Students with Disabilities: Yes, Foreign Language Instruction Is Important!

By Kleinert, Harold L.; Cloyd, Elizabeth et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2007 | Go to article overview

Students with Disabilities: Yes, Foreign Language Instruction Is Important!


Kleinert, Harold L., Cloyd, Elizabeth, Rego, Molly, Gibson, Jina, Teaching Exceptional Children


One Teacher's Story

"Señorita Rego! Señorita Rego! Hola!"

"Hola Andrew, ¿Cómo estás?

"Bien, 'cause I got to spend the night with Josh this weekend! Are we having Spanish class today?"

"No, Andrew, manana. Hoy es miércoles. I see you on jueves." I start to walk away when Andrew says, "Wait, wait, Senorita Rego, how do you say 'have a good day' in Spanish?"

Andrew was often the first student I saw each day as I walked in the doors of the elementary school where I taught Spanish. His mom would drop him off early in the office where he would wait until the school day started. Andrew loved to greet me in Spanish with a big smile on his face and hold the door open for me. Andrew was indeed one of my most eager students. He did not learn the vocabulary as quickly as some of the other third graders, but he was excited to be in Spanish class and excited to use whatever he did learn. Andrew is also a student with autism.

As the example illustrates, it is possible for students with disabilities to be included successfully in foreign language instruction, even from a young age. This article shows why such instruction can be important and how it can be done effectively.

Access for All to flftte General Curriculum

With the provisions of both the individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 1997 and 2004], educators must ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate and progress in the general curriculum. These requirements are further bolstered by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; all students between Grades 3 and 8 are to be tested annually in math and language arts (and in science in selected grades beginning in 2007), and students are to be tested in these subjects at least once during their high school years as well. Clearly, teachers of students with disabilities are devoting considerable effort to how their students with disabilities can be included in the general curriculum and achieve at high levels (clayton, Burdge, Denham, Kleinen, & Kearns, 2006; Spooner & Browder, 2006).

Yet one area of academic content instruction that has received little attention for students with disabilities is that of foreign languages. In this article, the authors

* Present a rationale for why foreign language instruction can be valuable for all students.

* Provide strategies for successful inclusion of students with disabilities in foreign language classes, with examples of students with mild and significant cognitive disabilities.

Why Teach Foreign Languages-We Can't Teach Our Students Everything Else They Need To Know!

"Language and communication are at the heart of the human experience." This opening statement of the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (1999, p. 1) describes the basic truth that we cannot survive without language. It is our lifeline to others-a powerful bridge that connects us to other people. Our effectiveness in communicating with others, however, is inevitably limited by our ability to understand one another, and this is where second language learning becomes so valuable for all students.

There are several compelling reasons for the inclusion of foreign language instruction for students with disabilities as part of their participation in the general curriculum. First, for secondary level students, foreign language instruction is frequently required for graduation (Education Commission of the States, 2006) and for college admittance (College Admissions, 2006). This is especially critical as more and more students with disabilities apply and are accepted for college and postsecondary education. For example, from just 1988 to 1998, the number of students with learning disabilities admitted to college tripled (HEATH Resource Center, 2000). Data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, & Levine, 2005) indicate that this trend is continuing for students with disabilities in nearly all special education categories. …

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