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Why learn a foreign language if you have speech, language
and/or communication difficulties? (SLCD)

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Additional needs - Introduction

English as an additional language


Autism spectrum

Down's syndrome


Other specialised needs

Why teach MFL to pupils struggling with their first language?

Workshop 1 Why should we offer opportunities for second language learning to learners who are already struggling to master their first?

Anecdotal evidence suggest that children and young people with SLCD are amongst those most likely to be withdrawn from foreign language learning classes. At the same time, many children with just those difficulties are enjoying and benefiting from their MFL classes. So is withdrawing them justified?

Some professionals, including speech and language therapists, argue that better awareness of language is exactly what learners with SLCD need, and so MFL is the last subject from which they should be withdrawn. They point out that, at least in terms of conceptual content, the early stages of language learning are actually less difficult than than some other subjects where students have to learn large amounts of specialised vocabulary just to understand what lessons are about.

In a survey into young people's views conducted by Afasic Scotland (see below), the young people said they had particular difficulty with history, geography, science, maths, English and home economics. They said they enjoyed and had less difficulty with physical education, computing, technical studies and modern languages.

A publication that offers guidance for professional working with pupils with SLCD in secondary schools notes that:

In the early stages, learning a modern language can be a rewarding experience for pupils with speech, language and communication difficulties, and the value of intercultural activity for personal and social development should not be underestimated. However, because of the special learning demands, success within a second language should be carefully monitored. If this is problematic or causing undue frustration for the pupil, a decision needs to be made about whether it is appropriate to continue.


The same publication sets out the pros and cons of second language learning for pupils with SCLCD:


• Fewer meanings have to be acquired. The pupil is learning a new word for an item or concept which already exists in his/her 'mental dictionary'

• Everyday topics allow pupils to 're-visit' some aspects of life, social skills, etc. perhaps in a more age-related way.

• Self esteem: for the first time in many years perhaps, the pupils will be at the same stage as others in the class, and may progress quite well in the highly structured format of the early stages.


• The pronunciation is different. The language usually includes some unfamiliar speech sounds and/or new sounds in unfamiliar combinations. This may make learning the phonological forms of words even more difficult.

• Many new words may be introduced at once, making heavy demands on the pupil's ability to remember associations between words and their meanings.


Introducing new vocabulary
Some thoughts on support for learners who have difficulty with concepts.

Introducing new concepts

Concept development
Another example of how opportunities for correcting and developing concepts might arise.
Developing concepts


[Links last checked 23.5.11 unless otherwise indicated]


Afasic is the UK charity representing children and young adults with communication impairments, working for their inclusion in society and supporting their parents and carers. They produce a useful set of downloadable factsheets for professionals, known as Glossaries. See in particular the sheets describing different conditions that affect speech and language acquisition, memory disorders, makaton and bilingualism. They point out that that bilingualism is not a disorder and that it never causes or contributes to a communication disorder. They do say, however, that a bilingual child is just as likely to be affected by a speech and/or language impairment as a monolingual child and needs to be treated accordingly.

The Afasic survey mentioned above is described in the 2000 Conference booklet New Voices - New Language available to download from Afasic Scotland:

Also from Afaisic Scotland:
- Including young people with speech and language impairments in Secondary School: Guidance for teachers.
- Support for bilingual children and their Parents.

Makaton multi modal communication programme
Link to the Makaton Vocabulary Development Project

Talking Point:the first stop for information on children's communicztion
A training support for teachers who work with children to promote speech, language and communication development.

The Daily What
An online newspaper provided by Learning and Teaching Scotland to support literacy and language in Scottish Schools. Every article is available in a basic plain English version and in a longer, more in-depth version. It may provide a usefully differentiated entry levels for classes where some learners have communication difficulties.

Symbolising the environment
Using symbols to aid communication. A Whole School Approach - colloquially known as the Symbols Project. Case studies from primary and secondary schools. [Does this have potential for supporting communication in foreign languages too? - HM]

[2.6.11] Severe developmental disorders and bilingualism

[13.6.11] Symbol support for KS2 French

[15.9.11] A new Scottish voice
Press release about a new synthetic male voice called 'Stuart' being made available for use by boys with communication difficulties. This joins 'Heather' already in use in Scottish schools.

[17.6.12] What is Comprehensible Input?
A critical concept for second language development for students with and without learning difficulties.

[4.10.12] Multilingualism, also for children with an auditive or communicative disability!
Until now most logopedists and therapists believe that children with an auditive or communicative disability such as, deafness, down-syndrome or autism should be brought up in one language. Drs. Mirjam Blumenthal, researcher at the Royal Kentalis, proves the opposite with her presentation!



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