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My 15-year-old son has a language-based learning disability. He is in the tenth grade and so far has been able to maintain good grades with the assistance of an educational support paraprofessional. However, he has now started taking required foreign language classes and is struggling with vocabulary, verbal exercises, and exams. Are there any technology tools or software programs that might help him?

Learning a foreign language can be frustrating for a student with a language-based learning disability. Many of the same elements that may have posed problems in English (letter sounds, decoding, spelling, grammar), can cause difficulties in foreign language learning.

Since your son has been successful in his regular classes with the assistance of a paraprofessional, I would suggest that he use many of the same strategies he uses already to help him with language. What tools and support have helped your son succeed in his coursework? Some of these same strategies can be easily adapted to his foreign language learning. It is a good idea for your son to work directly with his special education and foreign language teachers about what areas are presenting difficulty for him, and discuss strategies and accommodations(opens in a new window) that may make language learning less challenging for him.

There are also a number of excellent technology tools for learning language that your son may find helpful. Beyond the familiar CDs and language software, many language learners are now taking advantage of social networking tools for foreign languages. A number of websites feature online chats(opens in a new window) and forums(opens in a new window) where users can practice language with a native speaker. User-created social networks on the Ning(opens in a new window) platform also provide opportunities to join a group interested in learning a specific language. Try searching Ning for “learning a language(opens in a new window)” to find a list of available groups. Many of these groups are full of others learning new languages that are happy to share tips, support, videos, and ideas for practicing vocabulary.

Finally, if your son is a visual learner, he may enjoy watching subtitled movies. He can choose to watch movies in the target language(opens in a new window) (i.e. Spanish) with English subtitles or watch English movies with foreign subtitles. Watching movies is an enjoyable activity and may lower your son’s anxiety around language learning.

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