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Many of the resources and strategies that help young people with impaired vision in other classes can help them in foreign language classes too.

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Additional needs - Introduction

Why teach languages to learners of all abilities?

Workshop VI Working together: Planning support in MFL for learners iwith visual impairment

Perhaps the greatest step forward in recent times for learners with visual impairments is in the advent of technology that can make the curriculum more accessible to them. Many of the items below are links to information about generic resources that can help. Software used to support learners with VI in other subjects is often available in foreign language versions as well. ICT co-ordinators can be mines of information, but you may need to ask explicitly for the sort of help you are looking for.

Understanding the problems
Mainstream teachers are not always aware of what 'being blind' actually signifies in specific cases. One type of blindness can be very different from another, and strategies that suit one learner may not suit another. It is very rare for a blind person to be able to see nothing at all, so it is important to find out what residual vision a learner might have, and to make the most of it. Find out as much as you can from the SEN co-ordinator, classroom assistants and, of course, from the learners themselves. Once you have the information you can use it; if you don't find out, you can't.

An example
In one school I visited, the foreign language teacher was unable to tell me if the blind boy in her class had any residual vision; she hadn't been told, and she hadn't thought of asking. Nor did she know what strategies were in use to help him in other subjects. When she set about finding out, she discovered that the boy had enough vision to see the enlarged text produced by the CCTV in the VI Base, and that he carried in his pocket a dictaphone for taking notes. These devices enabled him to use the same textbook the rest of the class was using, and to record new vocabulary for practice at home. (Project development officer)

Newer mobile electronic devices are no doubt now being used for the same purpose!


"As a result of working with blind students, I had a small epiphany. Whenever I needed to use a visual, I would describe everything in detail. When I made a simple chart or list on the board, I would talk as I wrote. I would spell words as I wrote. I would indicate not only what I was writing or drawing, but I would point out the relationships between items. It didn't take long for me to realise that I was benefitting the sighted students as well. I was directing everyone's attention to what was salient and I was connecting oral language with written words."

Bill Walker, Instructor at the American Institute, University of Oregon.
Quoted in AWAY online journal, issue June 2011, published by MIUSA


[Links last checked 7.6.11 unless otherwise indicated.]

SQA Subject Guidance: Introduction to Assessment Arrangements (see page 30 for arrangements for candidates who are visually impaired).

RNIB: Teaching Modern Foreign Languages
How class teachers can make their teaching methods more accessible to all children, but particularly those with sight problems.
Tips for adapting resources:

Differentiation strategies for the inclusion of students with severe visual impairment in MFL modules in Higher Education
Advice from the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies.

Teaching modern languages to visually impaired children
Advice from CILT's website to support teacher trainers. Read the review, then click on the title to see the whole article.

Foreign lanuages and students with disabilities
Includes two sections relevant to foreign language learning and vision impairment.

Accessing foreign language materials as a blind or low vision student
An information guide on arranging for assistive technology, accessible formats and services in the foreign language course.

Working with students who are blind or partially sighted
Advice for staff at the University of Strathclyde

Teaching English and foreign languages to blind and deaf students
A blog from the University of Cordoba, Spain. The materials available and referred to in the blog have been suggested by students enrolled in the module Teaching English to Special Needs Students.

Learning from experience: Mobility and daily living skills in an English language classroom
Professor Marek's account of teaching English as a foreign language to blind pupils in Poland.
An interview with Professor Marek.

Some resources for blind language learners

Accessible language learning for visually impaired people (ALLVIP)
An EU Socrates project that has been looking at new ways of language learning for blind and visually impaired people.
The first test versions of the software are ready. Interested in evaluating? Details here:
A spin-off from this programme, focusing on the needs of children and young people (ELLVIS):

European Language Portfolio for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ELPBVI)
Early days, but if you are interested...

A blind girl who is fluent in four languages has become the youngest interpreter to work at the European Parliament – at the age of ten

Additional support needs: visual impairment
General advice from Learning and Teaching Scotland.

[7.10.11] Teaching English in Yemen
Carla Valpeoz, a graduate student who is legally blind, accepted a volunteer position teaching English to blind students in Yemen as part of her six-month practicum. Reading her story here:

[8.1.12] Using the braille French code
A free download from the RNIB. This document is based on the braille code used in the UK for transcribing text in French, and includes advice about various layout conventions.

[8.3.12] Braille is spreading, but who's using it?
An article from BBC News.

[16.6.12] EFL for learners with a visual impairment – bibliography

[8.10.12] Teaching English to visually impaired students
The British Council provides links to three articles on this subject.

[28.5.13] Royal Blind School visits France
Article in the Spring 2013 edition of Scottish CILT's Newsletter

[20.5.16] An exchange between specialist colleges for visually impaired students in UK and France focuses on transferable and vocational skills.


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