Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teaching English and Foreign Languages to Disabled or Handicapped Learners

Handicapped or Disabled English Learners
In some institutions, disabled learners study English for both academia and communicative purposes. Basically, two forms of disability are encountered by English, as a second or foreign language, teachers; physical and mental. Adaptation of methodologies and didactics for teaching and learning success with handicapped learners or with learners who may be disabled in some way can help to improve teaching and learning with many other types of EFL class groups and therefore merits the attention of all EFL or ESL language professionals. .

Physical Disabilities

At the Santiago de Cali University where I teach, students are allowed to enter programs even when physically disabled or handicapped in some ways. There are legally or physically blind (invident), wheelchair-bound and cerebrally palsied students currently enrolled and engaged in academic study along side of regular students. These disabled or handicapped learners can be subjected to distinctive problems and difficulties in integrating into an EFL, ESL or foreign language class room setting.

A few commonly encountered problems include:

• Not being able to access institutional facilities
• Need for specially-adapted teaching and learning methods
• Class schedule adjustments
• Specialized programming of computer room and listening lab facilities
• Alteration of language acquisition methods
• Sensitivity to environmental conditions like heat, cold, noise and lighting
• Highly-focused or distinct learning styles and learning characteristics
• Need for alternative methods for note-taking and test-taking
• Need for multi-media format texts, classes and input sessions

Mental Disabilities

Although mental disabilities are more strictly monitored and controlled as far as student admissions are concerned, nonetheless they can be encountered at a number of institutions, most likely those that specialized in these types of learners. I think that in many cases grouping “these types” of learners together may be doing more harm than good, but that’s another story not intended for this short article post. From schizophrenia to Autism and ADD to even Alzheimer’s, learners actually may benefit more by being placed in, learning and functioning in a “normal” environment. The same may be true for selected Home-schooled learners at certain points in their academic growth and development. Not in each and every case, mind you, but only in a selected number of them.

The Need for Adaptive Methodology and Didactics

The need for adaptive methodologies and didactics when teaching disabled or handicapped learners cannot be over-emphasized. Rather than “lumping these types of learners together”, more may actually be accomplished by “mainstreaming” more of them and adapting the EFL or ESL methodologies and didactics to suit class groups of more widely diverse learners. This is highly effective for virtually ANY class group of language learners and not just simply a means of addressing the needs of handicapped learners. In my experience, action research and investigations, I have definitely found this to be true, albeit on a somewhat limited scale.

… to be continued …

Be sure to check out “An Interview with Prof. Larry M. Lynch” online at:

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, prolific writer, author and public speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 100 countries. Get your FREE E-book, "If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.

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