foreign or second language students with English language learning difficulties

As ESL EFL teachers or professionals in this field, we need to be aware that our English language students have qualities and learning differences that can enhance or hold back their language acquisition process. However, have you ever thought that the language itself also has components that may inhibit learning? If you have struggling foreign or second language students, think about all the following when considering why they are not progressing.  

How do language students influence their learning? Factors to consider:

• Age: How old we are influences how quickly learning takes place. Research into brain plasticity and critical age for learning indicates younger children have an advantage over mature students.

• Personality:  Character also plays a part. Confident students will experiment using language especially in the earlier stages of their learning. Practice and production speed up the learning process. On the contrary, those less confident, or who have low self-esteem will often not take the opportunity to reinforce their learning by practising.

• Attitude: A positive approach towards the English language and culture raises students’ level of motivation to learn. Keen students look for ‘after class’ learning opportunities.

• Anxiety: Affective factors can impede foreign language production and achievement. High levels of hormones hinder the ability to process information and impede language acquisition.

• Learning styles: Certain teaching or studying methods and styles may be unknown to some students – some prefer to work alone, others choose pair work or groups.

Language learning aptitude: Some students may possess an ability for learning languages and learn at a faster rate than others who may seem to be lagging behind in comparison.

The factors mentioned above should not be disregarded when wondering why a student has learning difficulties and isn’t keeping up with the pace of the class. However, further factors need to be taken into consideration so read on…

English language students learning to read and write

How does language influence learning?
Factors to consider:

• Language complexities: The English language has irregularities, a complicated sound and writing system, a difficult tense structure and more. Read More.

• Native language: The extent to which a student’s L1 differs linguistically from the target language can affect the speed of acquisition of the four basic language skills — speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

• Orthographic differences: The greater the dissimilarity between the writing system of the student’s native language and that of the English language, the harder it will be to acquire the English writing and reading system. Read More.

• First language proficiency: Since first language skills provide a foundation on which to base other languages, ensure your students are fully proficient in all aspects of their first language. Read More.

• First language problems: Check for any L1 difficulties. It is well known that complications in any areas of first language acquisition will transfer to similar problems in the same skills during foreign language learning. Read More.

Important to remember

Don’t forget, however, in spite of all the theories and factors mentioned above, it is possible that your slow learners may have undiagnosed learning disabilities or a specific learning disorder.  A basic rule to follow is based on Richard Sparks and Leonore Ganschow’s theory – Linguistic Coding Differences Hypothesis (LCDH). Find out if your students have any difficulties in their native language because research shows problems transfer from language to language.

What can you do now?

Carry on getting the informative benefits from this series and read:

Your Students Aren’t Learning! Understand Why

Understanding Struggling Students: Learning Disability Definitions Unraveled

EFL ESL Students Struggling? Four Little Known Theories Explain Why

Free Resources

Rushed and overwhelmed? Quickly and easily recognise and help struggling students and ensure you have useful information at your fingertips. Join other teachers and professionals and download my free how-to guides and handy checklists now. Enjoy!

Further Reading

Ganschow, Leonore & Sparks, Richard & Javorsky, James. (1998). Foreign Language Learning Difficulties: An Historical Perspective. Journal of learning disabilities. 31. 248-58. 10.1177/002221949803100304.

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