Dyslexia and Language


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.


6 thoughts on “Dyslexia and Language

  1. kaygoss

    It’s really interesting how they talk about the positivity that the participants felt and how that counteracts any kind of disadvantage that they had with the finger spelling. My husband has dyslexia and he lost his hearing pretty recently. He does have a harder time finger spelling words but I have never seen him frustrated over it since he is just happy to be signing. I had learned how to sign when I was younger so the finger spelling or just the alphabet is pretty much the same as me spelling out loud. Since my husband had learned to sign as an adult I do think that played a part in why he was having a harder time picking up certain things.

  2. Sydney Wayne

    My 1st thought into reading your intro paragraph was to suggest ASL! I struggled with Spanish in middle school so wanted to go into ASL in high school. Now for UMW, I have to take more classes. My plan is to also take ASL though my community college during the upcoming summer (doubt there will be any jobs available, might as well just take a ton of classes). I really liked ASL in high school. It is really fun to have a “secret” language with your other ASL friends that most people do not know. Talking from across the room is also a great advantage.
    I feel like it would be easier for an individual with dyslexia to learn ASL compared to a foreign language. It is more hand visuals than word visuals. All the written words are in English too, so assuming that you are an English speaker/writer already, this will be a struggle you are already tackling/dealing with.
    Good luck! I hope you find this easier than a foreign language as well.

  3. jackkirschner

    Another thing to consider is that as you get older it becomes harder to learn a new language. Thats why I think it would be helpful if you took a language in high school or middle school to continue that language. You may have forgotten that language over time, especially if you took some time off from that language. Remember though that its easier to relearn something than to learn something new.

  4. ccragun

    I was also struggling to deal with the language requirement. Its so much easier to learn a language when you’re younger, and now that we’re in college and taking a boat load of other classes, I think the language requirement isn’t the greatest. I took French and Spanish and hated both of them so I knew I didnt want to take them again, so I decided to go with ASL and have taken the first two courses. Im not dyslexic but I do think ASL might be a better option! I could see how the fingerspelling might be hard but overall it seems like it wouldn’t be too terrible, I hope you do well when you start!

  5. maggierush

    Hi as far as the ASL stuff, I’m doing that right now through Gallaudet. My number one tip is get your classes approved by registrar BEFORE you register for the classes elsewhere! I actually am somewhat fluent in ASL in order to communicate to my family and have always had an appreciation for any situations where ASL can benefit people who are hearing. Its actually funny because I wrote my SHT 11 on ASL and phonemes, honestly I think that ASL uses some of the physical/bodily characteristics needed to produce sound. While signing it’s important to make facial expressions or mouth words and I think that’s pretty cool. It’s neat to me that with enough context that deaf people can read lips enough and understand the mouth pattern of our phonemes to understand the words that we are saying. I probably could go on and on about this but I really liked your post.

    1. awaltrip Post author

      Hey, I am hopefully going to get it approved by the registrar this week or next, and I will definitely check out Gallaudet. Thank you!

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