Sacre Bleu! 'Foreign Language Learning Disability'
if a child does very well in most academic subjects, but just cannot learn a foreign
language? These kids don't appear to "hear" the different pronunciations and
can't pick up on the different grammatical structures and so forth. What can be
done for them?
A lot of the kids themselves want to
get out of foreign language class, and use the designation of "foreign language
learning disability" as an excuse.
But in the Journal of Learning Disabilities (November/December 2006), Richard
Sparks writes that there isn't really a "foreign language disability." Studies
of students who have been identified as "learning disabled," or who have lower
IQ's, have failed to demonstrate that there is such a thing as a disability in
language skills, he said.
Yes, there are students who do very
well in other academic subjects, but bomb in their foreign language (FL) class.
But it's not because there's a disease or syndrome that creates a learning
disability (LD) that's holding them back, he writes.
students classified as having LD do not always exhibit problems with FL
learning," he notes. "Second, students classified as having LD do not
exhibit different learning profiles or more severe FL learning problems when
compared to students with FL learning problems not classified as LD."
Sparks says the courts have
ruled that there must be evidence of "substantial impairment" in a
student's learning ability, compared to the average person, for a diagnosis of
"learning disability" to hold up. Because the average person in the American population
cannot read, write and comprehend a language other than English, it is
difficult to maintain students have a disability.
Language Aptitude Test, or MLAT, is a foreign-language placement test that
measures phonetic coding ability, grammatical sensitivity, memory ability, and
inductive language learning ability. Some educators believe a low score on the
MLAT can indicate the presence of a foreign-language learning disability. But
Sparks pointed out that using one test score is not a sound way to diagnose a
special-education problem. Also, the norms for the test have not been updated
since 1958. Meanwhile, nearly three times as many people are going to college
as back then, so those on the lower end of the aptitude scale are going to be
taking classes for comparison purposes.
Sparks' research, schools probably should not allow course substitutions or
waivers from foreign language graduation requirements. Instead, attention
should be paid to how language is being taught in the early grades. If the
school is using Whole Language reading instruction techniques, the kids are
being handicapped from language ability. If the school uses systematic,
intensive, explicit phonics, and only phonics, the kids are being set up for
success on down the road, both with English and with foreign language.
probable that schools that concentrate on giving students good instruction in
phonetics, grammar, memorization and other language skills won't have as big a
problem with them being ill equipped to pick up a foreign language - an
important skill in this day of global communications.
Read more about it in this article on Educational