“Readers whose mother tongue is Arabic have more challenges reading in Arabic than native Hebrew or English speakers have reading their native languages, because the two halves of the brain divide the labor differently when the brain processes Arabic than when it processes Hebrew or English. That is the result of a new study conducted by two University of Haifa researchers, Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim of the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities and the Learning Disabilities Department, and Prof. Zohar Eviatar of the Department of Psychology….” (From the opening paragraph – click to read the whole story)
The term ‘more challenges’ in your opening sentence could be very misleading. Nothing in this study ‘counts’ the number of challenges or’weighs’ the challenges it discusses. Nor is there any real discussion of the critical difference between ‘beginning readers’ and ‘proficient readers’. The research conducted seems to have been conducted on already proficient readers. As such the comparisons of cognitive load challenges say nothing about the cognitive load differences that make LEARNING the two orthographies more or less challenging (which is the deeper issue re literacy level comparisons between the two reader populations).
The hemispheric interdependence required for reading Arabic is interesting and clearly some uniquely extra cognitive load is involved, however the challenges involved in LEARNING to read English, and Hebrew to a lesser degree , have more to do with the ‘depth’ of the orthography in terms of the correspondences between letters and sounds.
The challenge of reading in English is primarily the ‘disambiguation’ overhead – the work-time it takes for the brain to solve for the confused correspondence between letters and letter patterns and the word-sound-parts they ‘spell’ and from which the brain can go onto construct correct word recognition. Reading is a code instructed and informed language simulation – a virtual reality. The bottleneck to ‘assembling’ and ‘projecting’ the language simulation stream into consciousness, in English, is the processing overhead of disambiguating the code at the rate of speed necessary for the projection to approximate the temporal profile of our spoken language.
Let’s be careful about ‘comparing challenges’ when it comes to reading. It’s been an instigator of superficial wars for decades. In the US alone 100 million lives suffer the consequences of reading difficulties. The underlying challenge in English is an Apple to Arabic’s Orange.
For more on the brain challenges involved in processing English and Hebrew orthographies, see the Children of the Code Interview with Dr. Zvia Breznitz of the University of Haifa
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