For the past few months I have been trying to think of what to do about the UMW language requirement; and before you ask, yes I had thought about it before picking my freshman year classes. I know what you are thinking, “just pick the language you are interested in or that you think will be easiest for you and take the class,” but it is not that simple. I can learn any language I want this is true, and I may go on to do so when I have spare time in adulthood; however, right now when I am juggling other classes, looking for a job, looking for future internships and grad schools, caring for rapidly ageing grandparents, and trying to get enough sleep and stay healthy, then throw dyslexia on top of it and learning a language seems like an impossibility. At the beginning of freshman year, I had thought that learning Latin would be my way out, because of the class mostly lacking a verbal communication part. However, with my second semester of Latin coming to a close, the thought of taking even one of the two more classes I would have to take of it seems like a death sentence for my other classes and my sanity. According to IDA (International Dyslexia Association), the definition of dyslexia is:
“a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
With that definition, the issue seems to be getting the sound of the phone/phoneme to store both the sound and its designated letter correctly. When I had talked to friends, they had said that sign language was not affected by dyslexia, but I was skeptical about that statement. Now that class picking time is upon us, I wanted to know if I should use ASL as a way to not have to take any more Latin.
Minna Moffatt-Feldman from University of Bolton, conducted research about the Impact of dyslexia on learning sign language. After the tremendous experiment was over, the conclusion was that “overall dyslexia does not appear to pose a disadvantage to learning SL given the majority of participants citing a positive emotional response from SL” (Side note this is a great paper and I would suggest you take a look at it: second link below). The participants showed that the fingerspelling comprehension was a clear disadvantage; however, the positivity that the people felt counteracted it completely. To me this shows that phonology can be intertwined with any language even when the language has a sound component. All of these adults had already connected sound and language; however, this most certainly could not be the case for people who have never heard. This would prompt the idea that children who learn a normal verbal language and sign language would not have this established connection. Therefore, children with dyslexia that learn sign language as well as their given language could possibly not have this disadvantage with the fingerspelling comprehension. This thought is supported by Krashen’s 1987 study about “principals and practice in second language acquisition” that was cited in the Moffatt paper.
I have unfortunately passed this time of language without sound period; however, with the very positive feedback for the participants of the study, I will hopefully start taking ASL classes to fill the language requirement starting this summer.