I completed my dissertation based on the topic of “Dyslexia and MFL learning” two years ago. At the time I was concerned by the number of people getting exemptions from studying MFL, even though I was convinced that these students were exceptionally able.
Dyslexia and other literacy issues are so common nowadays that unfortunately many students are reluctant to learn a foreign language. This leads to them avoiding picking MFL as a subject or requesting to opt out of it if it’s compulsory. Given the prevalence of literacy issues today, this number of people avoiding learning MFL is growing constantly. This is something that concerns me greatly- the more people that study MFL, the better of course! Of course, literacy difficulties aren’t unique to MFL. Lots of students struggle to complete written homework in any subject, given how frustrating it is for them.
Help is at hand, thankfully. Assistive technology is an excellent and innovative way to engage otherwise reluctant MFL learners. Many students with literacy difficulties lack confidence in their writing abilities and therefore may tend to write as little as possible. Writing can be so time consuming for them that even completing heavily differentiated homework from all subjects can take a long length of time. However, it’s worth remembering that written and reading work are only two of the five MFL skills. The other three should be perfectly accessible to students- listening, spoken production, spoken interaction. It’s worth telling students this to give them a confidence boost- they CAN do it!
An excellent way to overcome issues with written work and reading work is by using assistive technology. Voice to text and text to speech technology is freely available online in lots of different languages ( an example of a Voice to Text website is here and an example of a Speech to Text website is here). Headsets with microphones are needed for this (they aren’t overly expensive- lots of students may already have them at home). All the student has to do is simple speak into the microphone (after choosing their language of choice) and the words appear on the screen. This can then be printed or saved. This is also a wonderful way to prepare for Classroom Based Assessments where redrafting of previous work is required. Text to speech is also excellent for preparing oral work or perfecting pronunciation.
This software is such an excellent asset to the student and a wonderful differentiation tool. Some students with literacy difficulties find writing and reading such a time-consuming ordeal. As a result, we as teachers don’t always see the extent of their capabilites. It’s particularly wonderful to see students eventually able to communicate their ideas without having to struggle using a pen. May I add that this software isn’t just for students with learning difficulties- it’s wonderful for all students. Some of my students have found Text to Speech particularly useful before oral examinations.
Have you tried it before? Let me know.