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  • Writer's pictureElena

Dyslexia: common difficulties and strategies

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a type of language disorder. Peterson and McGrath explain that "one of its underlying neuropsychological deficits is faulty development of phonological representations" (2009: 46). This means that learners have difficulties with reading, reading comprehension, writing, and spelling. In this blog post, I'll explore the difficulties associated with dyslexia and strategies for teaching English to learners with dyslexia.


What kind of difficulties can young learners have?

It's important to remember that dyslexia occurs on a continuum from mild to severe, and no two are alike. Thus, the challenges faced by (very) young learners with dyslexia are diverse and can manifest differently in each case. Some common difficulties include:


  • Difficulty learning nursery rhymes

  • Difficulty recognising rhyming words

  • Difficulty blending letters 

  • Difficulty associating sounds and letters

  • Failure to recognise the written form of familiar words

  • Written work not aligning with verbal ability 

  • Inconsistent spelling

  • Confusion between letters which look similar, for example, b/d, w/m, n/u

  • Difficulty sequencing alphabet, numbers, and days of the week

  • Memory challenges, especially with lists


Difficulties with English

When teaching English as a foreign language to (very) young learners, the focus is on oral language and developing children's phonemic awareness. However, in the case of older learners, teachers can adapt different aspects of learning and support the learners with dyslexia.


  • Reading aloud

Although difficulties in learning letter names may have been noted in kindergarten, reading problems typically appear by first or second grade. If we talk about reading aloud, it doesn't necessarily facilitate good text comprehension. Thus, if you ask children to read aloud, ensure it's done to work on the relationships between pronunciation and spelling. In other cases, it's better to read the text aloud slowly to provide learners with the correct model of reading. Then, let them reread the text silently.


  • Listening

Activities that activate both auditory and visual channels, such as those involving animation and subtitles, can be more effective for learners with dyslexia who struggle with phonological processing.


  • Vocabulary

It's known that learners with dyslexia benefit from explicit instruction, but since they have difficulties holding a large amount of information in their working memory, teachers should introduce six to eight words. If you are pre-teaching words before a listening or reading task, it is recommended to focus on pronunciation and meaning first. Learners can also benefit from a structured approach, which includes introducing new vocabulary in context and providing visual aids such as diagramsflow charts, and mind maps.


  • Grammar

When working on language structures, start with noticing activities and then move on to controlled practice. This way, learners with dyslexia can get familiar with the target language structure in context and then practise it in a way that does not require a lot of writing (e.g. gap-fill, matching, and multiple-choice exercises).


When it comes to grammar, tables are often used to present different structures. Although tables are helpful for analytical learners, they are not as beneficial for those with dyslexia (Daloiso, 2014). For such learners, flow charts can be a more useful tool to represent procedures like the rules for forming affirmative, negative, and interrogative sentences in English.

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