As it is usually said, languages are like bridges that help connect people and cultures. It brings us all a bit closer to each other. But before we start building the language bridge, we need to make sure we have all the right elements: content; learning resources; methodology; practice. But what happens when the construction field does not match our blueprints and, suddenly, we find a huge wall standing right in the middle of where the language bridge should be? This is exactly how students with learning disabilities- those who are blocked to achieve due to their disabilities and not due to lack of intelligence - feel. They feel as if a massive wall was standing in between their path to success in the language learning process. This is where the dilemma begins: what to do with the wall. Should we break it? Are we strong enough to take it down? If so, how will we do it? Or should we climb the wall instead? And if none of those questions can be answered, how do we turn the wall into an advantage instead of a disadvantage? How do we make it less intimidating and more encouraging? Before we take any steps further, we must admit that there is, in fact, a wall. A wall which is made up of bricks of difficulties that we need to acknowledge them one by one. This process of recognition will show us that we need something different to assess the situation. We need a different attitude; a different type of learning strategy. Let me illustrate this with an example. Once I was explaining an assignment to a small group of students in a summer school. They were all staring at me. No one understood what I wanted them to do. So, I implemented my own strategy. I resorted to a more practical approach. I went from one student to another and explained, showed, demonstrated in their notebooks what I expected from that particular assignment. And within 10 minutes all 15 students finished their assignment. That very day I realized how students with ADD behave when presented with a new task. They look and stare at you but your words do not “sink in”. They don't hear you, not because they don't want to, but because they need a different teaching approach that would appeal to them better. If you move around, and show them individually what you wanted them to do , they will do it easily and instantly! Hence, it became very clear to me that one key feature of my methodology should be practical and active work, even a practical and active explanation! The second key feature that I incorporated was small steps of explanations and very small steps of implementation. This is of vital importance. The less abstract, the better. The smaller the assignments, the better. Very small steps will lead to better and meaningful understanding and to long term memory development. For a student with learning disabilities, games that involve logics are extremely important and play a key role in engaging them in the learning process. For them, the more logical the teaching approach is, the more order they find the better they learn. The better they learn the better results they achieve. Disorder is tackled by implementing logic and order. Disorder is solved by order. Throughout the years I have identified that one of the crucial problems that students face when learning a new language is the word order of the sentence. This constitutes a crucial brick in the impairing wall. Right next to this brick we can find other two which render the whole structure even more difficult to tear apart: vocabulary and grammar. These three intertwined factors must be tackled by the student if he wants to succeed in the language learning process. This is when the third key feature of my methodology is put into practice. The grammatical approach of the language is taught through patterns of grammar in addition to lots of varied repetitive practice. By not separating the grammar from the vocabulary, we make the student produce a whole sentence from the very beginning, achieving the integration of all the factors of the language in order to make one complete sentence. Through our exercises the student is encouraged to build, construct the whole sentence based on the introduced patterns and the new vocabulary provided within the context of the exercise, as if he was putting everything together with Lego bricks. All the required information is presented to the student in a simple, structured way so that he can resort to it and assemble the words into a coherent string of thought. Instead of tearing the wall apart or climbing it we are reconceptualizing every brick that constitutes the wall so that the student can approach it as a tool rather than as an obstacle. This strategy fosters independent learning and helps the student grow his or her confidence and self-esteem regarding the learning process. The methodology is intended to develop, through employing logics, the student's intelligence in order for him to construct sentences. As we mentioned before, the language learning process requires that the student acknowledges the obstacles that he or she might have to face along the way. And it is our duty as language facilitators to introduce the students with new learning strategies, different from the ones they know, and to encourage them to address those obstacles in the best possible way they can. We must show them that a different approach to language learning is possible and that if they incorporate this new tool into their set of skills for building the language bride, there is no wall tall enough or thick enough that could stand in their way of succeeding and mastering a second language.
An Introduction to My Method for Teaching Reading, Particularly to Dyslexic Readers By Daniella De Winter Reading Therapist Language development, especially in a second language, depends mostly on the ability to read. Reading is a goal in itself, but more importantly, it is a tool which helps achieve language fluency. The inability to read immeasurably complicates and delays language acquisition, resulting in frustration and lack of confidence in both the process and overall. I firmly believe that every person should be able to read. When we don’t read, we give up one of our most important senses, sight, and in turn, rely only on our hearing, making things more difficult for us to understand, learn and retain. Reading should be developed as an automatic skill, freeing the mind to achieve greater understanding. The more effort invested in the “decoding” process, the less the mind is free to understand what is being read. Additionally, the immediacy of automatic decoding improves the students’ memory, allowing them to retain the meaning of new words more easily and for longer terms. It is within these parameters of process that I have developed the SoftRead method. SoftRead is a combination of phonetic and pattern-based approaches. It involves intensive, repetitive pre-reading exercises to train the eye and engage visual comprehension, then later links between the visual and the audial output of the letters. Because it is not designed in the style traditionally used with younger students, it is therefore suitable for all ages. From 1975 I have worked in conveying and developing new methods to teach the English language. I started by teaching adults, where the pedagogical approach to the English teaching necessarily had to be both highly practical and time efficient. Some of my students had language-based learning difficulties, which meant that the traditional language teaching approach did not work for them. I needed to develop a new, down-to-earth method that would suit both native and non-native speakers. It was clear, from the very beginning, that the easiest and fastest way to master a language was through the ability to read. One of the most distinctive features of the SoftRead method, therefore, is that it can teach even students with dyslexia how to read in a very short period of time and, perhaps more significantly, can help prevent dyslexia before it even develops in the students. For dyslexic students, one of the main barriers to successful reading is their inability to break down sounds into smaller units, or syllables. In other words, they are unable to analyze and synthesize these sounds as individual units, instead seeing new words only as the larger, impossible whole. Reading, therefore, becomes a titanic task which they cannot accomplish and, quickly, frustration arises, the gap in comprehension widens, and the inability to retain new information hampers the learning process. Over time, and as my own children were growing up, I developed the SoftRead method for young children, both with and without learning difficulties. As it turns out, everyone can learn to read. During my experiences with SoftRead, there has not been one person that did not succeed with my method. In fact, the only difference throughout use of the SoftRead materials has been the needed learning time. Some people have learned in merely five lessons, while some have achieved literacy in ten or more. However, overall, the outstanding achievement was that everyone, even people who had lost hope, could finally read! By 2000, SoftRead was already out. In 2013, I decided to publish all the knowledge that I had gained over the years in a creative, accessible way that enabled anyone to learn English. The resulting SoftEnglish collection of books and games is intended to promote independent learning. Teachers are considered facilitators, rather than instructors, in the learning process. The underlining purpose, that students be able to do most of the learning and practicing on their own, will always guarantee better understanding and long term memory despite any personal difficulties, and will ultimately open the world of reading to more and more students with time.
If you ask an educator or a teacher what would be the most important value in the process of learning, they would probably say encouragement and motivation. But how can you encourage and motivate a student with language-based learning difficulties (LBLD)? How can you empower a frustrated learner in the learning process after they have been failing again and again? How would you make them gain the necessary confidence to try again? The answer, according to my personal perspective, is by providing them with hope. Hope is not a dream. Hope is the notion that you can achieve a goal based on factual information and learned experience. In the words of Vaclav Havel, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Furthermore, as Brad Henry expressed so accurately, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.” How many times in life have we had to face struggles and difficulties, both as teachers and as learners? Probably many more than we can actually recall. How, then, can we incorporate hope in the learning equation to achieve successful outcomes? According to my own personal experience, there is no other feeling more related to learning than hope. Whenever I meet a student with LBLD who has been facing frustration and struggles for a long time, my number one priority is to show him or her that there is hope, because most of the time, that is exactly what the student - and his or her parents - has lost in the first place. I must help them regain their lost hope throughout the whole learning process. For an underachieving, discouraged, and frustrated student, learning English has become an obstacle that seems too difficult to overcome. Therefore, by not dwelling on their past experiences but rather moving forward into the new learning mechanism, we can begin the process of reversing their perception of learning English. That is, we shift English acquisition from an unachievable to an achievable goal. This is what the first minutes of every meeting with a new student involve. In order to bring the student on board with this “Highway to Hope,” it is essential that I show them that such hope is realistic. How can this be done? By showing them that this is just not a dream but a doable and achievable goal, based on personal experience. It is not an abstract, ungraspable concept. Neither is it a promise or a dream. It is a tangible reality that the students need to experience by themselves to begin the process of changing their attitude towards learning English. How do I facilitate this experience? By making the student learn and retain something new in a very short period of time, and not necessarily something highly complex. On the contrary, it only takes a simple, but significant change in the student´s state of knowledge of the English language to help lay solid ground for factual hope. By retaining recently acquired knowledge, the “shifting paradigm” process has begun in the student's mind, thus opening the gates of hope for language learning. During the first half of my standard initial meetings, the student introduces himself and expresses their difficulties and concerns regarding the language. I therefore have little time left to make my point and demonstrate the ways the student they could enhance their language knowledge. As time is of the essence, I focus on introducing the student to the different methods I offer for language learning, methods they have likely never used before. Here lies the key to regaining hope. We must introduce change and not “more of the same.” We must show the student different methods, different approaches, different mechanisms of practice and exercises. This is an innovative, unique way of reaching understanding within the English language. Despite its apparent complexity, the presentation of variety and the reclamation of hope are achieved in a very short period of time, realistically no more than 10 minutes. This is another very appealing aspect of the methodology which helps the students feel motivated and experience positive results that reinforce their confidence and faith in the language. In only even a short trial of these different methods, the student gets to experience how the learning process is going to be different from anything they have experienced before. Hope, therefore, shifts from a mere promise to a tangible reality. If he retains the new information, we win our first battle. Yet, how do we make sure they achieve this? Again, the key is to understand the difficulty and then to adapt the procedure to the student’s personality, capabilities and needs. At the end of this short trial, I always ask the student, “Have you been taught like this before? Is this way a new way for you? Are these methods, games or book methods new to you? If so, I can give you hope.” In my opinion, hope, as I mentioned before, should be based on facts. If the student realizes that we are about to start a different process with different methods than what they have previously experienced, they can renew their sense of hope based, this time, on self-experience and reality. This is how I provide hope to every new student I meet. It is crucial, vital even, that the student leaves the lesson with a smile. This sign of confidence is clear proof that the student has regained hope and will be able to overcome all their difficulties. Obstacles and learning difficulties always arise in the process of mastering a second language. My personal aim as a developer of this new teaching and learning methodology is to help the student find their inner strength, based on their everyday learning achievements. More than that, I aim to provide them with hope, which will enable them to face any difficulty with the belief that there is no such thing as an unachievable goal, provided they keep their hopes high. *About the author: Daniella has set up her own private English school for more than 20 years and has been teaching for many more years, though never within the traditional ministerial schools. During her early years, she dedicated herself primarily to teaching adults, rendering her perspective consistently and uniquely different from mainstream methods. Over the years, she has developed special methods for teaching adults English reading skills and has specialized in providing solutions to dyslectic readers. This working path also led her to develop an innovative and extremely successful pattern-based methodology for teaching the English language. These methods have since been incorporated into her own brand of books and games.
This article is based on 40 years of experience teaching English as a second language (L2) and almost 20 years of experience teaching English as L2 to students with LBLD (language-based learning difficulties). In addition to this, it is also based on long-standing experience in teaching reading and correct spelling to native English speakers. All this experience has been translated into special methodologies and techniques to teach reading, in the first place, and then spelling, reading comprehension and the English language as a whole. In this article, we will share our out-of-the-box method, which turns non-readers and dyslexic readers into readers. Further, we will also offer our out-of-the-box ideas regarding how to introduce reading to very young children. In every learning process, reading plays a major role. The ability to read will determine the student´s achievements and success. Therefore, a student who is unable to read will see his learning ability as profoundly limited. For this reason, the formal education system should prioritize making all necessary efforts to have as few non-readers as possible. The key is to teach reading and to improve students' reading proficiency, which, as a result, will lead to better reading comprehension and writing; better learning; and higher academic achievements. When it comes to language acquisition, reading is crucial. It is a tool to acquire, practice, memorize and improve the learning process efficiency to obtain better results. Non-readers develop a negative approach to the language acquisition process. They feel discouraged and, more often than not, experience a loss of faith both in general and, particularly, in learning a new language. We say, based on our experience, that people who can´t read feel as if they are blind to the language and the process of acquisition. They may be able to hear it, but they often cannot "see" it. Moreover, whenever we think about improving teaching, we think about multi-sensory activities and techniques. We all know that the learning process should appeal to the five basic senses to achieve a more comprehensive and integrative learning experience. Sight is, indeed, one of the basic senses. Taking it away from the learner lessens the effectiveness and makes language acquisition even harder on the student. Reading should be developed as an automatic skill in order to free the mind to achieve better understanding. Reading should come out as automatically as driving or riding a bike. We don’t remind ourselves constantly to look at the mirrors while we drive, or to push the pedals of the bike in order to ride it. These activities are done automatically, without thinking. The more effort needed for decoding, the less the mind is free to understand the content it is reading. Understanding is an abstract process, while reading is highly technical. Every technical process is easier than an abstract one, as abstract is more intellect-dependent. Therefore, in order to free the mind, we need the highest possible proficiency of technical activity, namely, “decoding.” Question: what comes first, understanding the word or reading it? This will depend whether we are talking about L1 or L2. In the case of L1, students first know the word and are familiar with it. In the case of L2, students should first be able to read the word (the technical skill) in order to familiarize with it (abstract process), as well as to later practice and remember it. When dealing with L2, it is very important not to introduce a new word together with its visual representation if there are unfamiliar letters or reading patterns. What do we mean by reading patterns? By reading patterns, we mean all the letter combinations and effects the letters have on their neighboring letters; for example, pronunciation of the G's, the C's and the letter combination “ture” (as in picture). We have assembled most of the patterns, turned them into rules, and built a comprehensive practice program to train the reader to identify and attach sounds to each of them. How about young children? How can we prevent dyslexic reading from a very early age? Every parent knows that reading stories to their young child will have a great positive impact on the richness of their vocabulary. Bedtime storytelling is the best time of the day, but it can also have its disadvantages. That´s right, reading stories can have a downside, but we are going to offer a practical solution to this dilemma. When stories are read to toddlers, they familiarize with the illustrations in the story, and, later, with the words but as pictures. Both the illustrations and then the words, therefore, are captured as a whole, as a picture. However, this does not constitute reading. Let’s pose the following question. If a toddler can identify the word “cow” in the story, would he/she also be able to recognize the same word in a different place, out of the story? Or in a different story and different context? Moreover, would it be possible for him/her to read new words like how or ten made up from the letter appearing in cow, hen or cat? Probably not. Because, the truth is, they cannot actually read. The toddler hasn’t identified the different letters, hasn’t analyzed nor synthesized them to form new words. The young child has identified the word as a whole, as if it was a single visual representation, no different from the picture of the animal itself. This is what I call a “global reader.” Global readers do not see the letters that compose the words and the patterns. This, naturally, results later on in poor spelling skills and difficulties in reading long, "complicated" words. Whenever a global reader encounters a new, unfamiliar, long word, he/she immediately starts an inner negative dialogue, which builds up frustration and desperation: “Why is it so difficult?” “Why is there a “G” here we don’t pronounce?” “Why are there no rules?” Endless questions are posed which lead to further frustration and slow decoding and understanding. We believe that fast decoding equals better reading comprehension. It helps retain the meaning of what is read which then is connected to one or more ideas. Poor and slow decoding causes interrupted and disconnected understanding. Let us talk about painful “double losses”. These occur when the reader could have understood the word if he/she had read it properly. It happens when a reader, native or not, even if the meaning of the word is understood, is unable to identify and read a word and cannot resort to his previous knowledge to understand the meaning of it. For example, take the word biology. Although it may be written and pronounced differently in various languages, it sounds very similar in all of them. However, if the student is unable to read it, he/she will never be able to associate the sounds of an already familiar word as biology, not even in their own mother tongue. To achieve fast decoding, we should first train the eye to see and identify the components of the word, i.e. each letter, individually. Only later can we introduce the patterns and the rules based on generalizations. How do we do it with the SoftRead method? We have included a variety of activities, such as matching letters with pictures which represent their sounds; highlighting a particular letter; circling letters with the previous or following letters; coloring; copying; and pasting. Even if the student is too young to connect the sounds and read them together, he/she is still learning the link between sounds and letters and vice versa. Practicing with nonsense words is a good way of detaching the word from its meaning, making the act of reading purely technical. These pre-reading activities, even if the student cannot read yet, make them focus on and pay attention to what we want him to be aware of. In this way, we emphasize and train analysis and, later, also synthesis. Most importantly, we avoid the development of global reading and dyslexia from a very early age. In general, dyslexia is defined as a difficulty, a disorder, a deficiency or impairment. This means that it can be remedied, trained, and improved by using the right methodology and technique. My long teaching experience has shown me that, by using this methodology, we can not only improve the reading skills of any student, but also, and most importantly, prevent them from developing global reading and dyslexia. This is why my ultimate recommendation is to keep reading to our children and grandchildren but at the same time to introduce all the aforementioned activities, which will guarantee phonological awareness, analysis, and synthesis in reading. My vision is that the parents and the early childhood facilitators will build phonological awareness parallel to traditional story telling.