Learning a new language is a daunting task for anyone, but for adult students with learning disabilities, it may seem overwhelming. However, with the right tools, these learners can succeed. One of the best techniques to help overcome the difficulties they often face is mind mapping.
How can students use mind mapping for successful language acquisition? Before we show the benefits of this tool, let’s explore some challenges that learning disabilities present in this subject area.
Learning Disabilities and Foreign Languages
Before the 1970s, experts blamed anxiety and a lack of motivation when students had difficulties in ESL classes. However, many of these students did not display these difficulties in other subject classes. In 1971, Dr. Kenneth Dinklage of Harvard University surveyed the issue and discovered that many of these students had undiscovered learning disabilities. He showed that “students not previously diagnosed as LD showed up as LD in the foreign language classroom.”
Why would this happen? Dinklage’s research suggests that foreign language studies require a type of focus that might not affect learning disabled students in other courses. This could be because these learners often develop techniques in their school years to compensate for these challenges. But as adults, they may not recall those techniques in their current ESL classrooms and could find themselves struggling once again.
Several types of learning disabilities can affect language acquisition. These include:
- Dyslexia, which can affect word order, phonics, and spelling.
- Attention disorders such as ADD or ADHD. These learners are easily distracted making it difficult to retain a new language.
- Processing disorders that prevent students from properly interpreting what they hear, despite having no hearing problems. These are often found in people on the autism spectrum.
Mind mapping can help language learners deal with these challenges.
How Mind Mapping Benefits Language Acquisition
Once a learner enters a language program, mind mapping can be an effective study tool. The process of mind mapping organizes data around a central theme with connecting subtopics radiating around it. This technique helps students to understand information visually.
Here are two examples that demonstrate mind mapping for English learners:
- Listing groups, synonyms, and other vocabulary concepts for a particular word. Students can create lists of words using images to help them learn and memorize. For example, the word “fruit” can be displayed, with apples, bananas, and other appropriate images below it.
- Understanding the rules of grammar. Mind maps can help learners understand how to construct sentences, organize types of verbs, differentiate questions vs. statements, and more.
The Benefits of Mind Mapping for Learning Disabled Students
We can see that mind mapping is beneficial for people with learning disabilities to learn a new language. While students should not need to limit themselves to one tool, mind mapping can be one of the most effective techniques for these learners.
This is not just conjecture. In 2015, researchers analyzed the benefits of using mind mapping systems for students studying English among a class of 50 sophomores in a Russian university. They found that 90% of students “enhanced their skills in reading, writing, making plans, solving problems, preparing the presentations, and speaking in public.”
Those are some powerful results! In fact, almost all participants preferred this method because it was far more interesting and engaging than traditional language study methods. Here are some examples of how mind mapping can benefit the different learning disabilities:
- Text-heavy documents can lose the attention of people with ADD, ADHD, and similar learning disabilities. Mind mapping provides flexibility to help people with ADHD develop study skills. Organizing concepts around one central theme makes it easier for them to comprehend.
- Mind mapping reduces difficulties that learners with dyslexia have with reading in traditional textbooks. This can help improve their vocabulary and grammar skills in the new language.
- For learners who struggle with memory issues such as students on the autism spectrum, mind mapping can help with language retention and recall.
- Learning disabled language students can all benefit from the creativity, flexibility, and structure that mind mapping tools can provide them.
Let’s discover what options can be used in foreign language classrooms to facilitate mind mapping today.
Mind Mapping Options
There are many ways mind mapping can be done. For those who prefer a tactile interface, using paper and a variety of colored pens and markers is a simple, cost-effective choice. However, this is not practical to implement in a classroom, especially for online students.
A better option is mind mapping software such as Lucidspark. This software helps learners to work together and interact, improving language acquisition while allowing teachers greater flexibility and ease of instruction. This type of group communication is critical for language learning and builds confidence, clarity, and critical thinking skills.
Because of its visual engagement and organization, mind mapping is an ideal way to help people with learning disabilities in their studies, especially to acquire new language skills. Teachers should consider using it in every foreign language course. If they do, they’ll see a great improvement in their student’s language acquisition skills.