Hesperian Health Guides

Helping a Child Learn 'Total Communication'

a man speaking to a child as she points to objects, pictures, and words.
Yes! Good girl!
  • The learning place should be well lighted, so that the child can see your hands, face, and lips.
  • Face the child when you speak to her, and be sure she is watching you.
  • Talk to her a lot, even if she does not understand. Talk with your hands, face, and lips, and encourage her to watch them all.
  • Speak clear and loud, but do not shout and do not exaggerate the movement of your mouth and lips. This will help her learn to recognize normal speech.
  • Be patient and repeat things often.
  • Be sure to let her know that you are pleased when she says something or does something well.
  • Encourage her to make whatever sounds she can. This will help her strengthen her voice for possible speech.
  • Have a lot of toys, pictures, and other things ready to use in helping her learn the signs and words for them.
  • Make learning to communicate fun. Include other children in games like ‘Simon says’ that help children use their eyes, ears, and bodies, and copy each other (see "Early Play Activities and Toys").
  • Play games that exercise the child’s lips, tongue, and mouth muscles. In a deaf child, these muscles can get weak. This not only makes speech more difficult, but can make the child’s face look dull, or without expression. See activities to strengthen and control the mouth and lips.
  • Make a list of the words that other children her age use, and that you most want the child to learn. Include:
    • useful words for learning and games: yes, no, thank you, please, what, do, don’t, like, want
    • common and interesting things: body parts, animals, clothing, foods
    • action words: come, go, eat, drink, sleep, give, put, see, hear, wash, walk, run, play, pee
    • people: you, I, he, she, it, we, they, Mama, Papa, Juan, Maria, and other family members
    • description words: small, big, up, down, fat, thin, good, bad, hot, cold, day, night

Start with a short list and gradually make it longer. Use the words often, in daily activities (feeding, bathing, dressing), and in play. Have the whole family learn the words on the list and how to make the signs for them. Encourage everyone to use the words and signs together, not only when they talk with the child, but when they talk with each other, and for all the things they do in the home. This way the child will learn about language by playing, watching, listening (as much as he can), and finally by copying—the way most children learn language.

a flash card showing a hat with the word and finger spelling signs.
  • As the child gets a little older, help her become familiar with letters and written words. You can write the first letter or name of things on different objects around the home. Or make pictures of things with their names in big, clear letters. Or make pairs of ‘flash cards’ so the child can match pictures with words. This will help the child understand hand signs that are based on letters. It will prepare him for learning the alphabet in writing and signs, and for learning to read and write.

This page was updated:21 Nov 2019