, fair and just?”.
And this is why our world should rest on principles, that even the unlettered can understand and follow, not on nit-picking clauses, slippery definitions and compelled signatures on forms that only lawyers can interpret and argue about.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

A very troubling piece on an issue we really do not spend enough time thinking about as a society.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Is that really true? The fact that Read Easy exists suggests otherwise. I live in Australia and I see ads on tv encouraging adults to take part in learning and there are many organisations out there teaching literacy to adults and immigrants. It may not be a big media subject, but who cares, they only muddy the waters over issues of poverty and so on.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Lucy Beney
Lucy Beney
1 year ago

Thank you for this. I think there is a great deal of shame involved in illiteracy. When living in Brazil, we had a cleaner whom – after about six months – we discovered was illiterate. She had moved from Brazil’s north-east as a six year old, and never been enrolled in school. Her ability to disguise her illiteracy was amazing and her memory was astonishing. She was terrified she would be sacked if she was honest. After that, I spent about 20 minutes each day with her, teaching her basic literacy – reading and writing, using phonics (in Portuguese). This eventually gave her confidence to tell her children she was illiterate, and even though only primary aged themselves, they were then able to help her too. By the time we left, she was confidently reading children’s books. Overcoming shame and offering one-to-one help is vitally important.
This brings me to another related point – children should not be able to progress through the school system until they are functionally literate. So often poverty, parental break-up and other adverse situations mean that young children miss the critical time-frame in which literacy is actively taught in school. Then, for all sorts of reasons, they are largely left to their own devices. You can and will progress to secondary school, even if you can’t read and write – despite the fact that almost every class will be lost on you (and you will probably be bored, disruptive and possible “diagnosed” too). Other countries do it differently, and you progress by achievement (as is now the case in Brazil). Once that is understood, it provides both an incentive to learn and also allows for more understanding of the adverse circumstances so many face – and that not everyone progresses at the same rate. Shame doesn’t seem to be an issue, when that is understood and the right support is available.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Lucy Beney

Please tell us more about those systems, such as Brazil, where you’re not allowed to progress without hitting literacy milestones. Not doing so does indeed preclude further academic learning, and wasting everyone’s time simply being in attendance, bored & disruptive, or absconding and getting into trouble.

How are those who haven’t yet progressed taught? Is it mixed age groups (potential problems) or small and diminishing class sizes? Is it a specialist area of teaching by those trained in that field?

Also, is there much stigma attached to being taught apart from your initial peer group?

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Lucy Beney
Lucy Beney
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I am not an expert in this, but as far as I know, the child is given a second chance before the start of the new school year, to demonstrate that they can keep up. If they can’t, they simply stay down a year and repeat it. I wouldn’t say that age groups are mixed, but there are often one or two children of a different age within the main group. Yes, some young people resent it, but it acts as an incentive for pupils, parents and teachers to ensure that children progress. The receipt of social benefits is also linked to your children attending school. Most people seem to accept and understand the system – and think it would be crazy to allow people to progress when they are unlikely to be able to take full advantage of the education on offer.
Countries like Brazil tend to take education very seriously. Historically there were high levels of illiteracy, which trapped many people in abject poverty. The cleaner I mentioned was very keen that all three of her children should end up with “jobs in offices”. Some large supermarket chains run literacy programmes for their older workers who struggle with reading and writing. Finally, school attainment is taken very seriously. Even international schools have to follow elements of the Brazilian national curriculum, to ensure foreign children integrate, and each child has a school record, signed off each year, without which you can’t progress. Educationally the system works – my children, now in their mid 20s – can still recite the story of the founding of Brazil, and name the country’s 26 states and where they are located. They learnt this in primary school.

Last edited 1 year ago by Lucy Beney
odd taff
odd taff
1 year ago

When I was doing my army basic training in 1970 we had a few chaps who were discovered to be functionally illiterate or innumerate or both. If they managed to get though the basic training they were sent to a unit run by the Army Education Corp who in three months managed to teach them what ten years of compulsory education had failed to do. These were not inadequate people but had been failed by the school system and/or their parents.

Lucy Beney
Lucy Beney
1 year ago
Reply to  odd taff

My late grandfather was an “Instructor Commander” and ran a similar unit in the Royal Navy. During World War II, this was adapted to teach English to young servicemen – mainly Dutch and Polish – who had escaped occupied Europe and were fighting alongside British service personnel.

John Dee
John Dee
1 year ago

Matter of luck, really, isn’t it? If you grow up in (relative) poverty but with aspirational (or even vaguely interested) parents, then you have a chance. Otherwise, not.
Happy to say I was among those lucky ones.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  John Dee

I’m sure interested parents (which would include time free of work/worry to be interested) matters, but there are other factors at play, for instance genetics, peer group pressure and also sibling rivalry.

I was taught to read before i even reached infant school by my sister, just three years older. My older brother (the eldest) didn’t have that advantage and didn’t do anywhere near as well. For whatever reason, i was motivated to outstrip them both at school. That didn’t come from any external source. In fact, i think i benefitted from the benign neglect of my parents, in terms of attention! Whether that can be extrapolated as a general factor is a moot point.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

The Vindolanda Tablets and evidence from Egypt* would indicate that the literacy of a Roman Army ‘grunt’ in the second century AD was probably greater than that of today’s English ‘yooof’,

(* Mons Claudianus.)

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago

A child who can read but not write has a specific learning difficulty. Usually, children who read can, once they have been taught to physically form the letters, write fluently. If their brain doesn’t make that connection, they need specialised teaching.
Poverty and race have nothing to do with the initial difficulty, which is inherent, although poorly educated parents, particularly if they are not fluent in English, are unlikely to pick it up or be able to negotiate the system to obtain help. What is required is properly funded and targeted diagnostics and support in schools, with priority being given to the children who need it the most, not those whose middle class parents make the most noise.
Children who know that they are failing in school will become disaffected and disruptive, so helping them is of benefit to all children.

Patrick Raleigh
Patrick Raleigh
1 year ago

What a wonderful, moving article.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
1 year ago

Powerful stuff. Hope the important people see this.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian McKinney
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

The author relates his personal story to then bang on about the impossibility of escaping difficult circumstances, referencing poverty constantly and then ethnic disadvantage but, rather obviously, choosing to make no reference to ethnic culture, which reveals much about how these circumstances CAN be escaped:
”End Child Poverty has pointed out that “46% of children from black and minority ethnic families are growing up in poverty, compared with 26% of children in white British families”. 
“Self extrication is rare”.
But the single parent statistics published on the gov.uk site in 2019 show what percentage of different ethnic groups were lone parents according to the 2011 census. Within each ethnic group monitored, the percentage of family types which are single parents are as follows: black (24%), mixed (19%), ‘other’ and white (both 10%) and Asian (8%).
The varying educational success by ethnicity of children in the U.K. perfectly illustrates the falsehood of the claim that poverty is inescapable:

  1. The discrepancy above for black children is because their fathers don’t stick around, and care less for these children.
  2. The discrepancy for Asian children, tellingly ignored by this writer, who come from relatively poor backgrounds and yet are the most educationally successful ethnic group demonstrates that self-extrication from poverty is not rare.

Choosing to ignore the personal circumstances, this article is just a blinkered guardianista view of the world, where liberals are blinded by their bleeding hearts into creating permanent victims of the poor and ethnic minorities.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Stewart
Tony Sandy
Tony Sandy
1 year ago

Illiteracy is not everything. It is prejudice that makes it hell for those excluded from it. Temple Grandin in her new book, Visual Thinkers, points out that reading is not the be all and end all of life. We need people proud of their practical abilities like farmers and other manual workers because without them our technological world would starve to death and leave us with no roof over our heads, literally.

Jim Davis
Jim Davis
1 year ago

Your father did escape the drowning machine. He became a man, a husband, a father, a responsible worker and individual, in spite of his handicap of being unable to read or write. Like many intelligent but illiterate people, he found a way to not only survive but thrive as a human being. Your father took charge of his own life, he was not a victim. Don’t make him one now.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
1 year ago

This is an important, moving, and timely essay, but the author rather undermines it by ducking some key issues. Organisations such as End Child Poverty rely on there being lots of ‘child poverty’, so it’s in their interest to take the loosest possible interpretation of ‘poverty’ to inflate the figures. They also use ‘reverse causality’; poverty doesn’t cause illiteracy, the attitudes, decisions and behaviours which contribute to poverty – irresponsibility, fecklessness, criminality, anti-social behaviour and so on – also disparage education. As others have commented, there’s no lack of educational opportunities at all stages of life, but some sections of society refuse to either use them, or encourage their children to do so. Those children are not ‘being failed’ by anyone but their parents and communities. If we’re going to take this problem seriously, it needs ‘tough love’; strong action against failing parents to set an example to their children, and detaining children in primary education, if necessary in small discipline groups, until they reach the required standard.
And finally, if you’re going to point the finger at the perpetrators of paedophile abuse, such as the Catholic Church and Savile, have the courage to identify the ‘rape gangs’ for what they are; Muslim men of predominantly Pakistani origin.

Fiona Hok
Fiona Hok
1 year ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

“have the courage to identify the ‘rape gangs’ for what they are; Muslim men of predominantly Pakistani origin.” Well said.

Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
1 year ago

A moving story indeed..! Thank you for sharing it with us..!

I have a few thoughts to share. You consider your father’s struggle to be “lost” because he couldn’t write a message at hospital. I believe your father is a winner. I don’t want to discuss medical details, though I have the opinion that most persons who got into an ICU during Covid, got also into a very difficult and life critical condition. If I am not mistaking, literacy or illiteracy didn’t change their medical condition nor threatened their life. Not being able to communicate is of course a burden I wish no one would have. Your father actually, did share a precious wish. Home..! My own father, some years ago said something similar in a likely situation. He knew how to write but couldn’t in his condition.

You wrote about illiteracy in such a compassionate way that drove me to somewhat of an altered view. From the way you prescribe illiteracy, one sees clearly your loving and positive thinking of life, community and family. Which proves you a kind person. You actually wrote a story about injustice and neglect. Illiteracy may be a sign but it isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, the cause of either. Had the communities been allowed to be in their old slow ways, life could have taken an other path. Please don’t take me wrong. I am not endorsing illiteracy or elitism by any means. What I am trying to say is that if we worked towards building a loving society, those gentrified journalists wouldn’t be “conquering” London. That whould be considered an awful thing to do.

On the opposite direction, injustice, marginalization and the like, will always be around. As you pointed out, there is now a huge gap been created, between those who are digitally literate and those who aren’t. These gaps, either of knowledge, or wealth, family origin, class and race, will be around. The greater the hunt for more profit and selfishness, the greater the gaps become.

Your article in the end isn’t about illiteracy nor about your father having been taking in the drowning machine. It is about the eternal battle of good against evil and the story of your beautiful father who raised a beautiful son.

Last edited 1 year ago by Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
1 year ago

All primary schools need to achieve is that their pupils leave literate and numerate. While the stereotype of teachers at the moment is that they are too busy indoctrination the with woke ideology, I don’t believe it (much thar my prejudices tempt me).
It’s tough and a grind. They succeed with most

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
1 year ago

This may be the place to make a frank confession, about an incident many years ago. After immigrating to the US I got into the restaurant business, which is quite demanding, and brings unpredictable dilemmas – like how to get rid of peddlers, beggars, obnoxious drunks, or people who smell so bad, they drive out your other customers. On this particular occasion I approached a man who had sat down without waiting; I said Hi to him and laid a menu on his table. When I looked his way a few minutes later he was still sitting there, his menu on the table, so I went over to take his order. His response: “I just want a tasty meal.”

But I, being a stickler for details, wanted to know more. Pointing at the menu, I started inquiring what sort of tasty meal he would prefer, but he avoided looking at any part of it, while repeating his mantra of “I just want a tasty meal.”

In my not-very-strong defense I should mention that not long before I had been compelled to remove a drunk from the place, so I decided not to waste any more time, and told him: “You’d better go.” Without objecting he got up and walked out.

And then it hit me like a brick: That man couldn’t read! He was not unsteady and he didn’t smell of alcohol — but I had wounded him, probably not for the first time. I felt really bad, but I had NEVER met anybody who could not read. And I myself had had the urge to read as early as age 4.

Since then I have found that while in Holland the literacy rate for adults is 99%, in the US it’s only 86%. Some of the difference may be accounted for by the more diversified American population, but much can be blamed on the dreadful public school system.

(NOTE to British readers: An American Public School is a tax-funded non-denominational institution whose performance has become quite dreadful thanks to having been a public monopoly dominated by the teacher’s unions for over fifty years. This year saw the first breach in that dam, thanks to legislation in the state of Arizona that will provide state-funded “scholarships” enabling children to attend any school in the state, whether public or private. I do hope this will succeed and spread.)

Last edited 1 year ago by Wim de Vriend
Daedalus 0
Daedalus 0
1 year ago

“Today 44% of Europeans aged 16-74 lack even basic digital abilities–”
Sorry and all that, but when I see a statement like that I cannot be bothered to read the rest of the article. That is such a vast age range, taking in probably 15 or 20 years at the top of the range, who may not have digital skills, because they dont want the digital skills, or have not had exposure to them and have not been bothered to get them. When you get down to the bottom of the range I suspect that greater than 95% will have some form of digital skills even if only on a smart phone, particularly in this country. Then European, who is that? Albania, Belarus, Estonia, which probably has more digital skills than most.
Its rubbish, isn’t it? So is the rest of the article any better???

Philip Whiston
Philip Whiston
1 year ago

From an honestly genuine need to know: how can you be dyslexic AND an avid reader? Did the writer mean audiobooks?

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
1 year ago
Reply to  Philip Whiston

Maybe he meant he could read but not write. This was a far more common situation before the 20th century than is commonly supposed. Writing is quite an acquired skill, whereas learning to read can be obtained relatively easily – in the past even the relatively modest individual may have learnt to read from hornbooks and the like in makeshift dame schools – see an early chapter of David Copperfield for the nature of such places. Which is why when you see records of people who only signed their name with a cross you have to be careful ascribing total illiteracy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sam Sky
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Philip Whiston

It is possible to ‘read’ whilst assuming many of the words and their meaning from the context. Try reading in French or German, or any other language that you have some knowledge of, and see what I mean. Writing requires a higher level of skill.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

The author describes his father as an avid reader who never learned to write but then later says he was dyslexic. I was under the impression dyslexics had great difficulties reading, in fact it used to be called “word blindness”.

Graeme Arnott
Graeme Arnott
1 year ago

This beautiful piece reminded me of my own father. Although not illiterate he rarely read and always wrote in block capitals using a ruler. I hadn’t realised until reading this piece that I never saw my dad’s handwriting. I wonder in the digital world if that’ll be the norm. There’s something terribly sad about that.

Graeme Arnott
Graeme Arnott
1 year ago

This beautiful piece reminded me of my own father. Although not illiterate he rarely read and always wrote in block capitals using a ruler. I hadn’t realised until reading this piece that I never saw my dad’s handwriting. I wonder in the digital world if that’ll be the norm. There’s something terribly sad about that.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

Oops, they changed the headline.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
1 year ago

I struggle to understand how someone can’t just teach themselves to read? It’s not that difficult: certain combinations of lines refer to certain sounds, simplicity itself. We only have 26 letters, it isn’t as if one has to memorise thousands of logograms like a Chinese reader.
I mean I managed this even before I started school when I was about 2 or 3 years old by watching programs like the Animated Alphabet or reading children’s books. I struggle to imagine there are really adults incapable of this with a dash of effort and self-motivation.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sam Sky
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 year ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

It’s precisely the ‘which sound does this map to’ bit of the functioning of the brain that doesn’t work properly and we can see this in MRI machines now for a significant portion of those diagnosed with dyslexia. It’s like colour blindness — your brain cannot tell the difference between red and green if in your brain they show up as ‘exactly the same’. And it is the sound pathway which is clearly involved.
So you find Japanese children who can read the character versions of their written language (kanji) but cannot read the phonetic katakana. Whether your language has a one-to-one mapping of this letter -> this sound, and also this sound -> is made by this letter, or whether ‘this letter could mean one of several sounds’ and ‘this sound could be written many different ways’ will greatly influence how much dyslexia you find in your country. It is a bad problem for English and French speakers, less of a one in German speaking countries, and not much of a problem in Italy and Hungary. And yes, you do find people who cannot read English but can read Italian despite being able to speak both languages fluently.
See Stanislas Deheane *Reading in the Brain* again for this. Note: if your copy of this book has only black and white plates, not colour ones, make sure you get the colour ones from here: https://readinginthebrain.pagesperso-orange.fr/figures because the black and white only ones are incomprehensible.

Last edited 1 year ago by Laura Creighton
Sam Sky
Sam Sky
1 year ago

Yes I agree dyslexia is a special case and I can see how someone becomes an adult who can’t read in those circumstances. Although even here some more specialise training would enable most adults to reach this level. Honestly I had not thought much about the differences in languages with regard to levels of dyslexia – I speak Spanish to C1 level and it is true I never had to train myself to spell a in that language which is highly phonetic compared to in English. Presumably the very fact that it is a matter of degrees suggests like many brain functions we are talking in terms of a scale of severity rather than a black-and-white condition as such.
But I’m principally talking about non-dyslexic adults who didn’t learn to read, I assume these are the majority.

Last edited 1 year ago by Sam Sky