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How Does LD Affect Learning a Second Language?

How Can You Help Your Child Learn a Second Language? There are a number of strategies that have proven useful in the language-learning process. The following are techniques that you can talk to your child’s teachers about or adapt for use at home.

  • A multi-sensory approach: Use visuals, audio and movement to stimulate different learning strengths and reinforce new concepts through multiple channels. For example, act out new vocabulary words, color code flash cards for masculine and feminine nouns, or set your child’s favorite DVD to the second language.

  • Direct pronunciation instruction: Really talk about the sounds of a given language and the correspondence between letters and sounds. Point out differences between your child’s first language and the new language. For example, the ll in the Spanish word calle doesn’t sound like the ll in the English word valley; in Spanish, it sounds like a y. Talk about that out loud with your child and practice it on, perhaps, your way to soccer practice.

  • Focus on sequence: Build from less to more complex concepts, from shorter words and phrases to longer, and from most frequent sounds to less frequent. Ask your child if this happens in the classroom. If the answer is no, it might be something you consider talking about with your child’s teacher.

  • Link native language strategies: Use techniques that are useful in your child’s first language. As a parent, you may know what worked for your child in the past, so use that to build on what has worked for them.

  • Build excitement: Focus on your child’s successes. If they enjoy the cultural aspect of language learning, go to a French movie, practice Spanish at the local Latino restaurant, or watch a sporting event from the target culture (e.g. Mexican soccer or French cycling).

What Options Does Your Child Have When Faced With Learning a New Language? Accommodations are supported by laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), as well as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), which advocates for “open access to language programs for all students” (ACTFL, 2009).
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When considering your child or teen’s options, explore possible accommodations, waivers and substitutions, which are widely available at universities and sometimes at the high school level. High school students headed to the university should investigate college language requirements for all the majors they’re considering and potential accommodations before they arrive on the college campus. Courses available for substitutions often focus on the cultural side of language learning, so the benefit of experiencing the world through another lens isn’t lost.

The Wide View As a language teacher and a linguist, I take the wide view of what it means to learn a language. It involves not only new sounds and words, but also a different culture and way of thinking. Learning a new language can be scary and challenging for anyone, especially a child with LD, but with the right options and strategies, all students can get a glimpse of the world through the lens of a different culture.

Daniel OlsonDaniel Olson is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Linguistics in the School of Languages and Cultures at Purdue University. He received his PhD and MA in Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. Daniel's research focuses on phonetics and phonology, particularly in bilinguals and language learners. He's excited to share his experience with the LD community.

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