Language Approaches that Work
Despite concerns that foreign language instruction will be a barrier for learners with dyslexia, there are many students who have successfully gained fluency in multiple languages. Individuals with dyslexia are usually able to acquire basic conversational abilities in a new language within a reasonable time after moving to countries where the language is spoken. The problems experienced with classroom learning often simply reflects the failure of traditional approaches to teaching foreign languages, which often rely heavily on rote memorization or listening and repetition of short phrases.
One intriguing study showed that English-speaking children with dyslexia were able to rapidly learn and remember words they were taught using Japanese Kanji, a pictographic alphabet. (In the study, the symbols were used to represent English words). When learning Japanese, students usually are taught the phonetic Kana system first, but students with dyslexia often find that system is also easy because of its phonetic consistency.
The degree of difficulty with learning to read and write in the new language seems to be determined mostly by the level of complexity of the written system. Students with dyslexia do not seem to report particular difficulty with learning a new alphabet, if it represents a phonetically consistent system. On the other hand, numerous studies show that English is a particularly difficult language for people with dyslexia; so your child may be pleasantly surprised to discover the logic inherent in a different language.
Total Physical Response Method
Total Physical Response (TPR) is a method for foreign language learning that attempts to replicate the natural way that small children learn to speak and understand language. It incorporates physical movement and gestures in an immersion environment; the teacher speaks only the language being taught, while using gestures to help convey meaning. In the beginning, the teacher gives commands that require some sort of movement from the students. For example, a Spanish teacher might say
With TPR, students are not required to speak the language until they do so spontaneously; usually this happens after several weeks or a few months in the classroom. Written forms of the language are not introduced until students have developed a good oral understanding. This method was originally developed by a university professor, James Asher, who was interested in studying brain-based processes of learning; thus it is has been extensively researched. Dr. Asher believes that all learning is enhanced by methods that integrate left and right brain hemispheric processing. He has not considered or researched the application of his approach to dyslexia, but his approach is based on similar concepts that were at the heart of Samuel Orton's reasoning in favor of developing multisensory methods to teach reading and writing. In any case, the emphasis is on learning simple words and phrases before gradually moving on to more complex sentence structures. With reading and writing deferred until after the student has achieved a working knowledge of the language, the TPR classroom is a positive environment for a student with dyslexia. This method is widely known among foreign language teachers; many incorporate some TPR ideas even if they do not rely solely on the method.
Language Immersion Opportunities
One good way for a teenager to gain proficiency in a foreign language is to participate in a summer language camp, or summer foreign exchange program. Language camps or villages provide an immersion experience where there is intense instruction as well as around-the-clock exposure to the language. With a summer foreign exchange program, your teen will usually live in the home of a host family, with planned activities which may include attending language classes, sightseeing, or participating in volunteer work. Most summer exchanges are from 4 to 6 weeks. These programs are a good way for your teen to get added experience in a language, particularly if he has a strong motivation to learn; they also provide a wonderful cross-cultural experience and opportunity to travel.
Your teen will almost certainly become fluent in a foreign language if she chooses to participate in a longer foreign exchange program, for a semester or a school year. In these programs, students attend a high school in their host country, living with and sharing activities with a host family. Some of the more well-established programs that place teenagers in homes around the globe are AFS International, YFU (Youth for Understanding), and Rotary Youth Exchange. Spending a semester or year abroad is a major undertaking for teenager, and is only appropriate for kids who are independent-natured and have a love of adventure.
Generally, the academic expectations for high school exchange students are not high, as their hosts are well aware of the difficulties of learning a new language. Thus, your teen will probably not have to worry about academic performance in the foreign high school; generally he will not be placed in difficult courses or have his work graded. On the other hand, your child may miss important coursework at home, leading him to fall further behind his peers. It can also be very difficult to coordinate time to study abroad with fulfilling high school graduation requirements. Many students choose to spend their year abroad after finishing high school at home, as part of a “gap” year between high school and college.
Language Learning Software
There are a number of computer programs designed to assist students in learning foreign languages. One of the most widely respected is the Rosetta Stone system, which is used in many schools and is also available for home use. This system is available for about twenty-five different languages and is highly interactive; the student listens to a set of foreign words and phrases while looking at pictures depicting their meaning. Then, when the student feels ready, there is a computer quiz, during which the student must choose the picture that matches the word from a set of four illustrations. As the student's proficiency increases, the level of difficulty rises. The student can opt to look at written words as well as to listen to the language, and the software also affords speaking practice using a microphone and voice recognition software. The computer game-like setting allows the student to control the pace; in most cases, the student rapidly gains a strong vocabulary.