EnglishCentral      Weekly Magazine         Read The Latest Newsletter       New Resources        Member TESOL Certificate           Gif Lingua Books

TEACH WITH ENGLISHCENTRAL

What We Offer

Video Lessons Player

                             Study Music

Music

Loading…

Photos

Loading…
  • Add Photos
  • View All

Our Weekly Magazine

New Content

Project Peace

 

Badge

Loading…

About

Learning Disability or just a Language Acquisition Issue?

This is a question that faces many classroom teachers. Is the "slower" student who just can't seem to acquire English suffering from a learning disability (LD)? Or is this student just going at their own pace or in need of more English input and maybe differentiated instruction? How to know, how to decide?

Dinklage in a famous study, looked at this problem with students at Harvard. They were brillant students but they just were miserable failures with learning language. Why? He found that it wasn't because of the usual suspects - motivation/time/effort/teacher/environment but rather because they were in a very real sense "learning disabled". Specific remediation and intervention with techniques used to help the learning disabled helped them to learn language.

Here's a nice article I wrote, with lots of thoughts and recommendations for the classroom teacher. Please see the references, many can be read here. Also, find links to many valuable sites for special needs students here. It might in a way be provocative but I remain firm in my belief that in a very basic way - Language Learners are "disabled". After the window and age of 6-9, language becomes "harder" to acquire. [ and by "harder" I don't mean, taking more time but rather, it doesn't enter the mind with as much facility, the unconscious processes of acquisition aren't as available ]. Language learners are "disabled" , the brain isn't working properly or "naturally" after these ages. Something is interfering with acquisition. I think, thinking of language learners through this paradigm is invaluable for us teachers. ---- it will allow us to stress and use many of the strategies special ed. teachers use every day. This kit of "modification" is truly what every English language teacher needs -- WE ARE ALL SPECIAL EDUCATORS, IMO.

I've been doing a lot of research and reading about how the disabled and special educators use technology to help learning. Things like Communication Tablets, Text to Speech, Text Messaging, Picture Sets/Cards, Sign language, Voice Recognition and subtitling/karaoke, the Tarheel Reader - all offer valuable tools for use by saavy educators. More on that in future blog posts...


Views: 65


Supporter
Comment by Robert Zenhausern on June 12, 2009 at 2:07pm
Let me share some of my ideas on learning a second language. This is not an area in which I have major expertise, and I have more questions than answers.

Language ability in L1 is critical. A student who has difficulty in both languages shows an underlying problem in language. It becomes interesting when the disability is in one but not the other. The first thing I would look at is the nature of the language. For example, someone who is fluent in Chinese, but has a problem with English may be running into a phonetic component that is not as critical in pictographic Chinese. That is an extreme example, but more subtle differences in the language may play a part. More fascinating is the possibility that the person is deficient in L1 but not in English. Again I would look at differences in the languages.

A lot depends on what you mean by language deficient. I took 4 years of Latin and was reading Virgil at the end and 5 years of German and was reading Goethe and Schiller at the end, I could put together reasonable sentences in either language either writing or speaking. But I could not understand the spoken language very well at all. This was partly due to lack of language lab and the chance to converse, but it is something more. I visited the Dominican Republic and managed to put together enough Spanish to order breakfast. The waiter smiled and then said something to me that I did not understand at all. He repeated my order back to me! The words that came out of my mouth did not go into my ears. Obviously, I can understand English, but when I see a video that has English both spoken and with subtitles, I find myself reading the subtitles rather than listening. I would guess that auditory input is not my strength.

Another issue that must be brought into the package is the neuropsychology of second language learning. There are cases where a person suffers brain damage that results in loss of one language and not the other. There is some conjecture that the right hemisphere plays a larger role in second language than it does in the primary language. Does this play a role in problems with L2? Something to explore.

Supporter
Comment by Robert Zenhausern on June 13, 2009 at 1:12pm
Let me share some of my ideas on learning a second language. This is not an area in which I have major expertise, and I have more questions than answers.

Language ability in L1 is critical. A student who has difficulty in both languages shows an underlying problem in language. It becomes interesting when the disability is in one but not the other. The first thing I would look at is the nature of the language. For example, someone who is fluent in Chinese, but has a problem with English may be running into a phonetic component that is not as critical in pictographic Chinese. That is an extreme example, but more subtle differences in the language may play a part. More fascinating is the possibility that the person is deficient in L1 but not in English. Again I would look at differences in the languages.

A lot depends on what you mean by language deficient. I took 4 years of Latin and was reading Virgil at the end and 5 years of German and was reading Goethe and Schiller at the end, I could put together reasonable sentences in either language either writing or speaking. But I could not understand the spoken language very well at all. This was partly due to lack of language lab and the chance to converse, but it is something more. I visited the Dominican Republic and managed to put together enough Spanish to order breakfast. The waiter smiled and then said something to me that I did not understand at all. He repeated my order back to me! The words that came out of my mouth did not go into my ears. Obviously, I can understand English, but when I see a video that has English both spoken and with subtitles, I find myself reading the subtitles rather than listening. I would guess that auditory input is not my strength.

Another issue that must be brought into the package is the neuropsychology of second language learning. There are cases where a person suffers brain damage that results in loss of one language and not the other. There is some conjecture that the right hemisphere plays a larger role in second language than it does in the primary language. Does this play a role in problems with L2? Something to explore.

Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on June 13, 2009 at 9:52pm
Robert,

You bring up vital points and I totally agree that L1 literacy is paramount and an important link. Glad that recent research and writing is making it clear to teachers that by promoting L1 fluency, we are indeed helping 2nd language learners and it is this "home base" we should nurture well. Even us 2nd language teachers.

Transfer and interference between the l1 and L2 are well documented but I also think -- overly so. I don't see this as being key. People that have language learning difficulties, have them regardless of the languages. We seem to be able to learn despite differences between languages and even close languages have an enormous amount of interference that must be "learned" - it cuts both ways closeness and distances of languages....

Of course learning styles are an important consideration but I really feel they are not the crux of the matter. We all learn differently and have different strategies and perceptual inputs / organization. We all find a way. But I'm wondering that why some don't find a way and I don't think it is because of a learning style mismatch or deficit. I really think that with language, we have to look at "thinking". You probably know more about this than me but I've always been 90% convinced that most problems with language have to do with the inability to access long term working memory. Seems like an oxymoron - "long term working memory" but I'm also convinced that it is the exact process at work when we use and process language. It remains key and I think those poor at learning languages might be very "intelligent" but just have some problem with this ..... this chunking of information into discrete units and stored and more easily pulled up to consciousness....
But you'd probably have more info. about this neurological aspect than I do. I hope to read and look into this aspect more in the future......

Add a Remark

© 2017   Created by ddeubel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service