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Teaching a foreign language to students with dyslexia

Karla Franken

Legacy Member
Aug 14, 2016
Hi, everyone!

I don't know if any of you have any experience with students that have problems with dyslexia and teaching them foreign languages. I have recently acquired one student (he is 32 years old) and he wants to learn English. However, he has really bad dyslexia. It takes ages for him to learn very simple phrases and constructions, and he forgets words very easily. I am only successful when he can connect something from his mother tongue to the lesson, but these successes are few and far in between.

Just to be clear, I have researched a great deal about students with dyslexia. From what I understand, children with dyslexia have problems with phonological processing of their language, and this leads to the conclusion that they will have the same problems when learning a foreign language. What I have found is that the orthography of a language might make it easier to learn the target language. Those languages that have a transparent orthography (so that the phoneme-grapheme ratio is the same, i.e. the sound "ah" is written the same way as it is spoken, that is, by writing down "ah") are simpler and less problematic students with dyslexia. Since English is not logical (the word "enough" is spelled "enough" and not the way it is pronounced, i.e."eenaf"), my student is having a harder time learning how to spell English words correctly.

Also, if the target language is orthographically and phonologically more like the first language, the student will have a much easier time. They did a study in Scotland and they showed that the children had an easier time learning Spanish than French because of the similar syntax and semantics between English and Spanish. My student's first language is Slavic and it is way more different than English. This is also a point of contention in planning his lessons.

Children with dyslexia need more time to process information and they need constant revision of the material until it becomes practically automatic. They also need smaller doses of material, as well. I have tried to implement all of this into the lessons, but I'm willing to make some extra changes as well.

If anyone has any experience with these types of situations they are more than welcome to chime in.

Cheers, Karla
To be perfectly honest, the real issue is the lack in training courses available for EFL Teachers to deal with these issues. I've been interested in specialising in EFL for special needs for a very long time, but have never been anywhere near a country where a course like that was being held.

Also, neither Cambridge nor Trinity college (i.e. the gatekeepers of the most globally recognised EFL qualifications) are even considering developing a course for EFL teachers who teach individuals with special needs.

I'm really sorry I can't be of much help, but the fact that so many teachers end up in situations like this just really ticks me off.