Modern Foreign Languages

Is it possible for someone who is dyslexic to learn a foreign language?

Dyslexia specialists generally agree that dyslexic children should be given an opportunity to learn a foreign language. It is likely that many dyslexic children will enjoy an active learning opportunity which focuses on multisensory language learning and involves a lot of role play, games, singing and other group activities. While it is acknowledged that some dyslexic children are only likely to achieve limited competence in a foreign language, it is important to acknowledge that the opportunity to participate in communicative activities brings additional benefits such as enhanced social development. The language classroom will inevitably broaden students’ horizons as their awareness of other cultures and communities develops.

Dyslexic pupils learning a foreign language have to be aware that it may be a longer process for them than for others. It is also important to consider the suitability of different languages.

Choosing a Modern Foreign Language.

Some schools only offer French as an option. Unfortunately, French, like English, is a relatively opaque language. This means that it does not have clear letter-sound correspondence and has more irregularities than a language such as Spanish or Italian. Opaque languages can be very problematic for dyslexic learners.

Spanish, Italian and German, on the other hand, are much more transparent languages with clear letter-sound correspondence. This facilitates spelling and pronunciation. German has the additional advantage of having a sound system (especially if you are Scottish) that is very close to that of English. German and English also share a large number of words (such as ‘Bank’, ‘Hand’, ‘Park’ and ‘Arm’). 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.

Latin may be a good choice for those dyslexic pupils who anticipate difficulty around learning tospeak a new language as the focus tends to be on reading. Latin pronunciation is consistent and the meaning of words can be deduced by breaking them into morphemes (smallest units of meaning) and analysing them. If they are encouraged to apply this skill to English, they may be able to improve their reading comprehension skills. Latin has a fairly small lexicon and many words may be familiar as a large proportion of technical, scientific and abstract words in English are derived from Latin.

Although transparent languages have obvious advantages over opaque languages, it should be recognised that, whichever language is chosen, dyslexic learners are likely to experience difficulties in a range of areas including speed of information processing, word retrieval and short term memory. Successful language learning is likely to be dependent as much on the teacher’s personality and teaching methods and on the perceived relevance of the language as on the actual choice of language.

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. Disapplication will usually be relevant at Key Stage 4, that is years 10 and 11, when the GCSE course is imminent.

How Study Skills can help Learning a Foreign Language.

Study skills and language learning strategies will both be useful. Study skills are general learning skills such as organisation, planning, comprehending, revision techniques and exam strategies. The school or SENCO will be able to give further advice on this.

Language learning strategies are specific to Modern Foreign Languages, and will help tackle some of the difficulties that may be encountered.

Use flash cards (3 x 5 is a good size) to help memorise vocabulary. It will be useful to add pictures, colours and anything else that aids memory.

Colour-coding grammatical devices will help the student to remember: In Dyslexia and Foreign Language Learning (2003), Elke Schneider and Margaret Crombie suggest using different shades of the same colour to distinguish between masculine and feminine nouns and using other colours 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 practice putting them back together again.

Use multi-sensory learning In order to remember vocabulary: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

If pronunciation is a source of difficulty, ask the teacher to record some of the words onto an MP3 file, mobile phone or tablet so that practice at home is possible. .

If listening is difficult, ask the teacher to record some practice exercises that can be practised at home.

Many people find it easier to remember a word if they associate it with a visual image or picture. Try putting pictures next to the words, and the picture may be recalled faster than the actual word.

The key here is to find out what works for the individual. Then it is possible to explore these methods further.

Dyslexic strengths can also be deployed as an effective strategy to support learning of foreign languages combined with a multi-sensory and a learning-by-doing approach. Please refer to the pdf link: An important dyslexic strength is the ability to see the overall picture. It is a good idea for the teacher to provide an overall plan of the term’s lessons as well as an overview of the day’s lesson. Mind mapping may be a useful tool for doing this. In this way, the student can gain a better understanding of the structure of the learning and its ultimate goals.

Learning a foreign language is hard work, especially for dyslexic learners, and therefore it may take more determination to succeed. But a foreign language is a useful skill, even if it is only to a low level of competence. Employers do look more favourably upon those applicants who can speak a second language.

Is Extra Time allowed in MFP Exams?

Many dyslexic students could have a history of hearing difficulties, which might entitle them to additional arrangements for the listening part of the exam.