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I'm a reading tutor. My new student is exhibiting some unsettling reading behavior.

As an example, we learned the word "woman" two weeks ago. He sometimes reads that word correctly. However, at times, he will see this word and read it as "girl", or "lady".

This seems to me to be an aphasic presentation, but having zero experience or training as a speech pathologist, I'm just guessing.

Yesterday, on a flash card exercise, he read the word "little" as "small". We had not encountered "small" in our lessons.

I am not trained in this field, but it seems to me that this indicates a dysfunction of word processing. He sees the word, knows its meaning, but decodes it in such a way that his response to the word is a synonym, but not the word.

This student is male and in his thirties. He dropped out of school in the tenth grade. His reading level is, I would say, pre-kindergarten. I am intrigued (and yes, troubled, for his sake) by this phenomenon. Perhaps it is a type of dyslexia?

He also has a speech impairment, having trouble with words that start with "y" or "l". From what little contact I've had with his family (siblings and mother), they seem to have similar problems. I just would like to know what this disability is called.

He exhibits other reading disabilities too numerous and detailed to try to describe in this message.

As far as I know, he's never had a brain injury.

Any information would be appreciated.

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Oct 6 '16 at 21:27

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

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    He may be memorizing the words the same way you would memorize an entirely foreign language with a different alphabet. He then recalls the gist, but not the actual word. – jimm101 Oct 6 '16 at 11:12
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    Clearly he's not attempting to utilize the phonetic nature of English spelling to help him "sound out" the words. Likely at least vaguely related to aphasia. You might ask over in Language Learning SE or in Cognitive Sciences SE. – Hot Licks Oct 6 '16 at 12:13
  • Linguistics SE has more people who know about dyslexia. This is a question for linguists, not for language learners. – michau Oct 7 '16 at 11:41
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    @michau: I think there's room for the question here, too. Surely one of the questions the OP has is "How can I effectively teach this student?" which should be clearly on topic here. – Flimzy Oct 7 '16 at 13:27
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This reminded me of several things:

  • Paraphasia can lead to word substitutions, but seems to affect speech rather than reading. See also semantic paraphasia in Psychology Dictionary.
  • A "lexical selection error" and "substitution" (listed in Speech error on Wikipedia) also appear to refer (primarily?) to speech.
  • Semantic dyslexia: 'Those who suffer from semantic dyslexia are unable to properly attach words to their meanings in reading and/or speech. When confronted with the word "diamond", they may understand it as "sapphire", "shiny" or "diamonds"; when asking for a bus ticket, they may ask for some paper or simply "a thing".' (Quoted from Wikipedia.)
  • Semantic paralexia. See e.g. "Recognition of word associates in semantic paralexia" by N. Kapur (1980).

The University of Michigan's "Dyslexia Help" lists a number of Tests for Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities.

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