The Linguist

The Linguist 56,4 – August/September 2017

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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18 The Linguist Vol/56 No/4 2017 FEATURES Amanda Barton explores the needs of language learners with dyslexia I t is estimated that as many as one in ten people in the UK have dyslexia. The impact of dyslexia on learning a foreign language can be profound; the difficulties dyslexics experience in reading and writing their first language are likely to carry over to learning a foreign language. Many languages students face significant challenges, underperform or, if they are still at school, find themselves deprived of the opportunity to learn a language altogether. Among foreign language teachers there is often an insufficient understanding of the nature of dyslexia and the difficulties it causes in language learning. Although teaching resources are available, they are generally aimed at psychologists, native language teachers or early years teachers. A free online course was recently made available to address this need for training, providing materials and guidance for modern foreign languages (MFL) teachers. Led by a team at Lancaster University in cooperation with Futurelearn, it sets out to familiarise teachers with the relevant strategies and methods to further the language-learning processes of dyslexic students. To find out more, I joined the course, which is based on award-winning materials produced for the 'Dyslexia for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language' (Dystefl) project ( What is dyslexia? The term 'dyslexia' was coined by a German ophthalmologist, Rudolf Berlin, in 1884 to describe having difficulty with words, especially in the written form, and the terms 'word blindness' and 'dyslexia' were used interchangeably until the 1960s. Dyslexia is often inherited and originates in neurobiology; studies of the brains of individuals of all ages show structural differences between people with and without dyslexia. While it is not a condition that children can grow out of, dyslexics can be taught to improve their reading skills with age and practice. Early diagnosis facilitates this. There are a number of misconceptions, including that dyslexia is more prevalent among boys than girls. A common misunderstanding is that dyslexics reverse letters (e.g, reading b as d) and words (such as 'was' and 'saw'). While this tendency might be an indicator of an underlying reading problem, it is equally common for children without dyslexia to write and read letters and words backwards in the early stages of learning. Dyslexia is characterised by difficulty in distinguishing between individual sounds, and in making associations between how a word is written and how it is said. Spelling words correctly, therefore, poses challenges for dyslexics. It can also include poor memorisation and a short concentration span, which can lead to problems not just with reading but also with processing spoken language. There are differing degrees of dyslexia and Judit Kormos, Professor in Second Language Acquisition at Lancaster University and the course leader, makes clear that it is not a disability but a specific learning difference (SLD). Dyslexia and different languages Dyslexia is not restricted to certain languages. It manifests in all cultures and languages that have a written form, including those that do not use an alphabetic script. Some languages may be more suitable than others for dyslexic students. For native English speakers, languages which are phonologically similar to English may be slightly easier. The German sound system is much closer to English, especially for Scots. French does not have a clear letter-sound correspondence so it is more difficult, while German, Spanish and Italian are much more transparent. For non-native speakers of English who are dyslexic, accurate decoding of unknown words in English is particularly challenging. In languages such as German or Italian, which have consistent spelling systems, the problem appears more with fluent reading. While readers may be able to decode words accurately, their reading speed may be slow. Impact on language learning The problems students experience in their first language are likely to be experienced in their second. These include mixing up letters, misreading words, reading more Dealing with word blin © SHUTTERSTOCK

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