English and Special Educational Needs: The view from teachers and learners

Two pilot studies preceded the development of the platform for autonomous English language learning aimed at people with Special Educational Needs.

With regard to the fact that we could not find any information about previous experience of English language teachers in working with people with disabilities, an exploratory research was conducted on a sample of participants from Portugal, Romania, Serbia and Spain. The sample included 204 teachers, 22-62 years of age. More than half of the teachers completed undergraduate academic studies, every third participant completed master academic studies, while 15 (7.4%) participants had a PhD. With regard to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, most participants (70.1%) considered that their English language knowledge was at a C2 level, every fifth participant believed to be at C1 level, while 8.3% of the participants considered that their English language knowledge was at B2 level.

Most of the teachers did not have any experience in working with people with disabilities. They most frequently worked with people with intellectual disability and dyslexia, occasionally with people with communication disorders and hearing impairment, while the fewest participants worked with people with autism. Adaptations of teaching materials and methods were the most commonly used strategies in working with this population. Generally, English language teachers believed that learning English was important for people with disabilities, but many of them had doubts about using VLE in everyday work. More than 80% of the participants thought they needed additional training in applying specific teaching methods and adapting the teaching process to different learning styles, as well as in using modern information technologies, especially VLE.

The aim of the second pilot study was to determine the level of English language proficiency in adults with disabilities. In Serbia, the sample included 39 participants with disabilities, of both genders, 18-59 years of age. The sample was divided into three subsamples: 14 participants with mild intellectual disability, 13 participants with visual impairment, and 12 participants with motor disability. The Spanish sample included 15 participants with mild intellectual disability, 19-27 years of age. Quick Placement Test was used to determine the level of English in both subsamples. This test determines the level of language competence, with special emphasis on structure and vocabulary.

The results showed which of the possible six levels of English each participant was at. Research results of the Serbian team indicate that the level of English language proficiency in adults with disability was generally low; that participants with motor disability had the best results, and that participants with better knowledge of English were more realistic in assessing their achievements. Most of the participants with mild intellectual disability in Spain were at A1 or A2 level, while B1 level was significantly less common, which is similar to Serbian results. The planned training should improve the general level of language competence. Special emphasis should be placed on compound verbal tenses and adequate use of verbal tenses with ready-made expressions, since the biggest problems were determined in this area of the English language

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