• Learning Difficulties


    “Makaton is a unique language programme offering a structured multi-modal approach, using signs and symbols, for the teaching of communication, language and literacy skills for people with communication and learning difficulties.”

    The methodology of TESOL is, I am told, directly transferable to the teaching of any subject or skill. I am going to consider whether this methodology is an efficient and appropriate way to teach Makaton to Down’s people, who have often failed to develop their mother tongue adequately.

    Adults with Down’s Syndrome often fail to develop language “naturally”. There are many reasons for this. Structurally they may have some hearing loss due to narrow ear canals and they may find the formation of sounds difficult because of their mouth structure. Many have some short -term memory and processing problems, so they do not find it easy to process input that is only auditory.

    Adults with Down’s Syndrome often learn Makaton because they have insufficient functional mother tongue. Makaton can be seen as a language in its own right as it follows the usual grammar rules

    Down’s people usually find it easier to process information presented through the visuo-motor channel rather than the auditory-vocal channel because there are usually short-term memory and processing problems (Broadley, MacDonald and Buckley, 1995). Thus Makaton uses their areas of greater ability, rather than their areas of deficit.

    In a Makaton lesson, social greetings are used at the start, e.g. Good Morning. In a group session, this will be repeated with each participant, encouraging both signing and speaking the words. In a 1:1 session, the teacher greets the learner and may need to give help to return the greeting.

    In the next phase, the material to be learnt is introduced. This may be as little as one word. The Makaton project recommends that no more than 5 words are introduced in one lesson. The sign for a word is made clearly by the teacher, along with the spoken word. A noun will be signed. A preposition will be demonstrated, visually describing the word. It will then be signed and the whole sentence spoken. E.g. “The ball is on the table”. However, not all words are signed. In this particular sentence, only “ball” “on” and “table” are signed but the whole sentence is spoken. Makaton is only used within correct sentence structure, with correct grammar. Pidgen Makaton is not allowed.

    After each demonstration, there is the opportunity for each learner to practise it. In the example above, the teacher would not give all the signs but would typically indicate known words, e.g. “ball” and “table” and elicit the signs and speech from the learners.

    There may also be some learners who can either sign or say “on” and they will be encouraged to produce the sign and speech prior to the teacher’s demonstration. Praise is demonstrated by the sign and word “good” but “no” is signed and said if an incorrect sign is produced. “Bad” is never signed for an incorrect answer.

    In the last stage of a lesson, the Activate stage, students are asked questions such as “John, where is the ball?” and John is encouraged to respond with, for example, “The ball is on the table”. Down’s people generally have a great sense of fun so something ridiculous, like asking if the ball is on the ceiling may provoke laughter and more language such as “Spiderman walks on ceiling” or “Ball fall on floor”. This can stimulate more talking and use of the target language.

    Makaton teaching and TESOL is that both are structured programmes with the students systematically working through the developed syllabus and workbooks. In Makaton, sequential stages of increasing complexity and communication priority have been identified and form the basis of the programme.

    The Core Vocabulary is introduced in order to facilitate functional and purposeful communication as rapidly as possible.

    Thus, the lesson structure and content laid down after much research into what works and what doesn’t in teaching Makaton is similar to TESOL methodology.


    Walker, Margaret. The Makaton Vocabulary - uses and effectiveness: Paper presented at the 1st International AFASIC Symposium of specific speech and language disorders in children, University of Reading, U.K.

    Makaton - Frequently asked Questions

    Powell, Gaye. Current research findings to support the use of signs with adults and children who have intellectual and communication difficulties

    Pam Bentley

  • Learning Difficulties


    It is inevitable that students with learning difficulties will encounter a range of problems when trying to learn a foreign language. Their difficulties may indeed prohibit them from learning even a first language let alone a second one, however it must also be understood that individuals who may have difficulties with reading, writing and numbers (i.e. dyslexia) are fully able to learn, but indeed extra help and different methods of teaching should be used.

    Poor readers make up 20% of the population and dyslexics are a subset of poor readers and make up to between 5% to 7% of the population.”

    Quote = James Mike Royer PhD, Director of the Laboratory for the Assessment and Training of Academic Skills

    It is increasingly important for a teacher to fully understand dyslexia in its true form. A common misconception may be that the child is unwilling to learn so therefore presenting difficult behavior in class. It is true that dyslexia is a potential barrier in ones education; however these barriers can be easily overcome with the correct professionalism and the recognition of this difficulty at an early stage. It is also important for the teacher to recognize that dyslexia comes in many forms and the severity can range hugely. The teaching requirements of one dyslexic child can be totally different to the next so catering to the needs of the individual is vital. The potential ability of a student with dyslexia depends hugely on the teacher’s ability to help encounter barriers and provide an effective learning plan. When teaching a young individual with Dyslexia it is most important that the teacher assesses the level of difficulty the child encounters. This can be done through various methods such as level testing, reading exercise and psychological tests.

    Government statistics show 25 million Americans are functionally illiterate. The primary cause is dyslexia or one of its many variations, such as dyscalculia or dysgraphia. Dyslexia occurs about 3.5 times more often in males than females. The source of their difficulties is probably inherited, meaning their reading difficulties are much more difficult to eliminate with regular educational interventions.”

    Quote = James Mike Royer PhD, Director of the Laboratory for the Assessment and Training of Academic Skills.

    It is clear that a dyslexic student works better within a structured educational environment were success is praised and failure is treated with both sensitivity and sympathy. It is an ongoing problem within many educational establishments that intelligent students are being dismissed due to their lack of ability to read, write, calculate mathematical sums and present their knowledge in a clear and coherent sentence. However it is also a common misconception that a dyslexic student should learn at a lower level. This is not the case. The content of what is being taught should be the same as any other student, however the method in which the lesson is delivered should be altered to serve the students needs. A TEFL teacher would understand the three stages of any lesson (ESA) however adaptation of these stages would be the key to the successful learning of a dyslexic student.

    A TEFL teacher should provide the dyslexic student with learning strategies to help cope with their disability. One to one classes would be an excellent way to help facilitate the student in their learning, however depending on the setting access to these classes may not always be available. However, on nearly completing the TEFL course and gaining a qualification which will allow me to teach English as a foreign language I do not feel I am fully able to provide for the needs of a student with learning disabilities. This has not been covered at all through out the duration of the four week course and if I was ever in the likely situation of needing to teach children with disabilities I feel I would have to conduct my own research on how to approach this in a sensitive and professional manner.

  • Learning Difficulties


    When I think about teaching English as a foreign language, I think about having a class with students who will have a range of different abilities within a particular level. I think about having some students who may struggle with tasks or skills areas. However I don’t think about having students who may have a learning disability.

    The term ‘Learning Disability’ is a very broad socially constructed concept.

    According to Mencap who is the UK’s leading Learning Disability charity “A learning disability affects the way someone learns, communicates or does some everyday things. Someone has a learning disability all through their life.

    There are many different types of learning disability. They can be mild, moderate or severe.” (Mencap, n.d., online)

    Mencap also states that “A learning disability does not stop someone from learning and achieving a lot in life, if they get the right support.” (Mencap, n.d., online) This means that there is no reason why there shouldn’t be a large number of people with learning disabilities who attend courses to learn English, as long as the right support is provided in order to allow people to do this.

    In the UK people with learning disabilities were segregated from other people in Education. This is slowly changing however there are still a large number of people with learning disabilities in Special Schools. Adults with learning disabilities who are at college in further education are also often segregated through the provision of courses designed especially for people with learning disabilities. These courses are often based only around life skills.

    In South Korea they still operate a dual system of education. They are looking at students with learning disabilities being included in one unified system. This sounds really good in practice, however the reality is far from happening at the moment. It will take some bold steps on the part of the Korean people and their government to make this happen.

    “Every student has diverse needs in education, with some students with disabilities needing more significant adaptations or modifications to their educational experiences. However, this should not be used as a justification to label, segregate, or maintain a dual system of education. With careful planning and thoughtful support, it is possible to meet the unique needs of all students within one unified system of education: a system that does not deny differences, but rather recognises and accommodates for difference.” (Kwon, 2005)

    In Italy there is very little segregated education for people with learning disabilities. They have very strong inclusion policies “Italy has dramatically reduced the number of special, segregated schools for students with disabilities and has made general education classrooms the primary educational setting for nearly all students, even those with severe disabilities.” (Begeny, 2007)

    I picked these three countries as examples of what is happening in different education systems for people with learning disabilities. Their education systems are at very different stages, however one thing in common is that all the education systems are moving towards a more inclusive approach for people with learning disabilities.

    The stage at which a countries education system is at will affect the likelihood and the prevalence with which people with learning disabilities are taught by TEFL teachers. In the coming years as education systems are becoming more inclusive TEFL teachers are likely to see an increase in the number of students with learning difficulties in their class. This is likely to be most noticeable in classes of young learners, where education is compulsory up until a certain age in most countries.