ABSTRACT  There is a significant number of people labeled learning disabled (LD) who have extreme difficulty learning a second language. Although a large amount of research deals with learning disabilities, very little of it addresses the second language learning situation. The purpose of this research is to explore whether, and how, decoding and encoding problems with a first language acquisition carry over into the second language acquisition of five LD-labeled students and what the consequences are for comprehension

This research consists of case studies of LD-labeled subjects who have gained a degree of proficiency in a second language. The subjects' performance on written dictations, oral readings, and comprehension after oral and silent reading are compared qualitatively between their first and second languages. In general, it was found that the subjects had the same kinds of problems and made the same kinds of errors in both the first and second languages. By administering these tests and interviewing the subjects about their language learning experiences, the researcher also gained useful information about classroom practices and learning strategies that may help students labeled LD learn a second language.

All of these subjects (all adults) reported having extreme difficulty in the foreign language classroom as well as with English reading and writing skills. In spite of these problems with language, four out of five gained a high degree of fluency in their second language outside the classroom in immersion settings (as foreign exchange students, by marrying a native speaker, by working with migrant laborers). The fifth subject has been able to survive traditional university foreign language classes by working extremely hard and being very aggressive about seeking help. The paper discusses why these learners succeeded in learning a second language while many of their counterparts labeled LD fail.