Dyslexia and Foreign Language Learning

By Liszka, Sarah Ann | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Dyslexia and Foreign Language Learning


Liszka, Sarah Ann, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

This case study considers inclusive practice in learning and teaching in the context of session design and delivery in the foreign language classroom, focusing on a dyslexic student. It suggests that in a subject whose core intended learning outcomes are based on oral, aural and written language skills, achievement by dyslexic students will be facilitated by a well-planned session that is multi-sensory and incorporates adjustments to the benefit of every student, whilst taking into account issues of sensitivity and discretion.

Introduction

Learning a foreign language (FL) is a complex process, requiring the interaction and application of analytical skills in order to understand the formal linguistic structures of the FL, meta-cognitive skills to enable self-correction/error analysis, and memory. A fourth aspect, which is inextricably linked to these skills, is having the confidence to use the FL both productively (speaking and writing) and receptively (listening and reading). Successful learning can be hindered by difficulties arising in one or more of the areas highlighted above for any FL student. However, the potential for such problems arising in the FL learning context is greatly exacerbated for students with a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) compared to their non-SpLD peers (Barr, 1993). This case study focuses specifically on the SpLD of dyslexia and its implications for FL learning and teaching. It considers the challenges that both the learner and the teacher face in order to achieve effective learning outcomes, within the scope of session design, on the assumption that for dyslexics problems arise which are directly attributable to one or more deficiencies in the processing of native linguistic knowledge at the levels of syntax, semantics and especially phonology (Ganschow and Sparks, 1995).

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a condition that is neurological in origin, which is categorically non-attributable to factors such as socio-economic background, a lack of motivation to learn or IQ level (Ellis 1993, The Dyslexia Handbook 2002: 67). Research using brain-imaging techniques indicates that physiological differences in the brains of dyslexics underlie the differences in cognitive functioning and development (Paulesu et al., 1996; Stein et al., 2001). At the cognitive level, deficits may occur in visual processing, linguistic processes (such as phonological representation) and memory (Everatt, McCorquodale et al., 1999). Focusing on problems with phonological awareness, difficulties often appear at the pre-reading stage of development (Frith & Frith, 1996), particularly in discerning discrete differences in phonemes, characterised by the inability to produce or recognise rhymes (Paulesu et al., 1996). Other manifestations include problems with sound blending and segmentation, which is necessary for breaking words down into constituent phonemes (E.g. Everatt, McNamara et al., 1999; Snowling, 1995) and is crucial for the process of learning to read orthographically, i.e. by having the ability to associate phonemes with alphabetic letters. In terms of literacy, the symptoms of dyslexia given by The British Dyslexia Association (2004) include the reversal of single numbers or letters within a word, the omission or insertion of words, and losing track of the text when reading. However, the range of potential difficulties a dyslexic student faces goes beyond problems with literacy per se; they may also have difficulties with comprehension (listening, reading and note-taking), difficulties with organisation, classification and categorisation and show a lack of fluency, often resulting in a reluctance to talk in large groups (ibid).

Case Study: Informant's Details

DG, the informant in this case study, is a highly motivated mature student, who is a native speaker of Spanish, living and working in France and enrolled on an English course, testing at the upper-intermediate level at the point of entry.

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