Aug 022013

If a child has dyslexia or any other learning disability, learning foreign language can seem like an impossibility!  Let me share with you our tricks and tips.

First, we’ll talk about foreign language selection, then we’ll discuss the best learning approach and which homeschooling curriculum works well for learning a foreign language when your child has a learning disability like dyslexia.

Choosing the Foreign Language

In all of my research, the two most highly recommended choices for children with dyslexia are American Sign Language and Latin.  I would venture to guess, the same languages would be best for children with other specific learning disabilities. “Foreign Language Learning and Learning Disabilities” says, “If your listening/speaking skills are strong, you may want to try Spanish since the regularity of the sound system in Spanish sometimes helps. If you are stronger at reading, you may want to try Latin, which typically does not involve as much oral communication and often helps build vocabulary in English.” ASL is a good choice because it is a visual language, so ASL is easier for anyone with a reading, language, or hearing-based disability.

Latin is a good foreign language choice for a child with learning disabilities because many of the roots relate very closely to roots in the English language.  Learning Latin is not like learning an entirely new language.  Learning the Latin roots, in particular, can help enhance a child’s ability to “pick out pieces” of large words, thereby increasing decoding to a degree, and learning Latin certainly enhances vocabulary skills.  The one caution with choosing Latin is that some colleges require a modern, spoken language and Latin frequently does not qualify as a spoken language.

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American Sign Language is a visual, hands-on language without the written component. This makes ASL ideal for children with dyslexia or dysgraphia. With ASL, not every college, nor state, recognizes ASL as a foreign language. You will have to research to see if American Sign Language is a viable foreign language choice for your child and his college/educational path.

If you want an awesome and cost effective (free) ASL course, check out ASL University.  ASLU is an online American Sign Language curriculum resource center which provides free self-study materials, lessons, and information, as well as fee-based instructor-guided courses. Many instructors use the ASLU lessons as a free “textbook” for their local ASL classes. ASLU was founded by Dr. William G. Vicars, (a.k.a. “Dr. Bill”), who is currently the program director, lead instructor, and webmaster. He holds an accredited doctorate in Deaf Studies / Deaf Education.”  There are other American Sign Language Programs you may prefer to use without having to log into the Internet.

Speaking of free, check out Duolingo too for Spanish, French, German, Italian or Portuguese.  Duolingo is a new, online program that says it is proven to be effective, but I don’t know if it is effective for students with learning disabilities.  Given that it’s free, it’d be worth a try.

My oldest son chose to study Latin and he did not find it too difficult.  We delved into Latin using Word Roots by Critical Thinking, then ended up using Cambridge Latin and Rosetta Stone because of the boost the more comprehensive programs provide to vocabulary and in college studies.

Choosing Your Approach and Program

For learning a foreign language, many children do better with an audio-only type of approach initially.  For this, I recommend using the audio portions of the Pimsleur Language Programs to get your student familiar with the pronunciation and vocabulary.  After completing the starter levels of the Pimsleur Language Programs, I recommend switching to Rosetta Stone for a robust program that includes learning to read the words and write the language.

Why the switch?  Rosetta stone can be frustrating to students in the beginning if they have no familiarity with basic vocabulary, which I why I recommend starting with the auditory/verbal Pimsleur Programs until basic vocabulary becomes familiar.  Rosetta Stone helps a child learn the spellings, grammar, and provides continued vocabulary growth.  The approach used by Rosetta Stone’s program will provide a language program that will prepare your student for foreign language learning that may be required in college.  Additionally, Rosetta Stone has built in progress reporting which makes any homeschool reporting requirements easier to deal with.  Pimsleur has a great program, but the written and reporting portions are not as easy to work with when homeschooling.

If you prefer not to use Rosetta Stone, I recommend powerspeaK¹². We used PowerSpeak for my younger son’s French language learning.  I started him with Rosetta Stone, but it was a struggle for him to work with the written portions of the program.  powerspeaK¹² is online and you can chose independent use of the program or you can pay to have an instructor oversee your child’s program.  If you don’t know anything about the foreign language your child is taking, having an instructor can be an invaluable asset. powerspeaK¹² also has good reporting.

Given that your child wants to learn any foreign language, or needs one for college entrance requirements, using one of the above-mentioned software programs is the best approach I know aside from paying someone to teach your child.  Rosetta Stone software allows the student to progress at his/her own pace, and uses colorful photographs to convey the meanings of words.  Pimsleur Language is awesome for the audio portion, and can be used through advanced levels to introduce a strong vocabulary before a child has to tackle reading and writing the language. powerspeaK¹² is a gentle, story-based approach that is enjoyable to work with.

Other programs you may find useful include:

The fastest way to learn a language may be through Transparent Language. I downloaded the “Before You Know It” demo and Transparent Language does look promising as a foreign language program. Transparent Language says you’ll quickly learn common words and essential phrases.

Intstant Immersion is available in a wide variety of languages, and teaches up to three levels. If you are looking for a full immersion approach, Intstant Immersion may be a good fit.

As I mentioned above, we used Cambridge Latin when my son was studying Latin. The program is story-based, which can help a child connect the language learning to meaningful experiences in his life, which enhances retention and recall. When we used the Cambridge Latin program, we also purchased the Cambridge Latin e-Learning resource DVDs. They were fabulous for testing to insure mastery, as a way of tracking and documenting progress, and for learning reinforcement.

Whichever language learning program or foreign language your child decides to learn, he will benefit from the exposure to different cultures and language structures. With American English deriving words from around the world, there may be more to learning a foreign language than is outwardly obvious. For Fun, you might want to check out our Playing with Foreign Languages International Studies page.

I hope this information helps you pick the best approach to foreign language learning for your child.  Having a learning disability may make it a bit more of a struggle to learn a foreign language, but having a great audio/visual approach in conjunction with the written component will go a long way in enabling your child’s success.  Using these programs at home, whether in traditional school or not, can help with foreign language learning.

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