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Teaching English to Dyslexic Learners

This page deals with the learning difficulty known as dyslexia. You will find a brief description of the learning difficulty as well as related signs and symptoms. The page is written specifically for English language teachers, but may be of interest to educators and parents in general. See also: Dyslexia Interview
dyslexia (noun): disorder involving difficulty in reading or interpreting words, letters and other symbols, but not affecting general intelligence. DERIVATIVES: dyslexic‚ÄĒadjective

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia [dis-lek-see-uh] is a language processing disorder that some people are born with. The name of the condition comes from the Greek words “dys” meaning¬†difficulty¬†and “lexia” meaning¬†language. Current research suggests that dyslexia is an inherited condition resulting from a physical difference in the brain.¬†It presents itself in many degrees, ranging from mild to severe. Dyslexia is not simply a reading disorder. Dyslexics¬†may¬†have special needs in all areas of language, including spelling, writing, reading, pronunciation, and other disciplines involving sequencing, such as mathematics.

A dyslexic person’s brain has difficulty recognizing symbols and patterns and forming them into language. Some people think dyslexia causes people to read backwards. This is a myth. Reversing letters or numbers is a normal part of development, and on its own is not a warning sign of dyslexia in the early years. However, if letter reversal does not go away after a few years of handwriting practice, it may be a sign of dyslexia. People with dyslexia have trouble separating and grouping the sounds that letters make. They can learn to read, write and spell, but they process language differently than the average person, and thus require different training.¬†Studies suggest that dyslexia is not caused by vision problems, and that people with dyslexia typically have normal or above average intelligence.

Dyslexia in the Classroom

In a classroom, dyslexics may appear to be easily distracted, and because of this are often labelled as lazy by teachers and parents who do not understand the learning difficulty. This leads to self-esteem problems, which can be the most debilitating longterm effect of dyslexia. Many kids with dyslexia may also suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD). Teachers who understand dyslexia are able to use different strategies to help learners succeed. Since the classroom is often the most stressful environment for a dyslexic person, a knowledgable and compassionate teacher can help prevent depression and behavioural problems.

Dyslexia in Language Learners

Learning a new language can be very difficult for people with dyslexia, especially in the written form. It can be very stressful for these language learners to be introduced to new patterns, sounds and symbols when they already struggle with reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary acquisition in their native language. Memorization is also difficult for dyslexics. This does not mean that dyslexics should avoid learning additional languages altogether. It does mean that dyslexics with a more severe condition will have to be highly motivated and confident to succeed in learning a new language. Dyslexics will likely find that learning to speak another language is much easier than learning to read and write a foreign language. Some colleges and universities waive the foreign language requirement for students with dyslexia. A sign-language credit is a viable alternative. In elementary and high school, dyslexics may not have to take the same standardized exams as their peers.

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Dyslexia

Dyslexia can be diagnosed in young children, but is often not diagnosed until at least the age of seven or eight. Some people go through their whole lives not knowing that they are dyslexic. A student who displays a number of the following warning signs may be a candidate for testing:

Strategies for Teachers of Dyslexic Learners

There are many strategies that teachers can adopt to help dyslexics. A good foreign language teacher can even help a dyslexic person become a stronger reader and writer in his or her own language. Dyslexics learn better by doing than by reading. This is why dyslexic learners succeed better in an immersion environment, such as living in a foreign country, or watching English films and videos. A multi-sensory approach has been proven to work well in teaching language to dyslexics. Since this approach also works well with learners who do not have learning disabilities, it can be used in any classroom.

Here are a few suggestions for teachers who have a dyslexic learner in the classroom:

Some Famous Dyslexics

The following famous people were diagnosed with dyslexia or are believed to have suffered from it:

Useful links:

Dyslexia Interview

Dyslexic students (foreign language learners) talk about their experiences

Written for EnglishClub by: Tara Benwell