Learning a Foreign Language for Students With Learning Challenges

Learning a foreign language can be frustrating for a student with a language-based learning disability. Many of the same elements that may have posed problems in English (letter sounds, decoding, spelling, grammar), can cause difficulties in foreign language learning.

Tools and strategies that have helped with regular coursework can be adapted to foreign language learning, and there are also a number of excellent technology tools for learning language.


  • Use several learning channels simultaneously (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and mnemonic devices for memory). Research findings suggest that hearing, seeing, and saying a word (concept) simultaneously enhances memory.
  • A number of websites feature online chats and communities where users can practice language with a native speaker. Many of these groups are full of others learning new languages that are happy to share tips, support, videos, and ideas for practicing vocabulary.
  • Visual learners may enjoy watching subtitled movies. Students can watch movies in the target language (e.g., Spanish) with English subtitles or watch English movies with subtitles in the language they are studying.
  • Students with dyslexia may find learning a second language especially challenging. Spanish can be a good choice for students with dyslexia, or they may consider American Sign Language (ASL).
  • If a college or program of study requires a foreign language, ask specifically about the kinds of accommodations available and whether the university permits substitutions.

Tools That Aid Language Learning

Google Translate instantly translates words, phrases, and web pages between English and over 100 other languages.

Microsoft Translator supports accessible classroom learning with live captioning, cross-language understanding, and even multilingual casual conversations to help with student integration.

Immersive Reader increases reading speed and comprehension for all learners, supports students with learning differences like Dyslexia with text decoding solutions. Learn more about this free too and the products in which it is included.

Audiobooks from Audible: Choose from a variety of structured courses and easy guides on Audible. These audiobooks can help you to learn Hebrew, Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, English, German, Greek and more.

Speech-to-Text Technology

Apple: With Dictation, you can dictate text anywhere you can type it. Turn it on in Keyboard settings—your dictated utterances are sent to Apple to process your requests. On a Mac with Apple silicon, dictation requests are processed on your device in many languages—no internet connection is required.

Windows: With voice typing,  users can enter text on a PC by speaking. Voice typing uses online speech recognition, which is powered by Azure Speech services. See these instructions for installing voice typing languages.
Dictate your documents in Word


  • Open a new or existing document and go to Home > Dictate. while signed into Microsoft 365 on a mic-enabled device.
  • Wait for the Dictate button to turn on and start listening.
  • Start speaking to see text appear on the screen.

Use dictation to enter text in Pages on Mac

  • Place the insertion point where you want to begin dictating, or select the text you want to replace (to select placeholder text, click it).
  • Choose Edit > Start Dictation (from the Edit menu at the top of your screen). …
  • When the microphone appears, begin speaking.

Type with your voice in Google docs

  • Check that your microphone works.
  • Open a document in Google Docs with a Chrome browser.
  • Click Tools.
  • When you’re ready to speak, click the microphone.
  • Speak clearly, at a normal volume and pace (see below for more information on using punctuation).
  • When you’re done, click the microphone again.
Sources: LD Online | What tools can help my son with LD learn a foreign language?. https://www.ldonline.org/ld-topics/assistive-technology/questions/what-tools-can-help-my-son-ld-learn-foreign-language | Copyright © 2023 WETA Washington, D.C. & the Learning Experts at Schwab Learning Center at CHC
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