Second Language Acquisition: To Learn or Not to Learn

Learning a 2nd Language

Second language acquisition for students with language-based learning disabilities is sometimes difficult.  Logically it makes sense,  students who have trouble learning their dominant language, it’s assumed, will have trouble learning a second language. However because learning a second language can be difficult does that mean students with language-based learning disabilities should not learn one,  maybe, maybe not.

“Foreign language study is an increasingly prominent part of education everywhere. For the student unencumbered by a learning disability, foreign language study is indeed an enriching and rewarding experience. For the learning disabled student, however, it can be an unbelievably stressful and humiliating experience, the opposite of what is intended.”

Working with students struggling with the acquisition of a second language with and without language-based disabilities is common.  Some students even with disabilities love learning a foreign language. One student with moderate dyslexia excelled at learning Japanese. She loved learning the language so much eventually earned a trip to Japan. She said it was rule-based so it was easier for her to learn. Some languages are rule-based, unlike English that has a million exceptions, making them easier to learn. She also happened to be a student who was an extremely hard worker because of her dyslexia.  Just because something is hard is not a reason to automatically avoid it. Hard work builds stronger brains.  Some languages are rule-based, unlike English that has a million exceptions, making them easier to learn.

Often schools encourage children with language-based learning problems to opt out of foreign languages. Sometimes the suggestion is made because the student is struggling or it made be made because additional services need to be scheduled during language block. It is not ethical to deny a student from a bilingual household access to formally learning their second language.  There are reasons why a child with a language-based learning disability should be encouraged to learn a foreign language including but not limited to they have an interest, it’s the language spoken in their home,  or they plan to attend a 4-year college that requires a foreign language. However yes,  for many students with a language-based learning disability learning a second language maybe challenges. ( Hey, but growth mindset thinking might suggest that it will help your child’s brain to grow!)

So how can your child with a language-based learning disability be supported in learning a foreign language?  Regularly monitor and be aware of your child’s progress. Are they able to see the patterns in the new language?  Are they having difficulty remembering the words? Are they getting the grammar confused? Ask for additional support when you first see signs of a struggle.  Encourage them to use their new language skill in new real situations. Ask them for names of common objects they have learned and call those objects by their name in the other language. Learn with them! Help your child see the overall patterns in the new language if you are able. Don’t automatically assume difficult means you should quit, but if it’s not working adjust and let it go.

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Is there a ‘disability’ for learning foreign languages?

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