LINGUIST List 23.3662

Tue Sep 04 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics: Kormos & Smith (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 04-Sep-2012
From: James Rock <>
Subject: Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences
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AUTHORS: Judit Kormos & Anne Margaret SmithTITLE: Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning DifferencesPUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2012

James Rock, Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Università Cattolicadel Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy

SUMMARYIn modern society, knowing a second language is increasingly becoming a basicprerequisite in order to find employment in many sectors of the economy.Consequently, it is no longer deemed advantageous for those with languagelearning difficulties to be exempted from foreign language classes, as was socommon in the past. In this book, the authors emphatically stress that we shouldrefrain from viewing such learners as in some way linguistically disabled and,thus, incapable of second language instruction, and instead focus on theirspecific learning differences (SpLD).

There are nine chapters, with chapters one to four primarily addressingdiffering views of disability in education, the characteristics of dyslexia,dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and Asperger's syndrome, and the effects that theycan each have on language learning. The remainder of the book focuses on thetypical journey a language learner with an SpLD may experience throughouthis/her formal education. The book is intended for both experienced and novicelanguage teachers.

In Chapter One, "Views of Disability in Education", the authors consider theterminology relating to disabled learners. A variety of discourses arediscussed, with specific attention given to how disabilities are defineddifferently within the traditional medical discourse model and the more recentsocially-constructed discourse model. The authors claim that although a moresocio-cultural view of disability is increasing in popularity, it is still quitecommon to hear medical terminology used to describe language learningdifficulties, such as dyslexia. Attention is then given to exploring the type ofdiscourse used in educational settings. The authors stress that inclusion isoften misinterpreted by many educational institutions as simply meaningintegration, rather than full inclusion. As a result, disabled students areoften solely allowed the possibility to share physical facilities, but are notgiven the opportunity to interact meaningfully with the wider studentpopulation. Financial considerations are often given as the reason forinstitutions being unable to provide a genuine inclusive educational policy,which leads the authors to question whether a truly inclusive ethos can be achieved.

In Chapter Two, ''What is Dyslexia'', a brief overview of research is provided,including difficulties in defining dyslexia. Early definitions were based ondiscrepancies between reading difficulties and general intellectual abilities.Such discrepancy-based definitions were, however, heavily criticised forunder-identifying students with dyslexia and for the biased nature of IQ teststowards certain ethnic and socials groups. A more recent definition by theInternational Dyslexic Association encouragingly attempts to integratebehavioural, cognitive, biological and environmental descriptions. Nevertheless,the authors still argue that this definition is incomplete, as it emphasises thebehavioural manifestations of dyslexia and fails to provide sufficient insightinto the nature of the neurological characteristics of dyslexic children.

A good overview of the basic cognitive mechanisms involved in learning is thenprovided. The features of both short-term and long-term memory are described,with specific attention also given to the importance of phonological short-termmemory capacity in the acquisition of literacy skills, and to describing thevarious stages involved in word-recognition. The point is made that childrenwith dyslexia find it particularly difficult to segment word forms into letters,convert letters into sounds and combine them to form the phonological form ofthe word. This is due to difficulties in phonological processing, which could beameliorated with more explicit instruction. The authors also argue that due toimpairments in short-term memory, many dyslexic learners could experience speechdelay, a slower rate of speech, and a smaller receptive and expressivevocabulary range.

The chapter moves on to discuss the Phonological Deficit Hypothesis (Vellutino,1979). Research has demonstrated that dyslexic people perform significantlyworse in tasks requiring phonological awareness. The chapter concludes with theauthors briefly describing the Automaticity Deficit Hypothesis (Nicolson &Fawcett, 1990), which advocates that problems in the automatisation of newskills are at the core of the difficulties dyslexic children experience.

In Chapter Three, ''Associated Learning Differences'', the authors provide anoverview of several learning differences, other than dyslexia. These includeSpecific Language Impairment (SLI), Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Attention Deficitand Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Asperger's Syndrome. Some of the maincharacteristics learners with these kinds of specific learning differences mighthave in common are described, as well as the challenges that learners with thesetypes of SpLD's face in everyday life.

Chapter Four, ''Cognitive and Emotional Aspects of Language Learning",investigates how cognitive and affective correlates of SpLD's may affect thelanguage learning process. The chapter begins with differentiating betweencognitive and affective abilities in language learning. The suggestion is madethat language learners with dyslexia can very easily get caught up in a viciouscircle due to cognitive problems in language learning. They may subsequentlylose motivation, which may result in further failures. Attention is then givento language learning difficulties of students with an SpLD. The authorsreiterate that there are great differences in the degree of impairment ofphonological processing skills and phonological short-term memory amongstdyslexic learners. As a result, dyslexic learners cannot be regarded as ahomogeneous group, and their individual cognitive profiles must be consideredcarefully. An interesting point is made that languages with transparentorthographies might be easier to learn for students with an SpLD. The chapterconcludes with an exploration of some of the difficulties learners with an SpLDexperience in all major areas of language learning.

In Chapter Five, ''Identification and Disclosure'', the authors deal with thedifficult process of identifying whether a learner's difficulties with languagelearning are the result of an SpLD or a general difficulty with a particularlanguage. The point is made that many language teachers do not feel experiencedenough to identify whether a student has an SpLD, or not. This is claimed to bedue to the pervasiveness of the medical discourse model in many countries. Theauthors subsequently outline three stages in the process of identification --observation; screening; and formal identification -- followed by detaileddiscussion of how assessors and learners might go about disclosing the resultsof a formal assessment. They argue that the results ought to be shared with thestudent immediately, and an attempt should be made to help the student developan understanding of his or her strengths and weaknesses and to exploreconnections to general daily difficulties. Further discussion is subsequentlygiven to addressing how results should be best passed on to educationalinstitutions, teachers, family, and peers. It is suggested that although somestudents may be reluctant to pass on information about their SpLD, for fear ofattracting unwanted attention, other learners may be keen to disclose that theyhave an SpLD in order to help them in their course and to strengthen theirrelationship with their tutors.

Chapter Six, ''Accommodating Differences'', deals with several modifications thateducational institutions can make to develop a truly inclusive learningenvironment that can benefit language learners with an SpLD. A range ofenvironmental adaptations that can be implemented in the classroom arediscussed. These include adjustments to light and temperature, the way furnitureis arranged, the types of equipment used in class, and the way materials can bemodified and presented in a more appropriate way to students with learningdifferences. This is followed by some recommendations as to ways of improvingthe presentation and organisation of the language curriculum by the teacher. Thedefining feature is that learners with an SpLD should be given ampleopportunities and extra time to allow for additional practice and repetitionsince it takes them longer to assimilate new information and transfer it tolong-term memory. The authors stress the importance of clear communication whenproviding feedback and instructions to learners, and also that teachers shouldavoid placing learners with an SpLD in uncomfortable situations that mightnegatively affect self-esteem. The chapter concludes with an analysis of some ofthe effective study skills and metacognitive techniques that learners can use toimprove their language learning performance.

In Chapter Seven, ''Techniques for Language Teaching'', the reader is presentedwith some teaching methods that can be used when teaching learners with an SpLD.The authors emphasise that the teacher is best viewed as a facilitator whoprovides assistance and guidance to the learners not only to learn the language,but also to learn about how the language works and to learn through using thelanguage. The first method addressed is the multi-sensory structured learningapproach (MSL) (Sparks et al. 1991). This approach teaches elements of the L2through the activation of auditory, visual, tactile and kinaesthetic pathways.It also stresses the use of language learning strategies and the importance ofpracticing different aspects of the L2 until they become automatic, through theuse of a range of multi-sensory teaching and learning tasks. A distinctivecharacteristic of the MSL is its focus on explicit teaching of L2 grammar rulesand drills, very different from communicative pedagogies. The chapter moves onto ways in which the multi-sensory structured learning approach can be appliedto the teaching of the sound and spelling systems of the L2, as well as theteaching of vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

In Chapter Eight, ''Assessment'', the focus is on how students with an SpLD can beaccommodated in second language assessment. The authors report that learnerswith specific differences were largely ignored in the past and only recentlyhave examination boards begun questioning the validity and fairness of theirproficiency examinations. They briefly describe the difference betweenassessment and testing, followed by a more detailed account of the notions oftesting validity and fairness. It is suggested that bias is often a problem, ascertain response formats pose difficulties for learners with an SpLD. As aresult, tests should be adjusted to accommodate such learners, followed by adescription of some possible accommodations which do not affect the validity ofthe construct being tested. The chapter concludes with some discussion on theevaluation procedures employed in the language classroom.

In the final chapter, Transition and Progression", the authors address theemotionally demanding task of making transitions within the educational system.This is particularly difficult for learners with an SpLD, and the role of theteacher in facilitating transition is extremely important. Discussion isinitially given to exploring some of the factors that cause stress in transitionfor learners with an SpLD. The chapter then describes steps that students andtheir families can take to help with smooth transitions, as well as the kinds ofstrategies that an educational institution can implement. This is followed by ananalysis of the procedures that the receiving institution can put into placeorder to alleviate the difficulties of transition. The chapter concludes withsome consideration given to the world of work. The authors note that the kindsof adaptations that have been implemented in educational institutions forlearners with an SpLD have not been carried through into the world of work.Thus, people with an SpLD are often afraid of disclosing information toprospective or current employers about their learning difference, as this may bea reason for not being offered the job or even being dismissed by theiremployers. Consequently, it appears that the advantages of disclosure in theworkplace are not as clearly evident as in education.

EVALUATIONThis book is of obvious benefit to anybody interested in literacy issues. Fromthe perspective of foreign language learning, it is warmly greeted, as specificlearning differences are highly pertinent today. The book is accessible to alltypes of language teachers, from the most experienced to the novice. Readers arethankfully not overloaded with technical linguistic jargon, even when cognitiveprocesses are being described. This is particularly evident in Chapters Two andFour when the learning mechanisms involved in language are discussed.

The book is extremely well organised with short even-length chapters, which dealwith a specific topic and follow a logical sequence. As a result, many chapterscould easily be studied independently within a teacher training workshop.Moreover, the decision to clearly differentiate between early chapters that dealwith theoretical and linguistic issues, and those in the second part of the bookthat focus on the methods to ensure that language learners are not left behindis applauded. Another useful attribute of the book is the ubiquitous collectionof activities and summary points found at the end of each chapter. This helpsensure that readers can quickly access the most relevant points and they canalso actively test their knowledge of the information found in each chapter.

Another positive feature is the wide range of themes that are explored. Theauthors state that many of these topics are rarely covered elsewhere, and thisis, indeed, true. Of particular interest is the discussion on the difficultieslearners may face in disclosing information about an SpLD to educationalinstitutions and in the workplace. This is often not discussed; however, someinformation about how westernised cultures differ in their treatment of learnerswith an SpLD would have been welcome. Chapter Six was also useful, as theclassroom environment is often an area that is ignored by teachers. The usefulsuggestions made as to how the language classroom could be set up moreeffectively, and teaching materials organised in such a way as to ensure greaterclarity were most appreciated. The authors make a valid point, however, thatmany of their recommendations, although specifically focused towardsaccommodating learners with an SpLD, would also benefit language classroomswithout such learners. A minor criticism concerning the models of disabilityreflected in discourse found in Chapter One, is that this could have been tiedtogether more cohesively, as this reader was left a little confused as to howthe various discourses were related.

As regards how effective the authors are in persuading teachers that a trulyinclusive ethos is practical, in reality, is very subjective. Some teachers maybe encouraged to alter their teaching methodologies and fully include learnerswith an SpLD, rather than simply allow such learners to attend classes withoutany accommodation. Other teachers may still feel that providing a fullyinclusive teaching environment is utopian and practically impossible in theircurrent environment. Nonetheless, what the authors have successfully achieved isto present a genuine step in the right direction. They have provided theknow-how as to how a truly inclusive ethos could potentially become the norm inthe future. It is now up to educational institutions to start putting theirideas into practice.

This is a thought-provoking book that will hopefully stimulate further research.It is, thus, highly recommended for foreign language teachers and anybodyinterested in literacy issues, test designers and program administrators.

REFERENCESNicolson, R.I. & Fawcett, A.J. (2008) Dyslexia, Learning, and the Brain.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sparks, R.L. & Ganschow, L. (1991) Foreign language learning differences:Affective or native language aptitude differences? Modern Language Journal, 75,3-16.

Vellutino, F.R. (1979) Dyslexia: Theory and Research. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERJames Rock is a lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages andLiterature at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy. Heteaches both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. His current researchinterests include second language acquisition, vocabulary learningstrategies, and the use of Q-methodology in learner strategy research.

Page Updated: 04-Sep-2012