3 Foolproof Strategies for Teaching Spanish to Children with ADHD

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Thank you to Matthew Dancis for this guest post on teaching Spanish to children with ADHD. We are learning Spanish and our family has ADHD so this article fits Los Gringos Locos perfectly! Matt’s strategies are fantastic and made me reconsider our learning process. I am sure you will benefit as well! – Tina

3 Foolproof Strategies for Teaching Spanish to Children with ADHD

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Teaching Spanish to children with ADHD is by no means unattainable. While language studies may demand more from an individual with ADHD than someone else, it demands no more effort than any other long term venture. In fact, relative to other tasks that are hindered by the disorder, language learning is actually relatively easy because of the interactive nature of the learning process. The challenge lies in figuring out how to motivate your student to actually want to learn Spanish. With that said, here are three foolproof strategies for teaching Spanish to children with ADHD in pursuit of learning Spanish as a second language.

Names And Personal Interests Make A World Of Difference

Sometimes when students with ADHD convince themselves that they are different from others, they will make the determination that they are less important. That’s where you come in. By incorporating your student’s name, and more importantly, your student’s personal interests, into your lesson plan, you will activate the confidence that is fundamental to a healthy learning experience.

For example, instead of focusing your third person singular lessons on the example in your textbook, you should instead have your student use his or her own name and interests. If your student’s name is David and he likes basketball, you should have him say just that: A David le gusta baloncesto.

Always Use Multiple Sourced Input

Whether your student is a visual, auditory, read/write, or kinesthetic learner should not play a role in how you structure your lessons. Learning Spanish is a multi-sensory experience. Any time you introduce new vocabulary or target language, you should find ways for your student to see it written, hear it spoken, and see an image that demonstrates its meaning. Each of these skills are crucial to learning the language, so it stands to reason that you should be training your student in each.

Mixing the lessons up also keeps the learning experience dynamic, which is imperative to maintaining the interest of a student with ADHD. It is your responsibility as an educator to keep lessons interesting and to monitor your student’s progress. If you begin to sense that he or she is losing focus, you must be prepared to adapt to the circumstances and find a new way to bring his or her focus back.


Context Should Always Be Top Priority

Listening comprehension will be the greatest challenge that your student encounters, and not just at the beginning, but throughout the learning process. This is a skill that many people of all ages with ADHD tend to struggle with, even in their native language. When people with ADHD do not know the context of a story, conversation, or other, they will make an extra effort to locate a piece of information that they recognize. The only problem is that when they actually hear a word or phrase they understand, they will latch onto that small piece of the sentence and then cease to follow what the rest of the conversation.

This is even more difficult when applied to a foreign language, but it’s a similar chain of events. In order to find context, the student will search for a word that he or she understands. Whatever word they hear will end up distracting them from the rest of the sentence. Even if the student is aware of this habit, that doesn’t necessarily prevent him or her from continuing to do it. This is simply the way the brain works for individuals with ADHD. That’s why your job is to train your student to find other ways to locate context, in addition to merely listening.

For movies, train your student to look for other clues as to what the people are talking about. Focus on the setting of the movie. Read a synopsis or watching a trailer also helps. If there is any introductory text, the student should feel free to pause and fully absorb how it relates to the following scenes. And most importantly, no learner of a foreign language, regardless of whether he or she has ADHD, should ever feel ashamed to ask his or her neighbor to help set the stage, explain, or rewind.

Such is the case for conversations as well. Even those with a high level of Spanish who have ADHD struggle with listening comprehension because of this issue with distraction. The listener may miss a small piece of information, which sets off a chain reaction that essentially takes him or her out of the game. Similarly to watching movies, the student should recognize that he or she has a tendency to do this, and should simply build the confidence to come clean and ask the speaker to start again at the point in which the listener lost focus.

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Did you find this article helpful? Are you experienced with teaching Spanish to children with ADHD and would you like to share some other strategies to keep them engaged? Let us know in the comments section below.

Matthew Dancis writes for Listen & Learn, a language-training company that offers customized group and individual packages around the world. Take one of their 18 free language level tests. Matthew is from Philadelphia and has lived in Argentina and Colombia, splitting his time between writing and teaching English. If you have any questions or comments, you can contact Matthew at matthew@listenandlearn.com.

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