It can be tough for non-English speakers to learn English! The language’s nuances, similar spellings with different pronunciations (think “snow” vs. “now’), inner contradictions within words (“pineapple” hasn’t any connection to pine trees or apples), and differences in word order combine to make English a difficult language to master. It can be uphill battle—even for people without any learning issues.
When the ESL/ELL student has learning differences: dyslexia, ADHD, autism or others, that uphill battle can turn into Mount Everest. Here are some ideas to help those who work with ESL students with learning disabilities:
1. Engage More Senses
English-speaking students with these differences often respond better when teaching occurs through multiple learning styles. Non-native speakers, too, can benefit from such teaching. Catchy videos that combine simple, practical concepts—like words for the parts of one’s body, foods, or colors—with music and action can go a long way toward getting these words into these learners’ memory banks.
As the video plays, encourage students to participate in the action, touching each part or colour as they follow along. Bonus points if you participate, too!
2. Teach Common Courtesies with Videos and Interactive Practice
Courtesies and manners are key to learning the culture of a country. They can help new language learners better assimilate into their new environment. For some people with learning differences—in particular, those with autism – social conventions are hard enough to grasp in one’s own native language. But you could try to use videos that vividly illustrate the situations that require a given response. One video, “The Courtesy Song,” begins with someone receiving a gift. The recipient says, “Thank you.” The word is both said and written, appealing to both the visual and auditory senses.
The video introduces a few more common courtesies—all in a cheerful, humorous manner. Short, funny videos present material in digestible chunks—which mean that students will internalize more of the material.
After the video ends, pair off your students with each other to practice their newfound skills. Then come back to the video. Ask the students to join with the narrator to say the proper responses in every situation.
3. Give Students More Independence: Teach Directions
For many people, following someone’s directions is hard (and getting lost is actually quite easy)! Give your students more independence by teaching them the basic directions in English.
Learning left from right—as well as learning the cardinal directions—may seem easy to you. Directions are, however, concepts ESL learners with learning disabilities often struggle with. Use vivid videos to teach directions to your students, so they can have the confidence to go wherever opportunity leads them.
As your ESL students with learning differences grasp basic practical concepts, you can shift your teaching to more abstract ideas. Our next blog post will give you some ideas how to accomplish this shift without a hitch.