Assistance in learning a foreign language for high school students with learning difficulties

students with diverse needs, Assistance in learning, good practice, self-learning, Kikus Method, Breakout Edu, autism, yes i can

Country Studied: Slovenia

Area of Focus: Language, Reading, Spelling/ Writing, Assistive Technology, Multi sensory

When entering high-school, students are met with new requirements and expectations. A lot of students with learning disabilities have poorly developed basic school skills and metacognitive strategies. These difficulties are most expressed with general educational subjects, including English. Difficulties with learning English are most often derived from the native language and therefore expressed in the same manner, but may also arise because of memory problems, anxiety and difficulties with management of grammar. The importance of knowing foreign languages has increased considerably in the last years. This has led to new challenges in foreign language classes, requiring adaptations and implementing new methods and approaches.

The focus is on helping a student with learning disabilities with learning English and state different adaptations, approaches and recommendations. Within the frames of strategies, approaches and methods for learning and teaching English, we need to define metacognition, language learning strategies, multisensory learning, mnemotechinques, graphical organizers and memory cards.

Problems with learning a foreign language can be very varied and vary in intensity. Help and support depend on the type and intensity of the problems. Problems with a foreign language can be alleviated over time if the individual receives appropriate understanding and help.

Summary of adaptations and approaches proposed by different authors:

  • the use of structured, multisensory, direct and explicit teaching approaches that help students understand the structure of language and provide sufficient opportunities for consolidation,
  • appropriate learning environment (understanding, supportive, …),
  • adapted learning pace,
  • detailed explanations of the student’s expectations regarding participation, homework, etc.,
  • predictable clock structure (routine),
  • time allowed for repetition of the substance at each hour,
  • use of multisensory material,
  • more time for solving tasks, writing notes,
  • extended test time,
  • someone reads their assignments on the test,
  • use of a computer when writing,
  • learning only basic vocabulary,
  • given keywords to help with essay writing, restoration,
  • class assistant (eg for taking notes),
  • reduced reading volume in the classroom.

Such adaptations provide students with learning difficulties with English with equal opportunities to learn and demonstrate knowledge. Adjustments will, of course, depend on each individual and his or her individual characteristics. However, some approaches may also benefit other students in the class.

When students with learning difficulties complete primary school and become students, their problems do not end, but often escalate. The choice of secondary school is usually smaller for these students, as they are often less successful in school due to their problems in primary school. Upon entering high school, they face new challenges, expectations and demands, which they themselves are not always able to cope with. Many students with learning difficulties have less developed basic school skills and metacognitive strategies. Their prior knowledge is often lacking, making it difficult to follow the lessons. They have problems most often in general education subjects, which also include foreign language English.
The fact is that the importance of foreign languages, including English, has been growing in recent years. Knowledge of at least one foreign language is becoming almost essential. This knowledge enables students to have greater mobility, employment opportunities and to cope more effectively with the challenges of today. Knowledge of a foreign language also enables better access to information and getting to know, understand and respect foreign cultures.

High school brings new situations, requirements, and expectations to which students must adapt. Many young people with learning difficulties go to secondary school with underdeveloped language skills, literacy and executive functions, making it difficult for them to meet high school requirements.

The transition to high school and the associated adjustment process can be stressful for all students, but it is especially stressful and stressful for students who have already experienced learning difficulties in elementary school. The strategies used in primary school do not work the same here. In primary school, the environment is also quite protective, and in secondary school, the student is expected to master and effectively use primary school skills. Students are expected to be significantly more independent and able to effectively manage their own behavior and learning.

For students with specific deficits, such adaptation poses a major challenge, as deficiencies hinder them from achieving independence, effectively implementing certain school skills, and required behaviors. Studies have shown that the importance of transitioning to high school is often underestimated. Compared to their peers, students with learning difficulties are more absent, have lower grades, poorer self-esteem and are more likely to misbehave. The greatest dropout and repetition of the year occurs in the 1st year of high school, when students face transition and new demands.

Students with specific learning difficulties are quite different from each other. They have lasting and unique characteristics that manifest in different ways over the course of their development and the new demands they face.

Some characteristics of the functioning of students with SUT that can hinder learning effectiveness and psychosocial adjustment in high school:

  • Learning and school knowledge

Adolescents with SUT often have insufficiently acquired primary school skills of reading, correct writing and arithmetic. Skills are not automated, they don’t run fast enough and correctly, so they can’t focus enough on the content. Their prior knowledge is often too deficient to be able to follow the lessons and acquire new knowledge accordingly. They are also less effective in demonstrating knowledge. Demonstration strategies often do not know or do not recognize the opportunities to use them. They also often avoid learning, and some even train themselves in the skills of avoiding real problems. Students with learning difficulties often have persistent problems with receptive and expressive oral language. These problems are exacerbated by increasing demands, particularly in areas such as vocabulary, obtaining and organizing semantic information, understanding content, higher-order semantic processing (e.g., reasoning), and syntax.

  • Cognition and metacognition

Students often have underdeveloped language skills, memory problems, and problems in higher meta-cognitive and executive processes. In the field of language, deficits can hinder the understanding and acquisition of abstract concepts. Some have trouble conveying thoughts in writing. Often, however, these students do not find themselves in social situations. In the area of ​​memory, there are problems with short-term and long-term memory (poor comprehension and memorization of messages and instructions), naming and recall. Due to problems with mechanical memory, they often have to rely on comprehension processes, for which no one is specially trained. Students with SUT often do not master metacognitive and executive skills, so they are mostly passive, dependent and ineffective in learning. Metacognitive deficits affect a student’s self-awareness and self-regulation of their own problem-solving skills strategies for managing, monitoring, and directing success. As a result, they often have difficulty maintaining the positive attitude, sufficient motivation, and perseverance needed to meet educational expectations. These students may have a limited awareness of their strengths or weaknesses and weaknesses or weaknesses, and of the adjustments and procedures necessary for their success.

  • Motivation

Students with SUT often face problems in the area of ​​motivation. These problems are related to experiencing the sense of investing effort in learning, setting expectations and goals, and the adverse consequences of failure. Problems affect commitment to learning, persistence, absenteeism, and description. They often underestimate the role of effort in success, making them less successful in learning and outcomes. They mostly use a passive approach. Learning situations are often not judged realistically. Some also give up very quickly and avoid school work.

  • Social functioning

Students with CMO may have underdeveloped basic social skills. As a result, they fail to meet the expectations and requirements of the high school environment, and they also have problems in extracurricular life. Some of them master individual skills well, but fail to use them properly. Difficulties can also be present in the very understanding of social situations when students have a problem with holistic understanding. Difficulties in interpreting nonverbal communication also present an obstacle, as students may misinterpret situations, which in turn often leads to conflicts. In general, they are also less socially active than their peers.

  • Self-esteem

Many students with learning difficulties have lower self-esteem. They often experience feelings of shame and failure. In general, they have low self-esteem and often worry about the future.

The most effective approach to reducing school failure of students with learning difficulties is inclusion.

“Inclusive education requires changing the environment, the attitudes of participants in the educational process to meet the special educational needs of children and adolescents and the creation of such an educational system that will remove obstacles that prevent optimal development of potential of all children and adolescents, including children and adolescents learning difficulties ” (Grašič et al., 2010, p.10).

Inclusion conditions the consideration of the individual needs of the individual. It is the process by which the school counseling service provides appropriate support and assistance to an individual with special needs within regular education. It envisages the development of a partnership with students and parents and the active involvement of teachers in the development of the inclusive process. In secondary schools, however, inclusion is somewhat different than in primary schools.

One of the most important factors of inclusive education in secondary schools is curriculum adaptation. Here, however, we encounter an obstacle on the way to achieving inclusion. Because teachers are focused on the content of the subject they teach and have less pedagogical knowledge, the implementation of inclusions in secondary schools is even more difficult than in primary schools.

The time the teacher and the student spend together, the teacher’s way of teaching and the implementation of special forms of help to the student are also important for the inclusion process. However, the implementation of assistance is often hampered by organizational problems. Teachers would need the support of special pedagogues for effective teaching and understanding of problems, but these are practically non-existent in Slovenian secondary schools.

  • Cerkovnik, B. (2003). Specifične učne težave in učna pomoč pri učenju angleškega jezika. Didakta, 68/69, str. 65-68.
  • Grašič, A., Kavkler, M., Magajna, L., Lipec Stopar, M., Bregar Golobič, K., Čačinovič Vogrinčič, G. in Janželj, L. (2010). Težave dijakov pri učenju v poklicnem in strokovnem izobraževanju: opredelitev, prepoznavanje, oblike in mreža pomoči (Raziskovalno poročilo). Ljubljana: Center RS za poklicno izobraževanje.


  • Assess the abilities, knowledge and learning strategies of a student with learning difficulties to learn English.
  • Compose a training that includes appropriate strategies, activities, tasks and materials that will contribute to a better knowledge of English and more effective learning strategies of the student.
  • Check the effectiveness of training.

The aim is to compile appropriate training in the acquisition of knowledge and strategies in English for a student with learning difficulties who attends a three-year program. Current school material is discussed, and the emphasis was on developing vocabulary, grammar and learning strategies.

The training was based on multisensory and structured activities, materials and tasks, and a large amount of repetition and consolidation. When preparing the training, the student’s learning style is taken into account, so the activities and materials are prepared on the basis of it.

A comparison of the results of the initial and final testing showed advances in English language proficiency and proficiency. Students also made progress in choosing and using learning strategies. The prepared activities proved to be effective. Recommended approaches and methods are taken into account, such as multisensory materials and activities, adjusted learning pace, enough opportunities and time for consolidation, predictable lesson structure, development of learning strategies, …

As a very effective method, we would point out mnemonics, with the help of which students remember the meaning of new words much faster. Even when the meanings were not immediately remembered, they evoked the appropriate meaning through keywords and images.

The activity of arranging verbs into tables with appropriate time is also effective and very suitable for students. With this activity, the students got a comprehensive overview of all times, actively consolidated them and also distinguished them from each other. The use of memory cards allowed students to consolidate only important parts of the material.

The success of learning a foreign language depends primarily on the motivation encouraged by school learning. In the immediate living environment of a foreign language, there is not always so much that its presence confirms the meaningfulness of its learning in school. Therefore, it is essential that the student is actively involved in the lessons at all times.

Research shows that learning a foreign language has many positive effects. Students thus improve their communication skills, cognitive development, cultural awareness and employment opportunities. Likewise, society gains in the economic, political and social spheres when its members communicate with people from other countries and cultures.

Learning a foreign language develops better cognitive abilities in areas such as mental flexibility, creativity, divergent thinking, and higher-order mental operations. It also contributes to better listening and memory skills.

Numerous studies have shown a link between learning a mother tongue and a foreign language. Problems that occur in the mother tongue will be present or even greater in foreign language learning.

Some of the language deficiencies in the mother tongue that can affect foreign language learning:


  • Poor reading ability or poor reading comprehension.
  • Mixing similar letters and numbers, turning them or the wrong order of letters.
  • Difficulties reading headlines, small print, etc.


  • Problems with writing ideas and / or organizing thoughts on paper.
  • Turning or omitting letters and words while writing.
  • Problems with sentence structure, organization and writing technique.
  • The same word is often spelled differently in one product.


  • He can explain the words orally but not in writing.
  • He misunderstands the language or misunderstands what has been said.

Hearing processing

  • Does not respond to spoken language or constantly misunderstands what has been said.
  • Is distracted by various sounds or is too sensitive to sound.


  • He acquires new skills slowly.
  • Problems following instructions, especially complex ones.
  • Problems with visual spatial orientation (replaces left-right, top-bottom, front-back, …).


  • Learn information presented in one way but not another.
  • Problems remembering information.


  • Problems with tracking schedule and accuracy.
  • Problems learning about time.


  • Short-term attention or impulsivity.
  • Problems getting used to routines.

Summary of adaptations and approaches proposed by different authors:

  • the use of structured, multisensory, direct and explicit teaching approaches that help students understand the structure of language and provide sufficient opportunities for consolidation,
  • appropriate learning environment (understanding, supportive, …),
  • adjusted learning pace,
  • precisely explained expectations regarding cooperation, homework, etc.,
  • predictable clock structure (routine),
  • guaranteed time for repetition of the substance at each hour,
  • use of multisensory material,
  • more time to solve tasks, write notes, etc.,
  • extended time for tests,
  • on someone reads their assignments on the test,
  • use of computer when writing, etc.,
  • learning only basic vocabulary,
  • Submitted keywords to help with essay writing, renewal, etc.,
  • class assistant (eg for writing notes),
  • reduced reading volume in the classroom.

The multisensory approach is an effective way to help pupils and students with learning difficulties in learning a foreign language, as it includes several sensory channels in learning. Teachers can use diverse and creative strategies that are not typical of the traditional approach to learning.

Role-playing games, songs and games are used in multisensory English teaching. Instead of explaining, grammar is better demonstrated, which allows inferences to be drawn about the rules, making learning more meaningful.

Pupils are involved in interactive and kinesthetic activities, and lessons are focused on them. The lesson is thus more meaningful and interesting and less abstract.

Multisensory techniques that emphasize direct and explicit voice teaching through learning cards and reading, writing, and speaking exercises can facilitate language learning in students with learning difficulties.

Technology as a multisensory medium

Technology can be a very effective tool for multisensory learning and foreign language teaching. Namely, students use several modalities, e.g. visually, aurally and kinesthetically. In this way, they take advantage of strong areas and at the same time develop weak ones. The spread of Internet software in recent decades has undoubtedly changed the way we learn and teach foreign languages. Computers have been popular with teachers since the 1960s, and their usability has increased tremendously with the development of Internet technology.

Various authors state that the use of technology can significantly improve different language skills. The development of language skills in a foreign language is influenced by computers, the Internet, mobile phones, search engines, translators, chat rooms, videos, etc. YouTube influences and helps improve listening skills and speaking a foreign language. The development of speaking skills and language comprehension is influenced by various chat rooms and online networks (Skype, Google talk, Facebook, etc.). Internet search engines (Google, Yahoo, …) also play an important role in learning a foreign language. Some authors also state that simply searching on these search engines improves writing skills and that computer technology is often more effective in developing foreign language literacy than the conventional method. Nevertheless, a combination of both approaches is recommended.