Difficulty learning new languages in otherwise able child?

(33 Posts)

DS1 does not have any additional educational needs. He has difficulties with self-organisation and remembering things, but has developed techniques to manage this.

He is academically able (got a specialist academic place at a partially selective secondary school) and fairly strong in Maths, English, Sciences & Humanities.

However, he does not seem to be able to learn languages. He has now been learning Latin & German for 2.5 years.

In German, he can manage the reading part (using guesswork & deduction) but struggles with writing, speaking & listening. He has been taught the grammar but doesn't retain this knowledge, and despite learning the vocabulary repeatedly, it doesn't stick. He has do to German GCSE.

In Latin, despite learning the vocabulary over and over (and over) again, he still seems to know only 50% of it. He has been taught the grammar at school, and seems to understand it at the time, but the following day/week this understanding disappears. I have seen him do translations; he mostly does this using guesswork. Bizarrely, he really enjoys Latin and has chosen it as a GCSE option. shock

I cannot see how this is going to pan out. Does anyone have any tips? I'm planning to post this elsewhere too, in the hope that someone will have some advice that can help him.

If you are his German teacher or his Latin teacher, then I'm really sorry. We are trying our best to support him at home, but it seems to be going in one ear and out the other.

Maybe it's just not his strength? We can't all be talented at everything.

Paintyfingers Sun 23-Feb-14 15:14:52

My father was an excellent research scientist but has never learned my mother's language despite multiple trips to her home country and being married for 40 years - he just can't retain the words!

Paintyfingers: did he ever find any techniques that worked for him?

Paintyfingers Sun 23-Feb-14 19:48:32

Not really - I think he has in 40 years only learned (literally) one two word phrase (where both words are also present in English but not as a set phrase) and one other word which is the same as the noun in English except for one vowel!!

He is dyslexic we think and also struggles with music (said to be fine deaf) and I wonder if those two things contribute.

sittingbythepoolwithenzo Sun 23-Feb-14 19:57:09

I'm exactly the same. I was able at school, got a 2:1 law degree from a Russell Group university etc - but have a complete block at languages. My mum came to the uk from another european country in the 1960's and I cannot speak her language, despite years of lessons on and off since I was 7 years old. I can't speak to my cousins etc, although we visit regularly.

I was the sane with french and german. The words just don't stay in my head. I scraped a C in german O level by memorising a few essays, and completely guessing the multiple choice aural.

Paintyfingers Sun 23-Feb-14 20:00:12

Just seen I wrote fine deaf - I meant tone deaf (thanks phone)

AphraBane Sun 23-Feb-14 20:09:15

Have you thought about an exchange or a holiday where your DS is staying with a German-speaking family? Admittedly that strategy won't work as well for Latin grin.

Paintyfingers Sun 23-Feb-14 20:13:50

Or summer au pair with German speaking ap?

Hobnobissupersweet Sun 23-Feb-14 20:18:22

I had the same problem as painty fingers dead, I have a v.good degree from a Russell grp uni, a PhD, numerous well received research papers to my name. I cannot learn languages. I seem to have some tone deafness, and was frequently shouted at by my French teacher at school for mispronunciation even when she had just said the word, I literally could not/cannot hear the difference. I can't mimic accents either, and probably worked harder to pass O level ( yes old!) French than all my other subjects put together.

Hobnobissupersweet Sun 23-Feb-14 20:18:51

Dead sorry!! Auto correct massive fail, dad

Paintyfingers Sun 23-Feb-14 21:19:54

Glad to hear I'm not dead grin also interesting to hear my DF is not alone - I will tell him.

MagratGarlik Sun 23-Feb-14 23:23:51

Another PhD educated ex-academic (research papers, editorial boards etc etc etc), but get a mental block with languages. Lived abroad for a number of years and although I became competent in the local language, I was always in awe of those who moved and became more or less fluent in a couple of months. It's not that I can't do languages, it just takes an awful lot more work than other subjects.

DP and DM OTOH are each fluent in 7 languages (and DP is a scientist too).

PigletJohn Sun 23-Feb-14 23:46:34

has he spent time in a place where the language is used?

Germany is not very good for this because they tend to insist on practicing their English at you.

hmc Mon 24-Feb-14 00:02:01

Difficulties with self organisation, remembering things....

Hmmm - how is his spelling in English?

My dd - dyslexic but on 91st centile for cognitive ability is strong in most subjects, but can't do foreign languages.

Forago Mon 24-Feb-14 00:18:33

I was like this, academically straight As, did science at RG uni and masters. Except languages, was crap at them, even the one from the country I lived in and went to school in throughout secondary school. I can understand it fluently and have tried 2 other languages, just can't speak them.

Does it matter? Why is he doing Latin and German if he's not good at and presumably doesn't like languages? I think it very unlikely that many people's brains are wired for Maths, sciences, English AND languages.

NigellasDealer Mon 24-Feb-14 00:20:13

could be the way it is taught tbh....

fideline Mon 24-Feb-14 00:25:57

FWIW he sounds like me and several relatives.

High IQ, academic, disorganised, bit uncoordinated, not sporty, HOPELESS at languages.

One by one we all turned out to be dyspraxic.

Just a thought.

Paintyfingers Mon 24-Feb-14 00:29:09

Fideline interesting as I think my DF is also dyspraxic though undx - struggles to do own shoelaces, bad at balancing clutch and accelerator, seems clumsy to outsiders etc etc

fideline Mon 24-Feb-14 00:31:22

That also sounds like me grin

SpLd gallop through families, they really do, Painty

Paintyfingers Mon 24-Feb-14 00:33:59

I am known for walking into things, can't play tennis or pool...so yes, I do agree grin but weirdly am pretty good at languages though!!

fideline Mon 24-Feb-14 00:34:59

Oops sorry Painty- conflated posts there smile

I do think he has quite a few dyspraxic traits (as well as the organisational difficulties his sense of direction is one of the worst I've ever seen).
He has to do German because a MFL is compulsory at his school.

He really really wants to do Latin, and the Latin teacher seems to think he is capable of a B if he works at it.

He visited Austria last year, but the only thing he managed to say in German was to ask a shop assistant if they spoke German (I think he meant to ask if they spoke English).

Forago Mon 24-Feb-14 08:19:43

Was German advised though? I managed a B in French and can waffle a bit in Spanish, despite lack of flair for languages, but German was impossible. Is it too late to switch to French or Spanish for his MFL? These seem way easier than German (to me anyway)

bruffin Mon 24-Feb-14 08:35:44

He sounds like my ds who is a very disorganised dyslexic. He lost his trian ticket again yesterday after putting it in a safe place hmm
It is not learning the language so much but the style of MFL exams that was the problem. He ended up with a D at gcse for German although he did get a B for one of the modules.
Like your ds he got an apptitude place at his school, and has the same strengths, although english is mixed. He has excellent comprehension skills but cant spell.

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