Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Use the language that works for your child

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 7: Choosing and learning a language > Use the language that works for your child


Your child needs to express himself and understand others. A child needs to know more than to say 'mama' or 'papa'. He needs to develop the ability to listen, to understand what is said, and to respond and communicate with others as easily and as fully as possible.

A woman speaking.
My grandson uses over 500 words now!

Parents and caregivers can help a child learn language in a way that makes it possible for him to absorb it. If you find that sign language does not work for your child, think about helping him learn a spoken language. Or if he does not seem to understand spoken language, try to help him learn sign language. Once children know and use one language well, it will be easier for them to learn another language.

Talking to parents whose children have learned a language — a sign language or a spoken language, or both — will help other parents who are trying to teach their children a language.

A man and woman speaking.
My son who does not hear at all
finds it easier to communicate in
sign language.
But some deaf children can learn to understand words and talk. My child did.
2 children writing to each other on the same piece of paper.


Even if they cannot hear words, deaf children can still learn to use written language. A child who is deaf learns how words look, rather than how they might sound. They see the relationships between symbols. (This is also how the written Chinese language works.) Deaf children who learn to use a language early — a spoken or a signed language — can learn to read and write well. It will help if they also meet deaf adults who can read.

Sometimes deaf people do not learn to communicate when they are children. Although it is much better for young children to learn communication, older children and even adults can learn to communicate. Chapters 8 and 9 describe methods you can use to teach a language to children who are deaf or cannot hear well.

  • To help a child learn a sign language, see Chapter 8.
  • To help a child learn a spoken language, see Chapter 9.


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