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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