The Deaf Polyglot: Tips On Foreign Language Learning for the Hearing Impaired

The term ‘deaf polyglot’ may appear to be somewhat contradictory: as language learners we put a lot of stock in the belief that the auditory understanding of a language is vital in order to be able to claim fluency. It is therefore a widespread assumption that the hearing impaired must hone their focus in on a single language, most likely sign language, rather than picking up English, Spanish, or Mandarin which seem just too difficult.

But with so many great jobs out there for bilinguals, why would anyone choose to limit themselves to just one tongue? Admittedly, deaf people do face many challenges when embarking on a silent language learning journey, but this doesn’t mean becoming a polyglot is impossible to achieve. So, if you are hearing impaired or know someone who is, check out these facts to find out more about language learning for the deaf:

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Sign language and foreign language:

For your average language learner, complete immersion in a foreign tongue is a popular way to shock the system into picking up its nuances. In the belief that it will help them achieve fluency faster, even beginners have been known to sign up for language classes where, from day one, only the language being learned is spoken. However, for the hearing impaired this is not a viable or efficient method of language learning. Using sign language as the main means of communication in a foreign language classroom is perfectly acceptable and, in fact, should be encouraged. Furthermore, gestures and images have been shown to improve language learning, so associations with hand movements will help deaf students to improve at a faster pace!

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Grammar focus and practical focus:

All language students have to approach learning in a concise and practical way or else you’ll never achieve the fluency you really want. Obviously, not all of us have the same goals; some hope to achieve fluency in writing, reading, speaking, and listening, while others focus solely on becoming proficient speakers. Depending on the level of impairment, speaking a foreign language can be possible for a deaf student, but may not be the most important point to focus on. A recent study in the US revealed that many hard of hearing individuals tend to neglect grammar in language learning, leading to structural, vocabulary, and grammatical mistakes that could easily be avoided with a little more focus. Therefore, most teachers agree that a deaf student should concentrate on reading and writing first and speaking second. The former will bleed over into the latter, helping the student to achieve a higher level of fluency.

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Early exposure and late exposure:

To a deaf person, every spoken language is a foreign one, regardless of whether or not it is the native language most spoken in their country. The challenge of becoming a proficient reader and writer of a foreign tongue can increase exponentially depending on how young the individual was when they were first exposed to a set structural language. What this means is that babies who receive exposure to ASL (American Sign Language) from the time they are very young, have already been fully exposed to a real language and therefore struggle much less to learn other languages than those who receive exposure later on. Learning sign language is therefore vital for those living with the little one so that he or she can be set up for success from early on!

The world of deaf language learning is a fascinating one, largely because there is still so much left to be explored. But these days, you don’t have to limit yourself to a single language, regardless of the barriers you may encounter. Learning a foreign tongue has never been easier with so many excellent language classes to choose from and great online tools such as free placement tests to help you make sure your skills are still sharp! So what are you waiting for? Take language by the horns and appreciate all the benefits it will offer you for many years to come!