18 July 2013 14:36

A recent two year-long project, Dyslexia for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (DysTEFL), funded by the European Commission and winner of the 2014 British Council Excellence in Course Innovation Award, has developed teacher training materials to help teach foreign languages to dyslexic students more efficiently.

The teacher training materials, which are available both for self-study and for use in face-to-face and online teacher training courses, give teachers a better understanding of how dyslexia and other learning differences affect the process of language learning. The materials also equip teachers with a wide repertoire of techniques and tools to use in the language classroom.

I was recently awarded the National Teaching Fellowship in part for my work in this area. The project team of which I have been a member relied on the research I previously conducted with dyslexic language learners and their teachers and on my expertise in teacher training and online distance teaching. My research highlighted the fact that dyslexic language learners are often exempted from foreign language classes and are seriously disadvantaged in many countries of Europe where foreign language competence is essential on the job market. I also showed that given the right type of support these students can successfully learn how to communicate in another language.

The DysTEFL project is primarily aimed at teachers who work in European contexts where English is taught in the classroom. The materials developed are also relevant for those teaching modern foreign languages in secondary schools and higher education as well as English as an additional language in the UK. The pilot course which was run in the new online virtual learning environment of Lancaster University has been highly successful. Participants from many parts of the world from Qatar to Hungary all felt that they are now better equipped and more confident in working with students with specific learning differences. As one of the teachers wrote in her feedback:

“It was an amazing and very insightful course. I have learnt a lot of useful things that I try to use to my dyslexic pupil’s advantage.”

The teacher training materials are freely available to download and use via the DysTEFL website. They include information sheets and video resources, reflective tasks and activities with model answers and notes that can be used as a whole course, or independently, by anyone interested in the field of dyslexia and language learning. It is hoped that, as a result of the project, fewer dyslexic students will be left out of the experience of learning another language and that these students will enjoy the process of learning and benefit more from the advantages of knowing foreign languages.

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