Language Myth #2: "I can't learn a language because I'm dyslexic"

Dispelling common language fears

Many dyslexia sufferers are scared by their school experiences of being stigmatized and stereotyped as 'unteachable' or 'stupid' or 'illiterate'. Attitudes to dyslexia are much healthier nowadays, and nobody should feel ashamed of their dyslexia. Dyslexia is only a problem when a tutor is unaware of the needs of the student, and is inflexible in their approach to get the best results.

It's also much more common that you might think; it is estimated that as many as 1/5 people may suffer from at least one of the symptoms of dyslexia. Famous dyslexics include Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Tom Cruise and Jamie Oliver to name but a few.

So does dyslexia just mean that you can't read very well? Not at all. In fact, dyslexia is a complicated beast; it can mean working memory is shorter, making it difficult to retain information, letters appear mixed up, impairing reading ability, or the individual cannot easily understand how a word sounds just from looking at it.

The great news is that it is absolutely possible to learn a language when you suffer from dyslexia. All you will need is determination and a great tutor who is willing to adapt their lesson plans to help you. Take a look at the following tips:

1. Talk to your tutor. It sounds simple, but this will be the most important step in getting the most out of your lessons; if you don't tell your tutor what you are struggling with, and what your preferences are, he or she won't be able to help you.

2. Multi-sensory learning. A tutor that uses a variety of resources with a dyslexic student will have the most success; use all senses - try video clips, audio clips, conversation, role plays, games and songs, as well as tactile products which the student can touch, such as forming letters and sounds out of clay or a similar material.

3. Know your learning style. There are three main types of learners:

a. Visual learners learn best through seeing things; try overhead projections with clear instructions and vocabulary, with words spaced well apart to allow the individual to concentrate on just that single word. You can also try mind mapping, post it notes, writing syllables in different coloured pens and playing memory games such as 'pairs' to improve working memory and test vocabulary at the same time. Flashcards will also be useful, as repetition is key with vocabulary learning. Mind mapping is also a good way to make bold, visually impactful vocabulary notes which are easier to revise from than a long list of vocabulary.

b. Auditory learners learn best through listening; audio recordings, songs, conversations, and reading aloud will help these students. Applications like WordTalk also enable notes to be read aloud to you, in a text-to-speech function.

c. Kinaesthetic learners learn best by doing things and combining learning with physical activity; this could be memorising notes whilst walking around the house, taking field trips, talking with native speakers or practicing with friends. Touch is also an important sense for this learning group. Try tracing letters or sounds into the air or into coloured sand; it may help to better understand the sound you are making.

4. Did you know that the background colour of the paper you are working on or reading on can help to ease the symptoms of dyslexia? Try using materials printed on pastel colours such as peach or lilac; each learner will have their own preference. Apply this rule to your workbooks too; try to stick to a lined workbook with similar pastel coloured pages, readily available online from many dyslexia specialists.

5. The font a tutor types notes in can also make a difference; for dyslexic students avoid italics or underlining - instead use bold typeface to emphasize words; underlining can make all the lines run together. Sans serif fonts such as Comic Sans, Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Century Gothic or Trebuchet are often used. There is also a specific open source font available for free online called OpenDyslexic; a font designed specifically for use in schools to aid dyslexic pupils, for those who find that letters often "swim" together on the page.

6. The most important thing you can to do help with dyslexia is to create a tidy, clutter-free space to work in; students should feel relaxed. There is scientific reasoning behind the need for relaxation; when we become anxious or stressed, these thoughts cloud our ability to think, and for a dyslexic pupil who may already be struggling with their working memory capacity, this can make it impossible to learn anything at all. To achieve this relaxation, building confidence is important, and the lesson should be taken at the student's own pace to reinforce the important relationship between teacher and pupil.

Having a tutor who is aware of your learning needs will be of utmost importance; all of my lessons are fully adaptable to your specifications. Additionally, I work closely with a dyslexia specialist, who is also available for consultation to help strengthen your confidence with literacy and language learning. Dyslexia just requires a different teaching approach, but with the correct support, you can excel. Please contact me for more details.