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Difficulty learning new languages in otherwise able child?

(33 Posts)
ThreeBeeOneGee Sun 23-Feb-14 14:32:17

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.

OneHandFlapping Mon 24-Feb-14 08:45:29

DS1 is like this - unable to organise himself, hopeless with foreign languages, but otherwise very able.

He was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 15. Perhaps you should get your DS tested?

Nocomet Mon 24-Feb-14 08:52:10

I'm another mildly dyslexic, tone death scientist who gave up MFL in Y9 with abysmal marks.

My suspicion is that it's a combination of not quite hearing the words (just as I don't get vowel sounds right in English spellings) and short term memory difficulties.

French vocab, people's names, telephone numbers and meeting times, just don't get passed into long term storage.

Science, maths and any part of geography or history that chains together as a pattern or a story does.

I did all my schooling in Wales, moved when I was 2.5, but I'm told I still have the faint Yorkshire accent I learnt to talk with as a baby.

DSIS was six weeks old when we moved, she normally sounds like me and our parents, but she falls into the soft local welsh accent with her mates and work colleagues and used to come back from London sounding just like our cousins, without realising.

She's not very academic and never did MFL, but she can spell envy

hmc Mon 24-Feb-14 11:12:34

Nocomet - did you by any chance experience difficulties with memorising your times tables and other aspects of rote learning?

My dd is very able in science - it seems a popular career pathway for people with dyslexia.

hmc Mon 24-Feb-14 11:18:32


Op, I have enrolled dd on babble to support her French and she does enjoy the exercises...although really there is... no hope... wink

Might be worth considering for your ds

ThreeBeeOneGee Mon 24-Feb-14 19:24:28

Will check out Babbel, thank you.

He was allocated German in Y7. In Y8 he had to choose between starting a second MFL or continuing with Latin. He is passionate about the Classical world, so Latin was what he wanted to do. He is half-way through Y9 and stuck with German now.

TheRoadLessTravelled Mon 24-Feb-14 20:05:40

I think Nocomet is on the right track.

Essentially this is an example of 'word finding difficulties'.

In order to retrieve words you need to:
- Hear them correctly
- Understand what they mean
- File them in the correct place in your brain.

Most dyslexics have a very subtle hearing problem which can effect reading and spelling. It can also effect word finding - either in English or in a foreign language.

ThreeBeeOneGee Tue 25-Feb-14 18:19:12

Thank you all for your excellent advice. We have just received DS1's report and in the last tracker tests he seems to have achieved high level 6s in both German and Latin! I have no idea how he did this; perhaps he has worked out techniques or perhaps he was just lucky.

fussychica Fri 28-Feb-14 14:16:50

I'm useless at languages. Lived in Spain for 8 years and although I understood most of what as going on and have a good vocabulary I couldn't hold a conversation. DP picked it all up quite quickly and DS is fluent. He's gone on to do other languages at university but he found German more difficult than romance languages. A swap to Spanish could work but I expect it's too late.

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