Dyslexia and language learning

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №12 - 2020

Tsuprunova Yekaterina, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Oskolkova Anna, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

In modern world people should know at least 1 foreign language. As all we know that English is a language of cross cultural communication. Thus, a lot of people prefer to learn English. But sometimes they face with problems, and it is not just difficulties in grammar or vocabulary, but something personal. Today everybody knows what dyslexia is, but not all understand how to deal with it in learning languages. The actuality of this paper is too obvious, to get acquainted with work with students with dyslexia, because such students need some special approaches in teaching.

In this article we will talk about the dyslexia in general, what to do with dyslexia in classroom and show how to work with students who have such disease through strategies and present some activities to learn foreign language easily.

The first let's try to figure out what is dyslexia. Dyslexia is a difference in the brain develops which is found in around 8% of the population (European Dyslexia Association, 2013). It is often thought of as a difficulty with reading and spelling, but these are just the surface symptoms of underlying cognitive differences which can also result in other difficulties, for example with memory, coordination, organization and speed of processing information [1].

In a classroom, dyslexics may appear to be easily distracted, and because of this are often labeled as lazy by teachers and parents, moreover, they do not understand the learning difficulty. Also they may have some problems with conditions of teaching such students. This leads to self-esteem problems, which can be the most debilitating long-term effect of dyslexia.

Inclusive education in Kazakhstan is at the stage of formation, therefore, for our country, the task of establishing an inclusive education system requires a solution at the state level. It is inclusive education that will provide children with special educational needs with development opportunities equal to those of their healthy peers, which are necessary for maximum adaptation and full integration into society. Inclusion is recognized as a more developed, humane and effective education system not only for children with special educational needs, but also for healthy children. Inclusion gives everyone the right to education, regardless of whether or not they meet the criteria of the school system. The school performs not only educational functions, but also is the main sphere of the child's life. Through respect and acceptance of the individuality of each of them, the formation of a personality takes place, having its own educational trajectory. Students at school are in a team, learn to interact with each other, build relationships, together with the teacher to creatively solve educational problems. It is safe to say that inclusive education expands the personal capabilities of all children, helps to develop such qualities as humanity, tolerance, and readiness to help. Inclusive education is a fundamentally new system where students and teachers work towards a common goal - affordable and quality education for all children without exception.

Thus, the problem of inclusive education is complex, debatable, but the main thing is that it is truly social, since in the course of its solution the interests of a colossal number of people are affected.

Learning a new language can be very difficult for people with dyslexia, especially in the written form. For example, it can be very stressful for these language learners to be introduced to new patterns, sounds and symbols when they already struggle with reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary acquisition in their native language [2].

Modern educational trends, enshrined in official state documents, interpret the implementation of inclusive education policies. In accordance with the order No. 66 of the Minister of Education and Science of the Kazakhstan Republic dated February 14, 2017 "... children with various mild speech impairments (phonetic underdevelopment, phonetic-phonemic underdevelopment, mildly expressed general underdevelopment of speech, slight stuttering) and written speech (dysgraphia, dyslexia, dysorphography) are sent to speech therapy centers, psychological and pedagogical correction rooms, rehabilitation centers based on the conclusion of the Psychological-Medical-Pedagogical Commission."

Despite the legislatively illuminated solutions to the problems of inclusion, not all schools diagnose such difficulties as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia. Difficulties not diagnosed in time are an obstacle to the successful mastery of educational material, active cognitive and creative activity. As you know, dyslexia is not a disease. According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), this is a cluster of symptoms, expressed in difficulties in mastering, in particular, reading and in the use of specific speech-language skills. Students with dyslexia have difficulty learning skills such as spelling, writing, and spelling [3].

Learning English by dyslexic students presents similar difficulties as in their native language. The task of the teacher is to recognize the existing problem and begin active work to overcome it. D. Kormos identifies special types of defects associated with reading when learning a foreign language:

- Defect in speed / fluency of reading;

- Defects in the correct reading of words;

- Defects in reading comprehension [4].

Overcoming dyslexia within the educational process is aimed at training and development of cognitive functions, violations of which are the basis of dyslexia, and the formation of compensatory mechanisms based on well-developed skills and functions. Despite the fact that there is a lack of phonological decoding for many people with dyslexia, some of them are able to master these skills, albeit relatively slowly in the process of persistent and systematic training. A balanced rehabilitation program involves individual training, including systematic classes on developing phonemic awareness skills, mastering the relationships between phonemes and graphemes, reading automation and fluency, reading comprehension strategies, and writing skills [5].

Students of pedagogical specialties have insufficient knowledge in this area. The higher education system is designed to prepare an average teacher for an average student, without properly including a child with learning difficulties in the full educational process. This leads to such problems as lack of competence in working with dyslexic children, incomplete implementation of a personality-oriented approach, undifferentiated student assessment system. According to statistics, currently for every ten students there is one dyslexic child. A teacher of a foreign language should have sufficient psychological, pedagogical and methodological knowledge in the issues of teaching a foreign language to students with specific deviations [6].

I work at school where we have inclusive grades. Due to my experience, I can say that it is very difficult to work with such students, because I and my colleagues have luck of information how to work with them. Another big problem, that there is no any supporting materials for teaching as books, manuals and a specially designed program. Nevertheless, there are internal meetings with teachers from the school how works in inclusive grades, there we share our experience, learn something new and try to upgrade our teaching skills. But still such work in not held in all schools in Kazakhstan.

One of the methods all we know is Total Physical Response (TPR). TPR is a method of teaching language or vocabulary concepts by using physical movement to react to verbal input. The process mimics the way that infants learn their first language, and it reduces student inhibitions and lowers stress. The purpose of TPR is to create a brain link between speech and action to boost language and vocabulary learning. TPR may be used to teach many types of vocabulary but works best when teaching vocabulary connected with action. It is an effective strategy to use with English Language Learners as well as with native speakers when learning new words [7].

The most common variations of TPR activities:

- TPR Circles

Organize the students into a circle around the teacher. The teacher says the word and the last person to do the action is out. This person then stands behind the teacher and watches for the student who does the action last. Eventually there is only one student; he or she is the winner.

- TPR Simon Says

Play Simon Says. The teacher gives a command and students should only do it if the teacher "Simon says..." at the start. The teacher might say, "Simon says, 'slice some bread'" or "Simon says, 'chop an onion'" and the students must do the action. However if the teacher says, "Whisk an egg" the students shouldn't do this. If anyone does the action that Simon doesn't say then they are out and have to watch for the mistakes of the other students.

- TPR Sounds

The teacher will first get the students to do the actions connected with each vocabulary word. Then, the teacher adds a sound related to the word and the students practice hearing the word and doing the action along with making the sound. The students are then ready to give commands to each other.

All students, adults and children, with or without the dyslexic learning style, thrive in a language class that includes TPR. Why this method is suitable for students with dyslexia? Typically, the initial TPR lessons are commands involving the whole body - stand up, sit down, turn around, walk, stop. Those actions are demonstrated by the teacher, who then invites students to participate with her as she continues to say the words [8].

Here are 5 strategies you can apply in your classroom:

1) Multisensory Learning

Multisensory activities help dyslexic children absorb and process information in a retainable manner and involve using senses like touch and movement alongside sight and hearing.

They are not only beneficial for dyslexic learners but also the rest of the class. Engaging in something different and hands-on excites students and heightens engagement.

Examples of multi-sensory activities for the classroom include:

Writing words and sentences with tactile materials, e.g. glitter glue, sand, pasta, LEGO, or beads.

2) Assistive technology and tools

Cultured keyboard. Keyboards with cultured overlays and larger letters make typing more accessible to dyslexic students. Some come with multimedia hotkeys that enable the user to play, pause, stop, or rewind audio, which is useful as dyslexic learners often use text-to-speech software when reading and writing.

3) Helpful Arrangements.

Give them plenty of time to complete homework. If a piece of homework takes a day to complete, distribute it on a Friday so that the dyslexic child has the whole weekend to work on it.

You could also let their parents know what the homework schedule is for the month, so they can start looking at certain topics with their child at home in advance.

4) Educational Games. The great thing about games designed for dyslexic students is that any learner can benefit from them, so you can easily incorporate them into lessons for the whole class. Nothing will excite your students more than playing games!

There are hundreds of educational apps and games for dyslexic learners available. High Speed Training and Dyslexic.com have a selection of apps which are available.

5) Working together with parents. Meet with dyslexic students parents regularly to discuss how their child is doing and the strategies you've applied in the classroom. The child's parents can also update you on what methods they've been using at home and what's been successful.

This is important because, ultimately, no two dyslexic children are alike and there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach. By sharing knowledge about ongoing progress, both you and the parents can work together to find learning methods that's successfully aid the dyslexic student's learning [9].

Another useful activities which teacher can use in the classroom with students who has dyslexia:

1) Helping learners prepare for a text

When approaching a new text, the greatest support learners can have is a clear, structured scaffold established in advance. This can take the form of a guided brainstorming session, or the creation of relevant vocabulary banks or wall charts that can be added to later.

2) Practicing Spelling

While most dyslexic students can train themselves to read without too much trouble they still continue to have problems with spelling, which is made worse when learning English as it is not a phonetic language and there are too many exceptions to the rule. There are number of fun different ways to help a dyslexic student improve their spelling which in turn will also be beneficial to your other students as spelling in English is notably harder than most other languages.

3) Picture It!

For more advanced students, who really feel silly breaking down words, mnemonics could benefit them especially if they're visual learners. Mnemonics is the art of visually forming an association with the word. The first trick could be to visually recognize through their eyes. E.g. Tendency - the word tendency has the letters EN on either side of the D which helps students add to the layers of the memory which will help them learn how to spell the word easier.

Based on the foregoing, as awareness of dyslexia grows amongst teachers and parents, more students are being assessed and found to have dyslexia. Steps should be taken to solve the problem of training linguists with speech inclusion. Due to the lack of skills in working with students with speech difficulties, a program should be developed to increase the teacher's competencies in the framework of speech inclusion. It is necessary to ensure the proper training of qualified personnel, adapted to modern educational needs. Within the framework of this program, a separate scale for assessing students knowledge should be developed, taking into account the difficulties that children face not only during primary school, but also in middle and senior levels. Studying the problems and ways to overcome dyslexia, as well as training teachers of a foreign language should be in priority positions due to the fact that through mastering reading skills, especially in the process of studying, the ability to perceive, analyze and reproduce information is formed not only in the framework of education, but also and further life. In the end, the good practice that we put in place will be beneficial for all learners, and for learners with dyslexia, it might well make the difference between failure and success.


1. Is Dyslexia a Brain Disaster? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ articles/ PMC 5924397/ (Reference date: 22/04/20)

2. Teaching English to Dyslexic Learnershttps://www.englishclub.com/learning-difficulties/dyslexia.htm (Reference date: 30/04/20)

3. Fletcher J. M., Lyon G. R., Fuchs L. S., Barnes M. A. Learning disabilities. New York, 2007.

4. Kormos J. The second language learning processes of students with specific learning difficulties. New York, NY: Routledge, 2017.

5. Shaywitz S. E., Fletcher J. M., Holahan J. M., et al. Persistence of dyslexia: The Connecticut Longitudinal Study at adolescence // Pediatrics. - 1999. - V. 104. - p. 1351-1359.

6. Mayorova A.S., Sinitsyna Y.N. Osobennosti obucheniya fonetike angliyskogo yazyka detyam s disgrafiyey i disleksiyey [Peculiarities of Teaching Phonetics to Children with Dysgraphia and Dyslexia]// Perspektivy nauki i obrazovaniya. -2018. -3 (33). p. 323-325.

7. Total Physical Response (TPR) http://www.theteachertoolkit.com/index.php/tool/ total-physical-response-tpr (Reference date: 5/05/20)

8. Helping your Student with Dyslexia https://www.dyslexic.com/blog/helping-your-student-with-dyslexia-learn-5-strategies-to-rely-on/ (Reference date: 9/01/21)

9. Dyslexia in the ESL Classroom 5 Ways to Beat It!https://busyteacher.org/18002-dyslexia-esl-classroom-5-ways-to-beat-it.html (reference date: 16/01/21)

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №12 - 2020

About journal
About KAFU

   © 2022 - KAFU Academic Journal