Languages, Dyslexia and Free CPD!

On the first day of my summer holidays I headed off to Shropshire for a Dyslang event, having decided that anything that combines my two big interests – languages and dyslexia – had to be worth giving up a day of my holidays for.

It was about the problems faced with teaching multi-lingual individuals who have dyslexia. Difficulties in even diagnosing dyslexia can arise because of the influences of the individual’s first language (for example they may use a different script, their language may be read from right to left, there may be sounds in English that don’t exist in their first language). I don’t want to write a whole post about Dyslang because they have a website which will tell you all you want to know about they do – you’ll find it at

Dysland e-learning modulesWhat I do want to do is to tell people that there are 12 e-learning modules on their website which are completely free – all you have to do is register. Free CPD – what more could you ask for?

The other thing I want to do in this post is to share a fascinating nugget of information that I discovered on the course:

Our brains function differently depending on our first language and culture! The brains of people whose first language is English have a phoneme-grapheme correspondence function, but because not all of our words are phonetic their brains also have a word recognition function. The brains of people whose first language is a phonetic one, such as Italian or Spanish, have only the phoneme-grapheme recognition – because they don’t have any non-phonetic words, they don’t need to recognise words that don’t follow the pattern, so the word recognition function just doesn’t exist. Amazing!

The Language Show Live 2012 – What I learnt from Dr Rachel Hawkes

Rachel Hawkes had some great ideas for motivating pupils to practise their language skills outside of the classroom. My favourite was the Spanglovision contest which her school does in Year 7. Each class has a different song, and in an interactive lesson at school they listen to the song and make-up some actions to help them remember the meaning of the words. They then take the sound file away so that they can practise at home.

There is a big incentive to do the practise at home, because at school they then have a show for the rest of the school to watch. The Y7s perform, and the Y8s upwards vote for their favourite act. They also have a special show for the parents to come and watch.

Although Dr Hawkes teaches in a secondary school, I think this activity would work really well in a primary school. It would fit perfectly into a European week in a primary school, with each class learning a song in a different language – they could then dress up in the colours of that country’s flag for the final show.

A similar idea is Language Beatz: the children get a backing track, and they create their own song based on whatever vocabulary they are currently learning. This would be a great cross-curricular project for music, ICT and MFL in a primary school. When the song is finished, if teachers and pupils want to, they can submit it to a national competition.

To celebrate all languages within a school, why not have a multi-cultural/multi-language recital? Children are invited to sing a song, read a short story, or recite a poem in either the language they are learning at school or their home language. The English translation is shown on a screen behind them for the benefit of people who don’t know that language. I like this idea, and again I can see it working well at primary school level as well. To break up the speaking and singing, there is no reason why you couldn’t also include some traditional dances from different countries.

These first three ideas would make a lovely alternative to an end of year play.

The last of Dr Hawkes’ ideas that I’m going to talk about here is the Language Challenge. The children have a list of challenges to choose from, and they earn points for each one they achieve. When they reach 100 points they receive a reward. The points awarded for each challenge vary according to the difficulty , so pupils can choose to do 2 or 3 hard challenges, or lots of easier ones. This makes it possible for even lower achieving pupils to reach 100 points. In her school the challenges are things such as:

  • updating Facebook status in the target language for 1 month
  • writing an explanation for a grammar rule
  • teaching a younger child
  • producing a website or blog in the target language

Obviously these challenges would be too difficult in a primary school, but there is no reason why some simpler challenges couldn’t be set:

  • answering the register in German every day for half a term
  • writing the date in French  in other subjects
  • borrowing a bilingual book from the classroom and using it to identify the meaning of one word in the target language
  • counting in Italian for games in the playground

For language teaching and tuition from beginner to GCSE, visit my website

Related posts:  The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from Isabelle Jones
The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from Helen Myers
The Language Show 2012 – What I Learnt from everyone else
Le Mur Parlant