Aug 022013

If a child has dyslexia, then dyslexia and foreign language learning can seem like an impossibility! 

Read on to learn tricks and tips for dyslexia and foreign language learning.

First, let’s talk about foreign language selection, then we’ll discuss the best learning approach. We’ll also talk about which homeschooling curriculum works well for dyslexia and foreign language learning.

Choosing the Right Foreign Language for a Child with Dyslexia:

In all of my research, the two most highly recommended choices for dyslexia and foreign language learning are American Sign Language and Latin.  I would venture to guess, the same languages would be best for children with other specific learning disabilities too.

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 for a child with dyslexia and foreign language learning needs because it is a visual language. 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. Learning Latin certainly enhances vocabulary skills.  The one caution with choosing Latin is that some colleges require a modern, spoken language. Unfortunately, Latin frequently does not qualify as a spoken language, so check with colleges your child may want to attend before choosing Latin.

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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, cost effective (free) ASL course for dyslexia and foreign language learning, 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 dyslexia and foreign language learning.  Given that it’s free, it’d be worth a try with your child.

My oldest son chose to study Latin. 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. We chose these programs because the more comprehensive programs provided a broader foundation for my son with severe dyslexia and foreign language learning requirements for high school. These additional programs helped with vocabulary in preparation for college level studies.

Choosing Your Foreign Language Learning Approach and Program

Pimsleur Language Programs

For learning a foreign language, many children do better with an audio-only type of approach, especially in the beginning.  For this type of approach, I recommend using the Pimsleur Language Programs to get your student familiar with the pronunciation and vocabulary in the foreign language. The Pimsleur programs can be used in an audio-only way, so that is beneficial for a child who has difficulty with reading and writing skills. 

If your child is going to need to earn foreign language credits in high school, I highly recommend starting with Pimsleur in middle school, then switch programs for high school so your child can gain mastery of reading and writing to the greatest extent possible.

After completing the Pimsleur Language Programs in middle school, I recommend using 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. It is particularly difficult if a child struggles with spelling. That is why I recommend starting with the auditory/verbal Pimsleur Programs until basic vocabulary becomes familiar. 

Rosetta Stone requires a child learn the spellings, grammar, and provides 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. The biggest issue will be whether your child has severe dyslexia and foreign language learning with Rosetta Stone turns out to be a significant challenge due to spelling issues.

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. You can choose 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. It was favorable for my son’s mild dyslexia and foreign language learning needs.

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 face-to-face. Rosetta Stone software allows the student to progress at his/her own pace. It also uses colorful photographs to convey the meanings of words.  Pimsleur Language is awesome for the audio portion. It 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 Useful For Dyslexia and Foreign Language Learning Needs:

The fastest way to learn a language may be through Transparent Language. I downloaded the “Before You Know It” demo. I think Transparent Languagedyslexia and foreign language learning 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. It 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 foreign language your child decides to learn, he will benefit from the exposure to different cultures and language structures. 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 dealing with dyslexia and foreign language learning for your child.  Having a learning disability makes it a bit more of a struggle to learn a foreign language. However, having a great audio/visual approach in conjunction with the written component will go a long way in helping your child find success.  Using these programs at home, whether in traditional school or not, can help in spite of dyslexia and foreign language learning can become possible.

Lastly, if your child cannot successfully work with any of the programs above, you may need to look into foreign language waivers. MANY colleges issue waivers for persons with dyslexia and foreign language learning requirements. Be aware it is always an option! My older son’s college granted him a foreign language waiver due to his dyslexia. He had to take a couple of anthropology courses instead, so that allowed him to get his degree in spite of his dyslexia and foreign language learning difficulties.