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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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

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.

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

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?

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.

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)

ThreeBeeOneGee Mon 24-Feb-14 07:04:20

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).

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

Oops sorry Painty- conflated posts there smile

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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 00:29:09

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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).

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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

Dead sorry!! Auto correct massive fail, dad

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.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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