Language and speech disorders: How to learn with one

by Cassie Wright
August 17, 2020
If you’re someone who struggled to learn much of anything in a traditional classroom, you might worry that you’ll never be able to learn another language. Even as today’s teachers learn to spot children with speech or learning difficulties early on, the world of language learning advice doesn’t always keep those who learn differently in mind.

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What are language and speech disorders?

When talking about language and speech disorders, there are a really a wide number of difficulties you could refer to. They include both expressive and receptive language difficulties. Many of them can be divided into either speech disorders or impairments or language-based learning disabilities.

Speech disorders or impairments refer to problems with certain sounds. There are articulation disorders, which might show as mispronouncing words. Voice disorders can show as producing hoarse or breathy sounds. Fluency disorders can show up as hesitations or stuttering while speaking.

On the other hand, language-based learning disabilities can include a wide variety of issues involving maths, reading, writing, listening, and speaking. This includes some of the more commonly known learning disabilities, like dyslexia.  

Tips for learning

Whether you have a diagnosed speech or language impairment or you’ve had significant learning difficulties in the past, you might benefit from approaching language learning a little differently. Instead of struggling to reach your goals, try some of these tips:

Add additional sensory information

You don’t need to learn vocabulary by simply looking at a list of words, especially if you’ve got a learning disability that affects your reading abilities. Instead, use a variety of visual, auditory, tactile, and kinaesthetic strategies to learn.

For example, instead of just writing down words, try saying them aloud and using pictures or objects (if possible) at the same time. You can even try to colour code your notes to enhance your memory.

Use repetition

In this case, repetition doesn’t just mean trying the same thing over and over again. Instead, allow yourself a bit more time and patience to practice and review material you’ve already learned.

Repetition can also mean coming up with creative new ways to reinforce the things you have trouble with, such as using songs to work on pronunciation.

Break information down into smaller chunks

Sometimes, learning something new can be a bit overwhelming. If you’re struggling to understand, try breaking larger concepts into smaller steps. If you need to, you can even break apart words into syllables to help you with reading, listening, speaking, or spelling.

Think about it in a different way

If you don’t understand a difficult grammar concept, try to explain it back to your teacher or tutor in your own words. Your teacher’s ability to help you work through material as well as explain the reasoning behind new concepts can help you make better connections to the material.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to tell your teachers and tutors upfront about your learning difficulties. Even if you simply tell them you need extra time or patience with certain tasks, it can keep you from feeling stressed or pressured while you learn. You might even find a teacher who is willing to offer you a bit more intensive instruction.

If you choose to take part in a more traditional, in-person language class, you might also benefit from any available special education services or other accommodations.

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