Dyslexia and language learning

Training & Learning


In discussions about dyslexia and how it affects language learning – which is of course close to my heart as a language teacher – I am often asked:

“If a student is dyslexic, how should it be taken into account in language learning? Is there something that all dyslexics share in a learning context?”

After nearly twenty years as a language instructor, this is an easy question for me to answer:

“Yes, they do have something in common – every one of them is different as a learner and has an individual learning style.”

Dyslexia, new languages and the challenges of an international business world

Students who found it difficult to learn languages in school often seek jobs where they don’t need to speak English often, for example.

Communication in a foreign language may have seemed overwhelming, and these employees may have years of experience of avoiding meetings where English is spoken. If they have foreign visitors, they do their best to get a colleague to manage the introductions.

However, today's world of work has quickly become more international, and contact with people in other countries has gradually become part of everyday work for nearly everyone. Participants in daily meetings often hail from different countries, and e-mails are received in foreign languages and must be reacted to. Visitors from abroad may arrive every week. All this creates a clear need for better language skills.

Before enrolling on a language course, many people remember their school days, when they had to learn a lot of grammar and the focus was on building and shaping sentences without grammatical errors in a variety of tenses. Dyslexia affects learning in many ways, and foreign languages may have seemed like an impassable jungle of rules.

Fortunately, schools understand dyslexia very well these days, and they pay a lot of attention to these difficulties at a very early stage. Support is available for learners who need it.

On the other hand, many people still carry unpleasant memories of situations where they had to read aloud in class, or when homework was being checked, quickly counted which sentence they would have to read aloud – just to have a moment to consider it before their turn.

Professional language courses

Professional language courses are very different. At the beginning of the course, the student and teacher together plan and consider their targets. If the student is aware of his or her dyslexia, a teacher who specializes in it can be chosen for the course.

In the early years of my teaching career, students often requested for “a nice, patient teacher with a calm and relaxed teaching style”. When I discussed the course content with a student who had made such a request, signs of a learning difficulty often emerged.

Dyslexia on language courses

All learners have their own way of learning, and suitable methods are selected accordingly to support the achievement of the course objectives. 

Similarly, the special requirements of dyslexia are taken into account when planning a course.

I always survey each student’s strengths to find a strong area that can be used as a starting point. If the primary objective is to improve skills in the area of spoken language, we may begin by practicing and building the student's vocabulary, for example. Learning new words always involves pronunciation and learning to discern the essential content from someone’s speech.

The most important objective of language learning must always be the ability to communicate in a way that is understood, both orally and in writing, and, in turn, to understand others. Grammar is only a stepping stone that helps the learner along; communication always comes first.

Your language skills

I keep marveling at how wonderful it is that people from different countries, with different native languages, are able to speak a common language and understand each other.

It's always a good idea to learn another language; it will bring you much joy at work and in your free time.

It can also be very rewarding when you find a way to learn that suits you.

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