Is Second Language Learning is Dyslexia?

Posted on September 18, 2010. Filed under: Training | Tags: , , , |

In a recent private class my student told me my explanation about his learning difficulties was the same explanation for people who have dyslexia

Now, I’m no expert on how the brain works but have read my fair share of papers on cognitive linguistics for my research in vocabulary teaching and acquisition. But this comparison between learning a second language and dyslexia came up after my student was explaining about his work with attention deficit disorders. He holds a PHD in this area and has specialised in children (he is a specialist in cognitive paediatrics) with types of disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, hyperactivity etc for 12 years.
His Emglish level he believes is intermediate but I would place him nearer to basic. This  came up after his complaint came as I was listening to him speak about the drug Ritalin. At times he could not express the word he wanted in English and reverted to his native Portuguese. Each time he did this I would allow him some time to see if he could think of the word in English before writing down and pronounce the word he could not say. At one point he expressed his frustration by explaining that he always knew the word I had translated for him but could not express it.

I reassured him (as I´m a nice guy) and explained that during his studies and reading he had received valuable input from his study of research papers in his area but had not formed a bridge by not making conscious and cognitive decisions, such as noticing, to link this input to output. I explained that my job was to build this bridge and offer him opportunities to make this rich information he had already acquired available for output.

I used a metaphor of having to islands one which was called Input and the other Output which we needed to link together. My student then suddenly smiled and turned around and said that this is the explanation he would use if he were explaining dyslexia. He joked that he was now dyslexic when studying English.

I asked him to explain in Portuguese at the end of the class and I explained in more detail what I had understood between the difference between 1st and 2nd language differences. As the cognitive understanding of learning a second language is still a relatively new field we still need to understand how our brains work in processing information but that in fact, there might already be information out there somewhere in a field which is becoming more and more relevant to our work as teachers in dealing with behavioural disorders.

Could the processes found by students who have Dyslexia be one way of understanding our adult student’s difficulties in progressing? Is dyslexia not about difficulty in reading but difficulty processing the information to understand and use?

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3 Responses to “Is Second Language Learning is Dyslexia?”

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Hi Shaun,
I found yours a relevant reflection for us teacher trainers.
I know almost nothing about dyslexia thoughI’m always trtying to learn more about it for teaching reasons.
My point here -after years of teaching,researching and observing lessons- is that learning a new language is much more than simply processing information:it has a lot to do with developing a skill and so, between Input and Output there should be some physiological training/practice which helps Input to become INTAKE before turning into Output.
.

Hi Ana. Thanks
I remember in my very first 2 month TTC course, for the first 3 weeks we only talked about psychology and psychologists. It gave me much more depth to appreciate what was happening in the classroom. Today little is done on this subject. It also made me question how effective my instruction of language is. I agree with you but moving back to processing.
I have read alot about cognitivity in SLA and it certainly helped me focus better on what I was trying to achieve to aid the conditions of acquisition to be in my classroom.
In this reflection on dyslexia I was thinking about how difficult it is for adult learners to make this change from input to output. If you read N.Ellis he talks about aquisition as a bottle neck for adults with us trying to push information down a ver narrow recieving hole. That hole is much bigger in children. But my doctor said there was a difficuclty to put this information that is already difficult to input to bridge to output. This must be the intake and an area where dyslexic people may have a problem. There must be more studiesin dyslexia so maybe that will help the SLA field. I don´t know
.
In my M.A. on this subject I introduced lexical notebooks (the skill/dtrategy or noticing and learning lexis) and made an attempt to measure INPUT. It seems we can use ‘hypothisis/cognitive tasks’ to improve input as students are learning an item of language and hopefully intake with happen. But then teacher must provide output opportunites for the cycle to be completed. If intake happens students might forget this if it is not used. It sounds like a linear process and in intruction processing (VanPatten) it seems this way.
In my lexical notebooks (to expna simply) I have students notice collocations, define the form i.e. adveb + adjective or verb + noun. categorise it according to form and them categorise it for meaning (contextualise) which should offer output opportunities. Input doesn´t just come from noticing than checking form and then practice it I think needs a little bit more than this and also the language should be revisisted regularly.
Moving on to a practical classroom problem which seems obviuos. If students don´t record the language their see in class they will not be able to have a chance to visit it again( unles the coursebook/teacher does). This simple task of giving students time to note down information in class is not a theme on training courses and is probably the most important action a learner can take to remember items and then hopefully be acquired.
So what i can conclude here is we give students very few basic tools to process language at all. We rely on the coursebook and activities to do this for us when it is the students who need to be able to do it.
Language learning training course should be gievn to teachers for example the Rebecca Oxford list of learning strategies would really help. Staregy training is also very limited in training workshops and I don´t know one school who advocates student learner how to learn.
I´ll finish here 😉

sorry for the spelling i responded on my iphone


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