Dyslexia is a problem that affects many people, children and adults alike. In the UK, 1 in 10 people is affected by dyslexia and 375,000 of these are schoolchildren. Many of whom will be facing the prospect of learning a foreign language in the class room.
And it’s not just the general public that are affected; the internet has many pages and resources filled with names of famous people diagnosed with dyslexia and most of them have achieved incredible results in the most diverse fields: Noel Gallagher (singer), Steven Spielberg (director),John Skoyles (neuroscientist and evolutionary psychologist), Richard Branson (entrepreneur) just to name a few.
The days when teachers and general opinion thought that dyslexic students were “lazy” or less intelligent than others has long gone, but what is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a neurological language processing disorder, that is, people have difficulty in reading, writing and spelling. It is now recognised that dyslexia can range from mild to debilitating and the difficulties are different for each individual.
In a school environment it is now recognised that a student with dyslexia is not “just lazy” and that teachers must intervene with different approaches.
This applies especially when it comes to foreign language classes. How can someone who is struggling with his/her own language, learn a different one? Learning a second language for a person with dyslexia is, without doubt, harder than for other students, the process is longer and requires a greater amount of effort. But the goal is not just achievement in learning a foreign language, but more so of feeling accepted and involved in the class activities.
The British Dyslexia Association (http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/) suggests a conscious choice should be made when choosing a language to study. This means that some languages are harder to learn than others for a dyslexic. For example an “opaque” language like French (often offered as the only foreign language in many schools), is more difficult to learn because it does not have a clear letter-sound correspondence, like English.
On the other hand, if you opt for a more “transparent” language, the learning process would be easier. Transparent languages like Italian or Spanish, in fact, have a clear letter-sound correspondence and have fewer irregularities than French. This being said, it should be pointed out that, whatever language is chosen, dyslexics will probably experience difficulties in many areas of second language learning.
What is the solution? Well, there may not be a solution to it, but there are ways to make language lessons more interesting and active than the usual ones. The British Dyslexia Association suggests that the teacher should use a multisensory approach, allowing children to see, touch, hear, and taste the subject matter in the lessons. The use of flash cards and different colours is encouraged to help remember vocabulary, as well as the use of mp3 or audio files to help with pronunciation.
Acting is another very good method of integrating the process of learning a language into the school environment. Acting in a foreign language is fun and will help the students to create a team where everybody is involved and no one is left out.
It is important to keep the students’ motivation high, because learning a language is a difficult and lengthy process. Motivation and enthusiasm are key elements and can make the difference between success and failure, dyslexic or not.