Dyslexia and Japanese

I have dyslexia. One of the things I was worried about going into learning Japanese was how this might possibly affect my reading ability. Recently I realized that I tend to write/read Japanese without mixing up kana or kanji, and tend to make far fewer reading mistakes when it’s in Japanese. I wonder if that is because I read and write more slowly, and therefor am more careful about mistakes, or if it has anything to do with the pictographic nature of the Japanese language.

Does anyone else here have dyslexia? What has your experience been, learning Japanese (or any other language) with it? Was it easier or harder to read without making mistakes in your native language?

I’m interested in reading about dyslexia from a Japanese perspective as well, but my Japanese level of understanding is still quite low for that :sweat_smile:


I found this reddit thread where people notice the same thing. Maybe you are onto something!


My husband is dyslexic and he also finds Japanese reading easier than English! We suspect it is the pictogram nature of it. The fact that WK further infuses this with even more imagery helps as well. Hiragana can be somewhat trickier than kanji. The other tricky thing is writing. It mostly works well for him, but he’ll tend to mix up two sides of a kanji (e.g. the kanji for “pull” 引 - he’ll swap the vertical line with the spring). He will also still have trouble reading aloud, just like he does in English. It’s interesting that the reading is much improved, and interesting to know that somebody else noticed the same thing!


I have thought about this before too!! I think if you look for dyslexia and japan on google scholar you may find some interesting articles (on mobile so linking is a pain)
Also think the other way around!! What if a Japanese person suddenly finds himself dyslexic when starting to learn English? Is this also a thing?

(my regards to Pistachio :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: when I see you I’m instantly reminded of kittens, the best!!)


Thanks for the link! It’s interesting to me how this could be. I wonder if there are Japanese people who are the opposite, where English letters are easier to read?

@ninjaflautist90 thanks for sharing! I don’t often write with pen and paper in Japanese so that’s something I’ll be trying later. I wanna see if it’s the same thing for me.


I have one friend I chat with on Hello Talk who mixes up his u’s and n’s! I can’t ask him if he has dyslexia in Japanese, though, because his English isn’t good and my Japanese can be confused and incomprehensible at times too haha

I’m known for my cat now, and I don’t mind at all. Thanks!!


I looked into this subject while at uni and it seems that you could be dyslexic in one language and be fine in the other.


I am a Speech-Language Pathologist and work with adults who have dyslexia. Japanese is one of the easiest languages for a dyslexic person since a systematic language: kanas are always pronounced the same and the kanji you need to memorize.

English for an example is a non-systematic language where you learn to read and write by memorizing words and pronouncing them (spelling). You have multiple words that are pronounced the same way but written in another or they have a one letter difference but are still pronounced completely different. Basically it means that you need to work like a slave to get fluent in English if you are dyslexic and English speaking kids learn to read and write at a quite later age than their peers in many other languages.

So Japanese is a lot easier from a neurolinguistic/scientific point of view for someone who is dyslexic. Just overlearn the kanas and drill the hell out of kanjis and you are good to go. The same kanas are always pronounced the same so once you are fluent with one kana you are always fluent with it - no matter the context.


That’s fascinating and makes a lot of sense! Do you find that dyslexia has links with memory? For example, are there specific things that people with dyslexia tend to memorize more easily than those without and vice versa?


I don’t have dyslexia but I know someone online who has it and they’re learning Japanese because they said it’s actually easier for them to read :0 I think they said because the kanji represent words instead of spelling out words with different sounds so there’s less characters to mix up?


Dyslexia is caused by a naming difficulty and/or a limited phonological working memory (short term sound memory). If you have them both it is called double deficit dyslexia…

So in Japanese you will be able to work with the kanas, you find the same kana syllables everywhere and you trust the system (/hana/ is always /ha/ + /na/ not like dessert and desert where one /s/ changes the whole pronunciation therefor you won’t receive any benefit from the first to learn the latter).

After you read the syllables and different syllable combinations fluently, your working memory doesn’t have to process just one sound at a time but instead you work with syllable units and complete words: h+a+n+a = four units, ha+na = two units and hana = one unit or k+o+i+n+u becomes ko+inu and both syllables/words are used in multiple words and all of them get easier once you learn the words ko and/or inu.

So as you progress your working memory is able to process more language since the units get bigger and you actually get to the end of the sentence before your working memory receives an overload. In English you need to master every word separately and then your memory unit size is large enough to memorize what you have just read but in Japanese you are able to do the same in smaller steps so the learning curve isn’t as steep.


I remember when living in Japan a prevalent idea that Dyslexia didn’t exist for Japanese, which Japanese people were certainly happy about.
Reading the internet now - found this and this.


@pjoot Wow, thanks for the info! It does make sense, though. I never put together that the struggle was because English just has way stranger spelling and pronunciation rules. But now that it’s been pointed out to me, the answer seems quite obvious! To add, I also mix up the order of kanji in writing (for example I write 通交 instead of 交通). Is that related to my dyslexia in any way or am I just stupid? :joy: In any case, thank you so much for the info.

@TheMusicalNinja I understand that feeling! And it’s easier to remember meanings too. It’s so interesting to see that so many other people feel the same way.

@Hoshinobike Interesting read! In the beginning I would have thought the opposite: that dyslexia would have made reading Chinese/Japanese harder, since radicals in the same position could make a character look similar to another. Thanks for the links!


You’re 100% right. From my understanding, there cannot be dyslexia in Japanese and it seems to occur in English due to our alphabet system and formation of words. It’s worth researching but I think it’s a rather new discovery and will take personal experience to learn more!

I teach English to Chinese kids online and I have learned that some of them have dyslexia which only suddenly occurs during their encounter with the Roman alphabet. It’s such an interesting topic and I’d interested to find out more. Congratulations on your discovery! This is even more reason to keep studying Japanese :slight_smile:


I would have thought dyslexia might make it easier to confuse things like 待, 侍 and 持… but from @pjoot’s explanation that seems like that’s not the case?

What’s your experience @auruille?


I don’t know if (and don’t think) I have dyslexia, but I mix letters all the time,
whatever language I’m writing on.

I have to correct myself. :sweat_smile:


I’m no expert, but I did have to research into this a bit during my Uni dissertation.

The parts of the brain that are affected (effected? I hate that word) by dyslexia are different in what language is learnt.

So you can be really dyslexic in English but have none of the problems in Japanese. Dyslexia is much more common in English speakers than Japanese speakers, but it is a lot more serious in Japanese speakers. Something about the part of the brain that it affects.

With English (and European languages) a lot of it is to do with how letters correlate into spoken sounds. If I remember Italian is one of the best languages to speak for someone with dyslexia because it has a small number of sounds, and letters (and letter groups) are always spoken the same way. And the rules are very set.
English and French are some of the worst as they have a lot of different sounds and letters and letter groups are not consistent in how they are spoken. And the rules are all over the place.

I don’t remember the exact numbers, but English has 26 letters but something near 50 different phonemes. Whereas Japanese has a lot of characters (if we include Kanji too) but only like 15 or so phonemes.


Actually those are really easy for me, because each radical has a special meaning (待 has loiter, so wait makes perfect sense, 持 has fingers, which gives me the image of holding something in my hand!). I haven’t learned the other one yet, so I’m not sure on that front.

But! I do mix up 相 and 組 a lot. I’m constantly getting the reading wrong because the sounds are so similar! (そ or そう, and I can never guess it right!) And, because I can’t differentiate which sounds like what, I second guess the meanings and get those wrong half the time as well.

That makes a ton of sense. I tried studying French once and ended up having to drop the subject because it was too frustrating for me to learn. I’m sure it’s difficult for people without dyslexia, too, but it’s one of those languages I think I’ll never be able to read.


侍 means samurai or servant, so it should hopefully be another easy one since it’s pretty clearly person-related :slight_smile:


I know 組 is くみ, but I also had issues with そ and そう, but once I learned 組織 (organization (From group)), I don’t think I’ll forget which one is which.

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