Dyslexia Guide for Mainstream EAL Classroom Teachers


Unlocking the Potential of EAL Learners with Dyslexia

Imagine a classroom where every child's learning needs are met with understanding and the right strategies. For students learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) who also have dyslexia, this ideal can seem far off. Yet, it's within reach. As a teacher, you have the power to unlock their potential, and I'm here to guide you on that journey.

Key Takeaways: An Article-at-a-Glance

  • Understanding the unique challenges EAL learners with dyslexia face is crucial for effective teaching.
  • Early recognition of dyslexia in EAL students can lead to timely support and intervention.
  • Dyslexia goes beyond reading difficulties – it's a diverse learning difference.
  • Debunking myths about dyslexia empowers teachers to support students more effectively.

The Intersection of Dyslexia and EAL: A Primer

Before we can support our students, we need to grasp the basics. Dyslexia is a common learning difference that affects reading and related language-based processing skills. When you add the challenge of learning English as an additional language, it can complicate the picture. These students are not only navigating a new language but also grappling with a learning difference that makes traditional literacy acquisition methods less effective for them.

First Steps: Recognizing Dyslexia in the EAL Classroom

Spotting dyslexia early in EAL learners is a game-changer. Look for signs like unusual difficulty with reading and spelling, inconsistent academic performance, or a noticeable gap between spoken and written skills. Remember, these indicators may not be as clear-cut in EAL students, as they're also adjusting to a new language. But don't worry, with careful observation and some know-how, you'll become adept at recognizing these signs.

Decoding Dyslexia: Definitions and Misconceptions

Dyslexia is not just about jumbled letters. It's a complex condition that involves the way the brain processes language. Some people think dyslexia simply means reversing letters or reading words backward, but it's much more than that. It can involve difficulties with phonological processing, memory, speed of processing, and the automaticity of basic reading and writing skills.

Dyslexia Described: Beyond Reading Challenges

While reading struggles are a telltale sign, dyslexia can also manifest in other ways. Some students might have strong verbal skills but find it hard to put their thoughts on paper. Others might read well but can't grasp the meaning behind the text. It's a spectrum, and each student's experience with dyslexia is unique.

Common Myths and Truths About Dyslexia

Let's clear the air. Dyslexia doesn't mean a student isn't smart. In fact, many individuals with dyslexia have average or above-average intelligence. It's also not something that can be 'cured' or 'fixed' with more reading practice. What works is a structured, multi-sensory approach to learning that plays to the student's strengths. By busting these myths, we can approach teaching with the right mindset.

Identifying Signs of Dyslexia in EAL Students

Recognizing dyslexia in students learning English as an additional language requires a keen eye. It's not just about spotting the child who struggles to read. It's about noticing the student who avoids reading aloud, whose writing is filled with inventive spelling, or who has a hard time following multi-step instructions. These are the breadcrumbs that lead us to provide the support they need.

Distinguishing Language Acquisition from Learning Challenges

It's a delicate balance to distinguish between the natural process of acquiring a new language and the signs of dyslexia. An EAL student might naturally mix up tenses or struggle with vocabulary, which is part of learning English. However, if these issues persist beyond the expected language learning period or are accompanied by difficulties in their native language, it might be time to consider a dyslexia assessment.

Critical Observations: Speech, Writing, and Reading Indicators

When observing EAL students, focus on patterns. Are they consistently mispronouncing words or confusing sounds? Do they have trouble remembering common sight words or frequently lose their place while reading? In writing, do they leave out words or parts of words? These indicators, especially when they stand out from typical language learning errors, can signal dyslexia. Look for consistency of inconsistency!


Spotting signs of dyslexia is not easy when working with EAL learners but it is possible. When you suspect there may be an underlying learning difference, pass the information on directly to your SENCO or the person in charge of your department. As teachers, we should never directly approach the learner or parent as we do not know how they will react.

Remember, all you can do is your best and the fact you are even reading this, means you are doing great. If you want to know more and get some practical strategies you can watch our Free 75 minute Masterclass! It's on our Home page or just click here 

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