Language Learning and Dyslexia

Elizabeth Gould

Dyslexia is treated as a ‘learning disability’, but is it really a disability to learn in a different way to other people? Despite initial difficulties dyslexia can be seen as a self-compensating disorder, dyslexics often unleash hidden talents as they find ways to go around small cognitive challenges. Some of the greatest thinkers and innovators of the modern age were/are dyslexic, for example Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, and Pablo Picasso. Successful dyslexics are notable for their creativity, determination, and originality.

Although it has no relationship to intelligence dyslexia often causes difficulties in reading, writing, math, and memory. With focus on reading and writing traditional language learning methods can leave dyslexics feeling despondent. Regardless of these obstacles, dyslexics can become excellent communicators in a second language.  I will discuss some tricks that could make it easier for dyslexics learning a new language.

Once you have learnt the basic alphabet and sound of the new language, practice sounding out new words as you read them at home. If you are struggling to learn the pronunciation of the letters try putting them into a song or drawing pictures of what you think each letter sounds like. When you are writing a homework assignment say it as you write, this sounds simple but it really helps.

Maybe it is joke against dyslexics but the word ‘dyslexia’ is particularly hard to spell. When learning a language there is often a disparity between the pronunciation and spelling of words (particularly in English), this often makes it difficult for students to unite their oral and literacy skills in a new language. Flashcards with pictures are particularly helpful for all language learners; they put the words in context and help you to visualize the word next to an image of what it is making memorization easier. Try to make your own creative flashcards that incorporate non-phonetic spelling in a memorable way.

Dyslexics sometimes have problems focusing on large pieces of writing, the words seem to jump around and letters become unclear. Using a ruler to maintain focus on the line of text can help, but it isn’t always enough. It has been proven by scientist that using coloured paper, or putting a translucent coloured plastic film over text can significantly improve concentration, and reading speed. If these are not available it is a good idea to use highlighter pens to mark out important or challenging words.

Typing out writing assignments rather than writing them by hand can be really helpful. This gives you the opportunity to make as many corrections as you wish. However be careful with spell check as it often makes mistakes, and changes your words to similar sounding but incorrect words.

After all that hard studying you will find that context is everything. One of the best things you can do when learning a language is practice with native speakers. Go to a place where people actually speak the language on a daily basis. It is all about communication so you really need to just get out there and speak to people. If you don´t have the opportunity to speak to native speakers then watch movies in the language you are learning!

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Learning another language is like learning to ride a bicycle, if you are too scared to fall over you will never get on that bicycle and you will never learn. Most native speakers will find your mistakes endearing and you will have funny stories to tell people later.

If you are dyslexic and you want to learn a language there is nothing standing in your way: Be confident, use your creativity, and don´t give up!



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Language Learning and Dyslexia / difficulties dyslexia / cognitive challenges / new language / speak the language / native speakers