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Teaching for Neurodiversity

Modern foreign languages

Dyslexia specialists generally agree that dyslexic children should be given the opportunity to learn a foreign language. Many dyslexic children will enjoy the multi-sensory methods of language teaching which involve role play, games, singing and other group activities. Learning a foreign language broadens pupils’ horizons as their awareness of other cultures develops.

It may take longer for dyslexic learners to learn a foreign language and they may experience similar difficulties as they did when learning to read and write in English. They may also experience difficulties in areas such as speed of information processing, word retrieval and short term memory.

Choosing a language

Some languages may be more problematic for dyslexic learners. Languages such as French and English are less transparent than other languages. This means that the sounds of the language don’t match clearly to letter combinations and there are more irregularities in pronunciation and spelling.

Spanish, Italian and German, on the other hand, are much more transparent languages with clear letter-sound correspondence. This makes reading and spelling easier. German has the additional advantage of having a sound system that is very close to English and the two languages share a large number of words. However, dyslexic learners may struggle with other aspects of German such as cases, gender of nouns, multiple consonant combinations, long multisyllabic words and unfamiliar word order.

Does a dyslexic child have to learn a foreign language?

Even though learning a foreign language is part of the National Curriculum, it is possible to ‘disapply’ where a pupil has significant dyslexic difficulties and is struggling with their own language. This means that the student does not have to take classes or exams in that subject.

Strategies to help learning a foreign language

The following strategies may help with learning a foreign language:

  • Get to know the sounds of the language – download some recordings from (a free audio database of language). Listen to the sounds and practise saying them. Practice listening to and saying pairs of words where only one sound is different.
  • Use flash cards to help memorise vocabulary. Add pictures, colour and draw shapes around words to associate a word with a visual image or colour.
  • Use colour to code grammar, e.g. different colours to distinguish between masculine and feminine nouns or to represent different parts of speech.
  • To help with remembering word order, put the words onto card, cut up the card into separate phrases, mix them up and practise putting them back together again.
  • Use multi-sensory learning in order to remember vocabulary: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
  • Use Quizlet to memorise words and phrases.
  • To improve pronunciation record sentences. You can edit it and re-record as many times as you like.
  • Make videos or create animations in the foreign language.