Is Dyslexia a barrier to MFL?

When I originally began to work in SEN, we would often withdraw students with dyslexia/literacy difficulties from French or Spanish for small group or one-to-one interventions.  Our stock answer was that they were struggling learning one language let alone asking them to learn another one.   Yes, I know that statement is wrong on so many levels. 

Why did I presume this? Is there any evidence to back this up?

As my career has progressed, my knowledge has increased I have become more and more aware of Dyslexia across the languages.  I recently spoke at an EAL conference in Romania (cold but fabulous) and when conducting research for this I learned so much about Dyslexia and EAL it made me question why we presume dyslexic students can’t learn another language. Or why we presume it would be detrimental to them.

Dyslexia is most prevalent in the English language. This is because English is a nightmare language to learn, and I mean a nightmare.  It has 41 phenomes (blends of letters) but 21,000 ways of pronouncing them!  Other languages, such a German, Spanish and Hungarian are straight forward and simple to learn so doesn’t cause as many issues for people with dyslexia.

I believe Spelling Bee Competitions are only popular in English language countries because spelling in  all other countries isstraight forward and everyone can do it. It’s just English that is completely nuts and spelled differently to how it sounds. 

What do you think though? Let’s walk through the forest with the boughs of the branches hanging down and cough on the way.  When I got home I wound the bandage around my wound.

Let’s address another part of my initial sentence that is way wrong. People with dyslexia don’t have trouble learning the English language. They can speak it just fine! They have trouble reading it, or processing what they’ve read, or writing it etc.

So, if other languages are easier then why shouldn’t people with dyslexia learn them?  Why shouldn’t we give them the opportunity to learn a language that is actually easier for them to de-code.  How good would that feel, being able to read/speak another language that their dyslexia doesn’t affect so much.

Also, do they need to pass an exam in it?  Why do we only allow students to study subjects when we believe they can pass an exam in it? I feel another blog topic right there.   Why can’t they do the subject and receive the same levels of support they receive (or should receive) in their other lessons?

There is assistive technology out there to help people with Dyslexia read foreign languages.  And, learning something to improve self-esteem and cognitive skills seems a good enough reason to me.

Research suggests that bilingual speakers are more likely to think outside the box (something we know people without dyslexia excel at), be better problem solvers and have more social skills. There is also evidence that being bilingual can fight dementia.  So why are we denying students with dyslexia this opportunity??

Maybe you aren’t limiting choices or making these assumptions. If that’s the case big well done for that and give yourself a massive pat on the back.  My journey to learn this took a lot longer. I apologise to all those students I restricted. I was wrong. I should have spoken to each student and involved them in the process and allowed them choice.  Educators and parents out there, don’t make the same mistake.  Merci for listening (fluent French as you can see).

Why don’t we use more Assistive Technology in Education?

Technology.  It’s great.  It’s huge.  Even at my age (don’t ask) I feel naked if I don’t have my mobile with me.  This technology has fantastic benefits for SEN students and this is called Assistive Technology.  Helping SEND people live their life independently and breaking down barriers. 

How much do we use in schools?  In my experience, not a huge amount. Why not? “Cost and small budgets” I hear you shout at me. I know school budgets are limited, but is it actually all down to cost?  Think about the cost of human support for SEN students – this isn’t cheap. Think about how much schools spend on improving results for students by employing consultants or paying for advice from specialist – again this is isn’t cheap.  Schools are now providing whole year groups with tablets (computer things like iPads) and laptops – not cheap.

So if it isn’t all cost, what is it?

There are two main reasons (apart from cost) in my view.  We are old.  There it is.  People in education are old. In technology terms/youth term we are old.  We are behind the times. I’ve only just got the hang of my new television remote control and we’ve had it six months.  I even get irritated when the supermarket moves things around so learning new technology doesn’t come easily to me. 

Learning new technology is hard.  I remember the days being excited I programmed the BBC microcomputer to play the first line of happy birthday (in the ten minutes I had on it).  Doing stuff like that doesn’t excite me anymore.  It I can’t use it straight away I am not really interested.  And this takes me to the second reason.  In education time is massively limited with many pressures so learning new technology is way down the list.

One of the companies I work for is Scanning Pens Ltd. They make assistive technology to help students turn text into speech.  During this time I’ve heard educators say that they bought one but they haven’t had time to get it out of the box and give to students to use. 

So there we are.  I believecost, techno-phobe and time (and we are old) are the main barriers to Assistive Technology being used more in schools.

So what can we do?  Well cost can be an issue – however, assistive technology comes with high rewards. Independent learning cuts down on the need for TAs/LSAs, less time requiring higher levels of support by the teacher and an evidenced increase in performance surely makes assistive technology cost effective?

So, techno-phobe educators and time limitations. Well give it to the students to investigate andwork out. Ask them to get involved.  Who do we ask if we can’t use technology – I ask my kids! They have the capabilities and the desire.  Also, look on You Tube, there are instructions videos on everything there!

So, go out there, see what’s around. There’s some amazing stuff that will give SEN students an independence for learning that is wonderfully liberating and will increase results.  Independent learning also means less time needed from us so we can go and work out what on earth chatbots and augmented reality are (I googled the next big thing). Me, I’m gonna have lessons in how to put subtitles on my telly.