What is Auditory Processing Disorder?
Essentially, APD means that your physical hearing is fine, but that your ears and your brain don't coordinate well. It's like having faulty wiring between the ears and the processing center - the brain. In quiet environments it may seem everything is fine, but once there is background noise like at a sporting event, a playground, a busy city street, etc it is very difficult to distinguish similar sounds. Often, though not always, children with APD are diagnosed because they have language delays in their first language. In addition, Auditory Processing Disorder can be associated with other learning disabilities like ADHD or Dyslexia.
I learned as an adult that I likely have APD, and for me it means I have difficulty regulating my speaking volume. I play music and audio too loudly on my laptop. If I can't see a person's face, it's much more difficult for me to understand them (phone calls are the worst!). I make people repeat themselves over and over (sorry guys). I am slow to process information, so sometimes I ask someone to repeat themselves, but by the time they start to answer I've pieced together what they were saying. I have a strong preference for written materials over lectures.
It can be difficult to distinguish similar sounds or to concentrate on a verbal message that is too long. If there is a lot of background noise, it can be nearly impossible to understand what someone is trying to say. Our actions can also be interpreted as behavioral problems when actually we've misheard directions or are trying to do our best and are frustrated by not hearing clearly.
To deal with these difficulties, among others, people with APD often use their strengths and develop coping mechanisms. For example they start to recognize situations where listening or interacting will be difficult and make adaptations to where they study, work or socialize. They find ways to "fill in the blanks" for parts of a statement they didn't hear clearly enough.
For myself, I've found I need to have really good verbal and non verbal communication skills and clearly articulate what I need for an interaction to work. I need a quiet area, I need to see a persons face, I need to have a general idea of the topic we are discussing, I need to hear the same thing said different ways. I often repeat what I understood back to the person I am speaking with to confirm my comprehension and ask if I'm missing anything.
How can it affect second language learning?
Obviously, Auditory Processing Disorder can make language learning more difficult for those of us that have it. It can be hard to know what sounds a teacher or a native speaker is making, to differentiate between similar sounds. It can be hard to follow a long statement or instructions. However, having one to one lessons with a tutor has a lot of upsides for those of us with APD. We can ask for the teacher to repeat as many times as we need. Using an online platform means we can record our lessons to playback our teachers speech. It also means we can ask them to type out phrases we don't understand in real time, as we are speaking. It's the closest we can get to real-life subtitles.
It might be helpful to do some explicit work on the phonology of the language with a tutor. You can play with sounds like making rhymes and alliterations to help you recognize words more easily. It can be helpful to have a visual representation of what your mouth shape should be when pronouncing difficult sounds.
Because the brain doesn't process auditory information well or quickly enough, it can be useful to have visual representations of what we are discussing, whether they are words, diagrams or photos. In addition, asking a teacher to be patient and give you an extra moment to process information and then answer appropriately can help a lot.
Finally, remember to be kind to yourself and have realistic expectations of how much you will advance in a given time. If you have added challenges like APD, adjust your expectations...but don't give up!