Dyslexia occurs in all languages. When a dyslexic performs poorly in their mother tongue after years of education, what can they expect from a second language? They are once again confronted with their dyslexia.
Several different problems occur when studying a foreign language as a dyslexic:
- Auditive problems
- Visual problems
- Problems with understanding what you hear
- Problems with understanding what you see
- Difficulties with applying compensating techniques
- Problems with memory
- No intuitive linguistic feeling
- Being good at one thing and bad at another
- Reducing motivation
Auditive problems refer to problems with memorizing what you hear.
- A dyslexic pupil cannot memorize and repeat the words and sentences used by a teacher
- Their pronunciation is incorrect, even when they repeat after someone else
- A dyslexic has trouble with pronouncing new sounds, because they have never used them before
These are problems with memorizing what you see, such as reading a sentence and being unable to repeat what it said. There are various symptoms that differ per dyslexic.
- A dyslexic cannot remember the pronunciation of words. They see the letters but cannot link those to the right sounds. For instance, when English is a second language, they may keep pronouncing the ‘k’ in ‘know.’
- They forget how to spell words, even after practising the same words over and over again
- Another possibility is that a dyslexic doubts between several possible ways of spelling words that sound similarly, such as ‘right’ and ‘write’, or ‘qu’est-ce que c’est’
Problems with understanding what you hear
Dyslexics that experience these problems, require not only hearing the words, but need to see those as well to understand the message.
- They cannot distinguish between similar sounds
- They are unable to tell the pauses between two words, and therefor don’t know where one word ends and the other begins
- Translating a text requires a lot of time and it’s hard to keep up with others
- Understanding questions is difficult. Written questions are doable, but when having a conversation the tempo is too high
Problems with understanding what you see
Dyslexics that experience these problems, require not only seeing the words, but need to hear those as well to understand the message.
- Written words seem meaningless and are not understood, unless they are read out loud by someone else
- A dyslexic may recognize the words they read without understanding the text itself, unless the text is read out loud
Difficulties with applying compensating techniques
The hard thing about a foreign language is that a word’s meaning cannot always be derived from the context, because the foreign vocabulary is too limited.
- Fast reading or scanning a text is not enough to understand it
- A dyslexic may try to apply the pronunciation rules of their mother tongue on the foreign text
Problems with memory
Many dyslexic children find it hard to study series of foreign words, which was also indicated by several of our interviewees. It may be a reason for them to drop subjects when possible.
- A dyslexic cannot fluently read foreign words
- It’s hard for them to understand separate words, even after a lot of practice
- Memorizing the correct spelling is difficult
- They keep forgetting the translation of words, and repeatedly looking them up requires a lot of time
- Translating words remains difficult, including short words like prepositions and adverbs
- A dyslexic can’t locate words in their memory
No intuitive linguistic feeling
A dyslexic pupil may lack the linguistic feeling that helps them with translating words and sentences.
- They cannot find the translation for words
- It’s hard to use words in the right context and create correct sentences
- It seems like a dyslexic has to reconsider every word and form, such as ‘he do/does no/not/n’t’
Being good at one thing and bad at another
When having lessons, a dyslexic pupil may find they are good at one subject and poor at another. This can be very frustrating and discouraging. These are some known problems:
- Dyslexics can make themselves understood, but fail to understand the rules of a foreign language
- They may excell at assignments that require logic, but a simple conversation is difficult
- Understanding the grammar rules is no problem, but remembering the correct terms is: present tense, past tense, adverb, noun, etc
- There is no feeling for tenses and they may be confused in a dyslexic’s language
The motivation to study foreign languages may reduce to zero when a dyslexic pupil loses their hope. They may wonder since it failed so far, why would it be any better the next time?
- Anxiety may arise even before the first lesson of a foreign language, because the mother tongue is difficult enough
- A dyslexic pupil is slower than classmates and needs more time
- It is very frustrating that your test is graded lower than your classmates’ after having studied hard on the foreign language
- It seems as if studying makes no difference, it will fail anyway
The last item may lead to fear of failure, which is often experienced by dyslexics. Out of our 50 interviewees 22 indicated they had fear of failure and 5 used to but have overcome their fear of failure by following a course.