language instruction is increasingly part of the curriculum for students of all
ages. Once reserved for junior high and high school students, I now see
elementary school students receiving foreign language lessons as well. Exposure
to foreign languages, customs, and cultures is a valuable experience for all
students. With some careful planning, our students with hearing loss can be
successful as well.
teachers of the deaf / hard of hearing, we can help foreign language teachers understand and address
the unique challenges a second language can present to our students. Here are
some key points and suggestions to share with foreign language teachers, and to
keep in mind when providing itinerant support to students:
Many of our students are still learning
English grammar and syntax, so learning the rules of a new language can be
challenging. Explicit instruction, use of visual supports, and copies of
charts (such as those used for conjugating verbs) and vocabulary for the
student to review independently can all be helpful.
Many languages have subtle auditory
differences in words that can be harder for students with hearing loss to
discriminate. Consider the masculine and feminine le and la in French, or
the /s/ at the end of words in Spanish that denotes verb tenses. The student
should have visual access to all new vocabulary, and ample opportunities to
practice using and listening for (depending on auditory access) the differences
in sounds. Speechreading can help the student gather additional information, so
it is important for the teacher to face the student when speaking.
Help the student organize vocabulary with a
system. The following presentation offers examples of this:
a bit outdated, the suggestions for color-coding would be beneficial for many
students, not just those with hearing loss!
Students with hearing loss need extra
opportunities to practice listening to and pronouncing new vocabulary words.
At times, students may not want to participate in class due to fear of
mispronunciations. Providing extra practice (such as utilizing support from the
TOD/HOH or SLP) and use of visual supports can alleviate some of this stress,
Provide subtitles for videos and
transcripts of any recordings used in class.
Assessments typically include oral and
written components, and adjustments will likely be needed for the oral
portions. Students with hearing loss should have the oral component read
aloud by the teacher (vs. listening to a recording). This will provide visual
information for speechreading, maximize auditory access and allow the student to
ask for repetition as needed. For students who struggle auditorily, the oral
component may weigh less towards to total grade for that student. Additionally,
consider the student’s speech abilities. A student who does not have access to
all speech sounds, and therefore does not produce them, should not lose points
on an oral assessment for those errors.
Just like typically hearing students, there
are many reasons students with hearing loss take foreign language classes.
One of my students spends time in France with his family and wants to be able
to communicate independently while there. Another student is taking Spanish
simply because it is required and she wanted to give it a try rather than
waiving the class (as many students with hearing loss are able to do). A third
student attends a Jewish day school and is learning Hebrew as part of the
religious curriculum, which includes reading religious texts. Yet another
student has taken Latin as a way of improving his understanding of English.
Each student has a different reason for choosing and participating in their
language class. For students with hearing loss, there may need to be some
adjustments in what is emphasized or weighted more heavily – whether it be
speaking, reading, writing, or cultural exposure. But, it is usually worthwhile
to consider the benefits of taking a second language before presuming it is not
The first year taking a foreign language often
goes well as long as the student’s first language is in tact. Because the
teacher assumes that everyone is new to the language, the instruction is generally
slow paced and very clear. The teacher slowly articulates, is careful about
word boundaries and includes a variety of visuals such as posted vocabulary and
conjugations of verb forms. Projects and cultural lessons make the experience
hands-on and meaningful. Since everyone is working on syntax, the teacher often
writes out whole sentences and is very explicit about grammar and syntax. It is
helpful to point out these strategies and encourage teachers to keep using them,
even more so as the student progresses through the levels. As instruction
becomes more conversation based, teachers tend to drop some of the visual supports
that the student with hearing loss will continue to need.
Above all, encourage the student with hearing
loss to communicate with the foreign language teacher – both when difficulties
arise and when strategies are working well.
How do you help students access foreign language