How many of us complain when trying to learn a new language? The endings of the words are confusing, the words in sentences seem to be in the wrong order, and let’s not even get started on the dreaded conjugated verbs and many tenses that we’re supposed to learn!

But how much harder is it for people with visual impairment to learn a new language? We’re used to being able to see how words are written and how sentences are formed on paper; it helps to reinforce the words in our minds when vocalizing them. The obvious answer is with the use of braille, but research has shown that visually impaired people don’t actually need the use of written materials to help them learn a foreign language. Their lack of sight actually increases their other senses so that audio and tactile methods work just as efficiently. Instead of seeing ‘manzana = apple’ written on a piece of paper, just hearing the Spanish word for ‘apple’ or even holding an apple while listening to it is enough; the other senses allow the brain’s memory to compensate for the lack of visual cues.

Regions of the brain are specifically designed to process languages. Scientific research has shown that these areas of the brain are still active in people who have never been able to see – those who were born blind – producing visual stimuli in response to sounds, particularly spoken words. It is not clear how the brain adapts the visual regions to process language learning abilities in early blind people but the brain activity is definitely enhanced to offer additional language processing skills by way of compensation for the loss of ordinary language learning abilities.

What difficulties in language learning have you had to overcome and how did you achieve this?