Dyslexic students in the EFL classroom

The word “dyslexia” comes from the Greek words “dys” (difficulty) and “lexia” (language), and is a language processing disorder that some people are born with.


Although learning a new language can be very difficult for people with dyslexia – especially in the written form – it does not mean they have to give up on it. In fact, it can be quite stressful for these learners to be introduced to new patterns, sounds and symbols when they have not had their difficulties sorted in their native language.


Gyorgi Gabor suggests that there are a number of ways in which teachers can help. Below are a series of practical tips he has put together:


1. Listening

A dyslexic child may struggle to process incoming auditory information efficiently in his/her first language.

·        If possible, explain important things in the child’s first language.

·        Try to use a small tape recorder to record new vocabulary, stories, homework instruction so the child can listen to it as many times as necessary.

·        Using visuals and pictures along with the listening task will aid the child’s understanding.

·        The following exercises might be useful if they have difficulties differentiating between certain sounds, for example e-i, a-e…etc.


You will need a range of cards showing pictures of objects with the problem sounds, and two boxes. First, the teacher names the object, the student picks the correct card. Second, the student repeats the word, and places in the right box that is labeled for the sound.

Odd one out

This can be played with the same cards. First, the teacher shows four pictures. For example, hat, pen, cat, map. Next, the pictures are named and the student has to point out the odd one out.


2. Speaking

In foreign/second language acquisition understanding, reading and writing usually precedes speaking, therefore we have to be very patient with our students.

·        Never force a dyslexic child to speak, always wait until they volunteer.

·        If necessary, ask them to speak when the question is easy and you are sure they know the answer.

·        Encourage them with lots of positive feedback.


3. Reading

Reading in English must be a pleasant experience regardless of the age and ability of the child.

·        Always have the child read with a purpose.

·        Discuss vocabulary before reading, as this will aid prediction and understanding.

·        Dyslexic children benefit from cloze exercises as they are useful to develop predictive skills.

·        Have the child dictate his own stories to you. It will provide the student with relevant and motivating reading material that can be further exploited.


4. Writing

Dyslexic children may have the most difficulties with learning to spell English words.

·        Pointing out the difference between the letter-sound correspondence of their first language, and English can often be a very helpful start. For example, in Hungarian each letter has its corresponding sound, whereas in English there are 26 letters referring to 44 sounds.

·        Build a structured, systematic, spelling program focusing on one rule at a time.

·        Repeat and reinforce stimulating the use of all the pathways (eyes, ears, hands, and lips) to the brain simultaneously. For example, have them vocalize the words as they write them. Younger children enjoy building words using plastic, wooden, or rubber letters.

·        Don’t forget to teach the irregular words on a whole word basis. These words are frequently used and the dyslexic child needs a great deal of exposure to them.

·        Teach the words in context as well.

·        When writing to communicate, teach them different planning techniques, such as mind mapping, and break up the process into small, manageable steps.

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Antonio Coutelo

Antonio Coutelo - Graduated in Portuguese and English Languages by the Catholic University of Pernambuco (2009), holds an MSc degree in Language from the Catholic University of Pernambuco (2012) and is now pursuing his doctoral degree. He currently lectures at the Catholic University of Pernambuco and researches the following subjects: foreign language, English, deaf, teaching-learning and Brazilian Sign Language.

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