Dyslexia and Homonyms: How to learn?

Learners with dyslexia suffer from difficulties in reading, writing, and spelling. They are often unable to recognize letters and words accurately, write simple three-letter words, differentiate between similarly structured letters, and read out loud or read at all. 

When affected learners are exposed to slightly complex aspects of grammar such as homophones, homographs, and homonyms, it can create a significant amount of confusion for them. In these concepts, ‘homo; means ‘same’. Understanding these concepts can be complicated for those with dyslexia as their major symptoms include difficulties with recognition and differentiation. 

With that, it will be quite tough to differentiate between words that have the same spelling and different meanings (Homographs), or words that sound the same but mean different (homographs). This may create ambiguity and make their existing difficulties even harder. 

Homophones vs homographs vs homonyms: Difference explored

Homonyms are collective word that is used for the class of words that either has the same spelling and different meaning or pronunciation, or those that have different spelling but the same pronunciation with different meanings. They can be both- different in spelling or similar in spelling, but same in pronunciation. 

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but differ in their meaning or pronunciation. Homo means ‘same’ and graph means ‘writing’. For example, wind (airflow) and wind (to conclude). These words look identical, and have the same spelling but are pronounced differently which can be used as an indication of their corresponding different meanings. 

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but are different in meaning. As we know, ‘homo’ means ‘same’, ‘phone’ means ‘sound’ or ‘voice’. For example, Flower (rose) and Flour (wheat). Or Sea (water body) and See (to look). These words sound the same but are different when one writes them in spelling, which is the cue of their associated meanings which are different. 

The key difference lies in the suffix (graph, phone) of these words which attach a different meaning to the same prefix (homo).

Tough nut to crack for dyslexics?

Teaching homophones, homographs, and homonyms to children in their early years is itself a difficult task because there is a lot of ambiguity created by the similarities. How two words that are spelled the same (homographs) can have different meanings (Example: fair- justice or fair- light skin tone) can be baffling for children and leave them confused. Now, if this is perplexing for children to learn generally, it would be taxing for those children who have underlying learning difficulties. 

Research has suggested that children with dyslexia do lack adequate knowledge of actual word spellings and perform relatively lower as compared to other students of the same age group. One of the major symptoms being the inability to spell and write even the simplest word correctly, homographs which are words with the same spellings and different meanings, can overwhelm affected learners and confuse them even more. 

Recognition between similar letters such as ‘p’ and ‘q’ or ‘b’ and ‘d’ is a difficult task for affected learners. If words like a lie (not the truth) and lie (to lie down on a surface) are used in the same sentence, it will be quite perplexing for the child to understand it. 

Phonological processing

Studies have found that there is a primary deficit in phonological processing of speech in children suffering from dyslexia. This indicated that they lack the ability to swiftly and correctly hear, store, recall, and make different speech sounds. It is also present while reading because as a core symptom, children read slowly and there is so much energy focused on trying to just read words that they are unable to comprehend what they are reading. When affected learners are exposed to words with similar pronunciation and different meanings or spelling (homophones), it can mystify their concepts and leave them baffled. For example, if they are told to see (look) at a shark jumping in the sea (water body), they might find themselves in a tough spot to comprehend the meaning of these words that sound exactly the same. 

It has been noted that learners with dyslexia often produce distortions of words and spell them incorrectly even if they are quite basic and simple. They include inappropriate usage of words in between sentences and often deal with understanding the relevance of context. Including words with different spellings and the same meanings, or same spellings and different meanings can complicate their learning to a great extent when they already struggle with basic spellings and words. 

Strategies to make these concepts easier

As difficult as it may be, there can always be room for improvement. Computerized Remediation has proved to be a good method to improve the concept of homophones. In addition to that, Reading Training has also turned out to improve overall reading and writing skills. 

Teaching spellings is vital to building a foundation for children to further learn the concepts of homophones, homographs, and homonyms. This can be approached in a way where spellings are categorized in groups such as “ai” and “eigh” and can be taught in an order that will make a clear distinction between the two. Using effective spelling strategies can turn out to be a successful tool for distinguishing between a word and a homophonic word, and between two homonyms. 

spelling strategies

Teaching in Context is another strategy to clear the idea of homophones, homonyms, and homographs. This can be done by the use of sentences or stories. While asking the children to read a short story, preferably the one in which the use of homophones, homographs, and homonyms is prominent, these words can be picked. The children can be asked the meaning of those particular words in the context of the story. For example, the sea shore is so beautiful is the sentence that is picked. Children can be asked what the word ‘sea’ mean here. After that, another sentence containing a corresponding homophone such as ‘Jake is seeing the turtle so carefully’ can be chalked out and children can be asked what the word ‘see’ mean here. 

Making teaching more visually stimulating will make the process of learning easier and even aid memory. Using flashcards with images and clip art can help children gauge the concept better. For example, for words like bare and bear, a drawing of a boy walking barefoot and a drawing of a bear can be used respectively. This will demystify the complications of the same pronunciation and different spellings for children. 

Playful and engaging activities can be incorporated into the classroom to teach the same in a fun way that makes it easier for children to learn and retain. 

In addition to this, certain eye candy workbooks can be used to teach homophones, homonyms, and homographs in a fun way. They will help in practice which will reinforce the concepts and meanings regularly. 


Dyslexia is the inability to read, write or spell words correctly. Children with dyslexia already suffer from difficulties comprehending and spelling simple words appropriately. Given this, being exposed to homophones, homonyms and homographs make learning it more complicated for them. When they come across words that are similarly spelled but have different meanings, they would be perplexed.

As discussed, research suggests that these concepts can be quite perplexing for children with dyslexia due to their primary deficits in reading, lack of adequate knowledge of spellings, and tendency to produce distorted words. However, certain strategies and consistent practice improve their learning and aid their understanding of these concepts and help them use concepts like homonyms, homophones, and homographs. 

Leave a Comment