Skip To Main Content

English Learners and Dyslexia

An English Language Learner or “ELL” is a student who has limited English language proficiency because English is not the native language of the student or the student comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the student’s level of English language proficiency.

OAR 581-022-2445

Universal Screeners for Risk Factors of Dyslexia

  • School districts must include students who are English learners in the universal screening for risk factors of dyslexia
  • Screening must be in the student’s native language, if the language of literacy instruction is in the
    student’s native language
  • Screening must be in English, if the language of literacy instruction is English; or in the student’s dominant language, if the student is in a dual immersion program
  • School districts may screen students who are English learners in English if a district does not have access to screeners in the student’s native language

Characteristics of second language acquisition can look like dyslexia. It is important to ensure that appropriate English language development instruction and scaffolds are in place for the student.  It is critical to determine if reading difficulties stem from where a student is in the English language development process or if it stems from a true disability.

Dyslexia is found in people within all cultures and languages. The characteristics demonstrating dyslexia may be different depending on the type of language the student speaks. Some languages are written with syllabic representation rather than letters (such as Japanese Kana) and others may be logographic, meaning the symbol looks like the object it represents (such as Chinese).  Languages with a phonemic orthography (such as Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Finnish, Czech and Polish) have a close correlation of letters to sounds.

The core difficulties faced by second language learners who are dyslexic are the same as those of monolingual children with dyslexia. The core problem for these children is difficulty learning to decode written words accurately and fluently so that they can make sense of them and understand written text. If children’s word reading skills are impaired, then their comprehension of written text will also be impaired because they cannot read the individual words accurately and fluently enough to create meaningful text.

In addition, students who are second language learners with dyslexia face the challenges encountered by all second language learners—limited vocabulary and grammatical competence and lack of familiarity with the cultural or social context of the text. In this respect, their challenges are different from monolingual children.

Determining if a Student who is An English Learner has Dyslexia

  • Characteristics of dyslexia will appear in both the student’s native language and in English; assessments done in both languages will help distinguish English learning difficulties from dyslexia
  • Conferences with the family will help to determine the student’s history in home language development Parents and guardians will be asked when the student learned to speak and if they had any difficulties learning to read and write in the home language
  • Testing in the student’s native language for skills such as phonemic awareness will be most beneficial