Dyslexia and Learning a Foreign Language: Overcoming Challenges

reviewed byNatalie Brooks / more about Editorial Process14 min
Created: Oct 9, 2023Last updated: Feb 29, 2024
Dyxlexia and Learning Foreign Language

With Dyslexia Awareness Month coming up in October, it’s a perfect time to discuss how dyslexia can impact foreign language learning and ways to overcome the hurdles. While dyslexia does present some challenges, with the right strategies and support, children and adults with dyslexia can become proficient in a new language. 

This article will cover what dyslexia is, the difficulties it can cause for language learners, and tips to help dyslexic students thrive. Explore how Promova's platform can provide invaluable assistance to dyslexic learners on their language journey.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurodiverse condition that affects an individual's ability to read, write, and spell. It is important to note that dyslexia is not related to intelligence but rather to the way the brain processes information. Dyslexic individuals may experience difficulties in phonological awareness, decoding words, and recognizing common words by sight. This condition can manifest differently in each person, and its impact can extend beyond just reading, writing, spelling, and speech, affecting aspects of learning, such as comprehension and fluency in various subjects, including foreign languages.

Identifying Signs of Dyslexia at Different Ages

Recognizing signs of dyslexia at various stages of development, from preschool to adulthood, is crucial for providing early support and intervention. Dyslexia is a common learning difference that affects individuals of all ages. While the signs may vary, understanding these indicators is essential for tailored assistance. 

Signs of Dyslexia in Preschoolers

  • Mispronunciation of Words: Preschoolers with dyslexia may mispronounce words, such as saying "beddy tear" instead of “teddy bear.”
  • Difficulty Naming Objects: They might struggle to name familiar objects and resort to general terms like "thing" or “stuff.”
  • Rhyme and Nursery Rhyme Challenges: Learning nursery rhymes or song lyrics that rhyme can be challenging.
  • Sequencing Issues: Difficulty reciting sequences, like singing the alphabet, may be apparent.
  • Storytelling Challenges: Telling stories that are hard to follow or recounting events in a logical order may occur.
  • Multi-step Directions: Following directions with multiple steps can be problematic.

Signs of Dyslexia in Grades K–2

  • Letter Recognition and Sounds: Difficulty learning letter names and their corresponding sounds is common.
  • Confusing Similar Letters: Dyslexic students often confuse visually or phonetically similar letters like "b," "d," "p," and “q.”
  • Reading Familiar Words: Struggling to read familiar words, especially without accompanying pictures, may become evident.
  • Word Substitution: They may substitute words when reading aloud, deviating from the actual text.
  • Phonemic Awareness: Challenges with separating individual sounds in words and blending them to form words are common.
  • Spelling Difficulties: Poor spelling skills and difficulty applying spelling rules in writing are typical signs.

Signs of Dyslexia in Grades 3–5

  • Small Word Confusion: Confusion or skipping of small words like "for" and "of" when reading aloud can occur.
  • Difficulty with New Words: Struggling to sound out new words may become more pronounced.
  • Sight Word Recognition: Difficulty recognizing common words (sight words) may persist.
  • Reading Comprehension: Difficulties explaining a story's events or answering questions about key details may emerge.
  • Persistent Mistakes: Frequently making the same kinds of errors, such as reversing letters, can be seen.
  • Reading Avoidance: Aversion to reading or frustration when reading is common.

Signs of Dyslexia in Tweens, Teens, and Adults

  • Slow Reading: Reading at a slower pace or omitting small words and parts of longer words during reading aloud may persist.
  • Memory for Abbreviations: Struggling to remember common abbreviations, including those used on social media platforms, can be noticeable.
  • Word Search and Substitution: Frequently searching for words or using substitutes in conversation may occur.
  • Challenges with Figurative Language: Difficulty understanding idioms and puns, often delay in getting jokes.
  • Extended Reading Time: Taking an extended amount of time to complete reading assignments is a hallmark sign.
  • Improved Comprehension with Oral Reading: Having an easier time comprehending a page of text when it's read aloud is observed.

Recognizing the signs of dyslexia at different ages is pivotal for providing appropriate support and intervention. It's crucial to understand that struggling readers are not lacking in intelligence; they simply require tailored teaching methods and support. By identifying these indicators early and implementing targeted strategies, we can empower individuals with dyslexia to improve their reading skills and excel academically and beyond.

Dyslexia Awareness Month

Dyslexia Awareness Month, observed in October, serves as a reminder of the unique struggles and strengths of individuals with dyslexia. This annual event is a time to promote understanding and support for those living with dyslexia.

During this week, Promova, a one-stop solution for all language learning needs, is committed to introducing a special mode on our platform to enhance the learning experience for dyslexic individuals. Our focus is on creating a dyslexia-friendly environment through specialized fonts. We understand that dyslexia can present challenges in various aspects of life, including education, and we are dedicated to providing accessible resources that empower dyslexic learners to thrive.

Dyslexia and Foreign Language Learning

Learning a foreign language can be challenging for anyone, but dyslexic individuals encounter distinctive obstacles in this endeavor. These hurdles can include difficulties with reading and spelling in both their native language and the new language they are trying to acquire. They may include:

  • Vocabulary Acquisition: Dyslexic individuals often face difficulties when it comes to reading and comprehending new words and texts in a foreign language.
  • Memory Retention: Recalling sequences can be challenging, making the memorization of vocabulary a significant struggle.
  • Grammar Complexity: They may grapple with the intricate grammar rules and sentence structures in the new language, which can be overwhelming.
  • Phonetic Confusion: Dyslexic individuals might experience confusion between similar sounds or letters, such as "b" and "d" sounds, potentially leading to pronunciation issues.
  • Spelling Challenges: Struggles with spelling can affect both written assignments and effective communication in the new language.
  • Learning New Writing Systems: When faced with a different writing system, such as Chinese characters, dyslexic individuals may encounter additional hurdles in language learning that require specialized strategies and support from educators.

These dyslexia and foreign languages challenges can indeed be addressed and overcome with tailored practice strategies and the assistance of supportive educators.

Opaque vs. Transparent Languages and Their Impact on Dyslexic Learners

Modern foreign languages exhibit varying degrees of complexity for students, especially those with dyslexia. While languages like SpanishGerman, and Italian tend to be more accessible, others like French, Danish, and even English can pose formidable challenges. These disparities in difficulty often stem from the concept of "opaqueness," which refers to a language's transparency regarding its phonetic structure and how well it aligns with letter and letter combination patterns.

Consider Danish, for instance, where speakers are known for eliding consonants, making it challenging for learners to discern specific uttered sounds. When you encounter a Danish word on paper, deciphering its pronunciation isn't necessarily straightforward.

French presents a similar opacity, with examples like "je peux" (I can), "il peut" (he can), and "un peu" (a little) all pronounced identically due to silent endings (-x and -t) but carrying distinct meanings.

Consistency in spelling rules is another factor. In languages like German or Spanish, spelling follows predictable patterns, making spelling bees a rarity. Learning Spanish with dyslexia can be a rewarding journey when employing dyslexia-friendly strategies and resources. In contrast, English bewilders both dyslexic students and English language learners with its irregular spelling, necessitating a wide array of coping strategies. For example, silent letters trip up spelling, like the "b" in "debt", the "w" in "write", and the "k" in "knot". Homophones - words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings - pose a challenge too, like "their/there/they're" and "to/two/too".

Now, consider languages with unique script directions, like Arabic, which poses distinctive cognitive demands on learners. Moreover, languages such as Mandarin, devoid of alphabets, require learners to associate meaning and sound with specific characters, engaging a different cognitive process. Intriguingly, studies even suggest that dyslexic students encounter fewer difficulties when learning character-based languages, indicating the multifaceted nature of language learning challenges.

Hints & Tips for Dyslexic Language Learners

Here are some valuable strategies to assist dyslexic students in their foreign language journey:

  • Start with Speaking and Listening: Prioritize verbal communication and listening skills as the foundation of language learning. Building confidence in speaking early on can be more accessible for dyslexic learners and is essential for practical language use. Begin by practicing everyday phrases and greetings in conversations. For instance, in Spanish, you can start with simple phrases like "Hola" (Hello) and "Gracias" (Thank you).
  • Focus on Phonology: Pay close attention to the sounds of the language and engage in pronunciation practice. In Japanese, the distinction between "さ" (sa) and "ざ" (za) can be crucial as they represent different meanings. Watching foreign films with subtitles in the original language can help reinforce sound-letter associations.
  • Practice Pronunciation: Take an active approach to pronunciation improvement. Work on pronouncing challenging sounds. For instance, in French, practice the "r" sound in words like "parler" (to speak) or "rouge" (red). Download audio recordings, tackle individual phonemes, and practice complete words and phrases. Seek help from native speakers or instructional resources when needed.
  • Drill Minimal Pairs: Work on distinguishing similar sounds through minimal pairs, aiding both sound recognition and vocabulary building. In English, practice minimal pairs like "ship" and "sheep" to grasp the difference in vowel sounds.
  • Have the Right Motivation: Cultivate integrative motivation by developing an interest in the culture and people associated with the language. This type of motivation often correlates with successful language acquisition. If you're learning Korean, take an interest in Korean culture, watch K-dramas, or listen to K-pop to stay motivated.
  • Prioritize Intelligibility Over Accuracy: Understand that making mistakes is a natural part of the language-learning process. Focus on clear communication rather than perfection, especially in the early stages. For example, in Italian, saying "Io mangio pizza" (I eat pizza) communicates the message, even if you're still learning grammar rules.
  • Surround Yourself with Language: Immerse yourself by listening to Spanish music, watching French films with subtitles, or engaging in conversations with native speakers. Label objects in your surroundings with foreign words to reinforce visual memory.
  • Contextualize Your Learning: Learn new words and phrases within the context of sentences and conversations. Contextual clues aid understanding and retention. Learn phrases like "Je voudrais un café, s'il vous plaît" (I would like a coffee, please) in French within the context of ordering in a café.
  • Use the Keyword Method: Utilize mnemonic techniques by connecting foreign words with similar-sounding words in your native language. For example, associate "biblioteca" (library in Spanish) with "book" in English. Create visual associations to reinforce word meanings. 
  • Make Flashcards for Review: Create flashcards with words like "Voyage" (travel) in French on one side and its English translation on the other for effective vocabulary retention. Use adaptive flashcard programs with spaced repetition algorithms to review and retain vocabulary effectively.
  • Use a Vibrant Color-Coding System: Assign, for instance, bright red to feminine nouns, deep blue to masculine nouns, and cheerful yellow to neuter nouns. Additionally, use shades of green for verbs, soothing shades of purple for adjectives, and striking orange for adverbs. This creative approach will significantly boost your memory retention of recently acquired language knowledge.
  • Ask for Assistance: Don't hesitate to communicate with your school or educational institution. Seek support, accommodations, or access to resources, such as native speaker tutors, to enhance your language learning experience.
  • Consistently Revisit Your Learning Materials: Frequent revisions not only reinforce new information but also enable you to forge connections between your recent knowledge and what you've previously absorbed. This broader perspective enhances your ability to memorize and retrieve information with greater ease.

With these strategies and the right support, dyslexic students can achieve proficiency in a foreign language. Consistency, adaptation, and a positive approach are key factors in your language-learning journey. Don't be discouraged; success is attainable with dedication and the right tools!


Creating a Dyslexia-Friendly Teaching Environment

In the realm of education, one size does not fit all, especially for students grappling with specific learning difficulties. A paradigm shift toward a "dyslexia-friendly" approach holds the potential to benefit every learner. This approach is characterized by its adaptability, making it an inclusive and effective teaching method for diverse classrooms.

Dyslexia-friendly teaching encompasses various strategies, such as multi-sensory instruction and incremental learning. These techniques allow students to progress at their own pace, with ample opportunities for repetition and positive reinforcement. It recognizes that every child is unique, each with their own set of strengths and challenges that influence their optimal learning methods.

  • Note-taking: Copying from the board can pose significant hurdles for students with specific learning difficulties. Dyslexic students, who may already struggle with reading, often face the added challenge of deciphering handwritten notes. Additionally, difficulties with fine motor skills, common in those with both dyslexia and dyspraxia, make the physical act of writing taxing. This means they may need to concentrate intently on forming each letter, diverting their attention from the teacher's instructions. Moreover, students with short-term memory issues might grapple with processing only small portions of information at a time, impacting their ability to keep up. A buddy system for note-taking can provide valuable support and reinforce learning.
  • Making Written Material Dyslexia-Friendly: Teachers can make a significant difference by providing written notes for each session, eliminating the need for students to copy from the board. Effective practices include using bullet points instead of blocks of text, utilizing pastel shades for handouts instead of harsh black and white, avoiding right-justified margins, selecting dyslexia-friendly fonts like Arial in minimum 12-point size, and including a vocabulary list of essential keywords.
  • Presenting Information to Students: Effective teaching involves offering an overview, delivering the core content, and summarizing key points. Encourage students to verbally recap what they've learned, reinforcing understanding.
  • Study Skills and Strategies: Dyslexic learners can benefit from tools like mind maps, spider diagrams, and writing frames to organize information. Highlighter pens can help emphasize key concepts, and using a ruler to guide reading can assist those experiencing text distortion.
  • Writing and Spelling: Mnemonics, such as "Big Elephants Can't Always Use Small Exits" for "because," can aid in spelling challenging words. Learning sight words can also improve spelling, writing, and reading skills. Additionally, consider providing fatter pens or pencils for students who may find them easier to hold. Incorporating laptops into the learning process can assist disorganized students in keeping track of their notes and materials.

One invaluable skill for dyslexic students is touch-typing, which can streamline the writing process and improve information processing speed. As touch-typing becomes automatic, it offers the added benefit of easy access to spell checkers and enhances reading comprehension skills.

In embracing the dyslexia-friendly teaching approach, educators create a dynamic and inclusive learning environment that empowers all students to reach their full potential. Understanding and catering to individual needs not only benefits dyslexic learners but enriches the educational experience for everyone.

How Can Promova Help?

At Promova, we are dedicated to making language learning inclusive and accessible, including for individuals with dyslexia. During Dyslexia Awareness Month, we introduce a special mode on our platform, featuring a dyslexia-friendly font, meticulously crafted to enhance the overall learning experience.

Here are some of the features we offer on our platform:

  • Learn New Words with Fun Illustrated Flashcards: Immerse yourself in vocabulary acquisition through engaging flashcards adorned with delightful illustrations. This approach makes memorization enjoyable and facilitates easy repetition whenever needed, enhancing your language learning experience.
  • Minimal Pair Pronunciation Practice: Practice distinguishing between similar sounds, a valuable skill for language learners, in a supportive environment.
  • Small Group Classes for Individualized Instruction: Benefit from personalized attention and instruction in our small group classes, ensuring you receive the support you need.
  • Bite-sized Lessons to Avoid Information Overload: Our lessons are designed in easily digestible portions, preventing overwhelming information intake.

Moreover, we carefully match our students with expert tutors who possess the necessary training and expertise to support diverse learning needs, including dyslexia.

At Promova, we prioritize creating an engaging and effective learning environment, ensuring that students with dyslexia can thrive in their language-learning journey.


Dyslexia does not have to be a barrier to learning a foreign language. With the right strategies, support, and tools like Promova's dyslexia-friendly platform, dyslexic individuals can excel in language acquisition. This Dyslexia Awareness Month, let's celebrate the diverse ways in which individuals learn and grow, and let's work together to create inclusive educational opportunities for all.


Can dyslexic learn a foreign language?

Yes, dyslexic individuals can learn a foreign language. Dyslexia may present certain challenges in language learning, but with appropriate strategies and support, dyslexic learners can make significant progress and become proficient in a new language. The key is to employ dyslexia-friendly teaching methods and accommodations tailored to their unique learning needs.

How can Promova help dyslexic learners in language acquisition?

Promova is dedicated to making language learning accessible to everyone, including those with dyslexia. During Dyslexia Awareness Month, we introduce a special mode on our platform featuring a dyslexia-friendly font, Dysfont, that enhances the learning experience. Our tutors are trained to provide personalized support to dyslexic learners, ensuring their success in language learning.

What are some effective strategies for dyslexic students learning a foreign language?

Effective strategies for dyslexic students include starting with speaking and listening to build oral language skills, focusing on phonology to improve sound-letter recognition, practicing pronunciation, and using the Keyword Method to reinforce vocabulary retention. These strategies, along with support from educators, can significantly enhance the language learning process.

How does Dyslexia Awareness Week benefit dyslexic learners?

Dyslexia Awareness Month plays a crucial role in raising awareness about dyslexia and advocating for inclusive learning environments. It promotes understanding and support for dyslexic individuals, fostering a more inclusive educational landscape where their unique needs are recognized and met.

Which languages are easier for dyslexic individuals to study?

The ease of learning a foreign language can vary among dyslexic individuals, and it's not solely dependent on the language itself. Generally, languages with consistent spelling, straightforward pronunciation rules, and clear sound-letter correspondence may be less challenging. However, personal preferences and interests also play a significant role in language acquisition. Ultimately, the key lies in using dyslexia-friendly strategies and support, regardless of the language chosen.

Can you be dyslexic in one language and not another?

Yes, dyslexia can present itself differently based on the complexities of each language. It's not solely dependent on the language itself but rather related to the way the brain processes information. Variations in the structure and complexity of different languages can influence how dyslexic symptoms are expressed. Additionally, personal experiences and exposure to languages can also impact the manifestation of dyslexia.