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Dyslexic students talk about their experiences

Dyslexic students talk about their experiences
At a young age learning English– well for me it was English as a foreign language– it was a complete nightmare. My teacher– my first teacher– was just sitting at the back of her desk. We were about 13 or 15 students in the classroom. The books we were taught were really dull and boring. She wasn’t making the lesson interesting at all. She was just sitting at the back of her desk trying to explain us what the book says.
The best scenario was her to stand on the blackboard to explain something and that was it.
In some cases the experience was even traumatic.
For example, one day she asked us to memorise about 30 or 20 irregular verbs. Obviously it was impossible for me to learn them– not only learn the meaning but the spelling as well. And then obviously I hadn’t learned all this. So the following day, when we had the lesson, she called my mum after the lesson saying that I hadn’t studied at all although I had spent hours trying to learn them.
And obviously my parents weren’t happy with this. My teacher wasn’t happy with this. And I was really amazed because– I was really upset actually because I could spend so much time working and everybody kept saying, oh you’re really lazy, well you don’t study.
That was really– I just felt it was really unfair. Well when I went to university, I had to survive in the university. So I had to find ways around it, to learn English to begin with, because in the first year I had to attend foundation year when I had to take an English examination and which I had to pass with a high score. So I had to come up with my own strategies.
My main strategy was to hang out with English people, watch TV, listen to the radio, read books for fun, expose myself as much as possible to real English.
I went to the library– the university library– and I practised listening skills for many hours every day. So although my auditory processing was really slow, this really improved rapidly and I managed to pass the exam with a high score, which I was really proud of. Five years of Spanish and about a year of French and a year of Arabic. It’s not been very easy for me because it does take me a lot of time to learn a new language. I think the most difficult part for me was trying to transfer from my working short-term memory to my longer-term memory and actually understand what I’m learning. Otherwise it’s just syllables. It’s not very– it doesn’t have any meaning.
So trying to actually make everything have a meaning was probably the most difficult part for me. On– kind of contrasting that, the easiest part was probably things like symbols which are abstract by definition. So for example, in Arabic you have the writing script which is completely different than what’s used in the West. But I was able to learn that very quickly. But that being said, I’m not able to necessarily know what the words mean themselves. But the actual symbols, I kind of know how to say them and I can try to base it– what I learn after that– off what I know then. I had to learn a language for school.
So for me personally I didn’t really enjoy a lot of it because I felt like I was having to be forced to do it. But if I was really dedicated and devoted to something that I found interesting I think I would enjoy it quite a lot. It would be difficult in some respects but I think it would be a nice challenge, and something that I would enjoy, and something that certainly has applications in real life. For me personally I’ve found saving the writing to the end of learning things. Because I found speaking more enjoyable and easy for me, and also reading as well.
But the actual act of writing down what I’ve learned is, for whatever reason, very difficult for me. I’ve had people– like my friends– say that it’s kind of the opposite for them sometimes. They find the writing better and reading more difficult. So I think it’s finding what works for you. But definitely for me the writing was probably the most difficult. So I avoided that until I understood a topic better. I found the grammar not too difficult. But one thing to learn new vocabulary and try to apply it is definitely mnemonics.
Just as long as you– while you use them make sure that you know and are making an effort to know what they mean as well because you don’t want to lose the understanding. Because that’s key of course– in a language you have to understand what you’re saying, not just talking syllables. They have meaning. I’d often speak to myself like I was having a conversation, which I found was quite helpful because then I’m– first of all– speaking, which I’m better at than writing. But I’m also making an effort to learn what I’m saying and to understand what I’m saying. Also learning new words. I found that obviously when you’re doing languages you learn a lot of words.
And it takes me a long time to actually finally remember them. So I have problems sometimes with tests. And so if we have a test soon after we’ve learned new vocabulary it takes me– I usually score quite low. But if it’s a few weeks after that then I’m lots better.
So I think what I found difficult is actually learning the words and sometimes getting the grammar to make sense. But I’ve also found that I can look at patterns a lot easier than other people so that I can see patterns between languages. And I find that a lot easier. Because I officially study English language and Spanish, but I’ve also studied Catalan and Italian as well. And I find that I see patterns between those languages that other people can’t. I think I have difficulty sometimes with reading, like what it says. Like sometimes I misread the words, and especially if I have to read out loud. Because I can read OK in my mind but reading out loud I’m quite bad.
So sometimes I feel very nervous if a teacher asks me to read in front of the class. And because I’m nervous it’s even worse and I tend to stutter and fall over the words. But I find that with Spanish at least because it’s a very phonetic language my spelling in Spanish is a lot better than my spelling in English because the writing system is exactly how it sounds. So I find that a lot easier. I find that I understand grammar really well when just learning it but it’s in practise where it falls apart. When I’m speaking sometimes I forget the grammar.
Or when I’m writing I’ll sometimes not notice that I’ve made an error until it’s returned to me and then it appears really obvious. But usually when I’m just doing the tests and being asked questions on it I can score quite high. But then when I’m asked to do it in practise I sometimes forget.
It was really frustrating at the beginning because I was really annoyed at some inconsistencies that showed up. Like I distinctly remember not being able to spell or say the word bird for some reason. It was really frustrating– and it was hard– but I got through it. It needed a lot of hard work but I got through it. After English my parents had the great idea to try and make me learn French.
It went slightly better because I had already worked out some problems with dyslexia. But I never went really far in French. I passed my GCSEs and that was it.
Other than that, whenever I did try to pick up a new language it’s never really worked out for me. I tried to pick up Arabic at some point. And it just never clicked at all. I know three words– that’s it now. The words just wouldn’t stick to my head. I just found it really hard.
Particularly difficult was the spelling– spelling was really difficult for me. The easiest part was probably reading because even if I didn’t really make out the word I could infer what the word was from other parts of the sentence.

Watch this video in which the dyslexic students you were acquainted with last week talk about their foreign language learning experiences.

As you watch, try to answer the following questions:

  • to what extent are the students’ experiences different and what is common about them?

  • how do the difficulties the students mention differ?

  • are there things they find easy to learn?

  • do they think they have an advantage over other students in some areas?

  • how do they feel about language learning?

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Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching

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