Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 9: Learning to use a spoken language

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 9: Learning to use a spoken language

Children who can hear the differences between many words or who became deaf after they learned to speak may be able to use a spoken language.

Most deaf children talk differently from children who can hear. People who do not know a particular deaf child well often have difficulty understanding her speech. If you use a spoken language with your child, she will need extra help as she learns to read lips and speak clearly. You will get better results if you and your child enjoy learning words and language together. Remember, everyone in the home will have to talk to your child as much as possible.

First, a child will begin to understand words that other people use. Then your child will begin to use words for people and things she sees every day that are important to her. Later she will learn many different kinds of words. This will help your child learn to speak in sentences. See Chapter 3 for guidelines on how to teach your child language.

How to get your child's attention

Your child needs to see your lips move to be able to understand your words. Be sure she is looking at you when you talk to her.

If your child responds to her name, use it to get her attention. If she does not respond, try tapping the floor with your foot, so she feels the vibration.

A woman speaking to her daughter, who is turned away from her.
A woman speaking to her daughter, who is now facing her.
Nadia, are you having tea? Can I have some tea?

Ways to keep your child's interest

A small girl and her mother sitting across from each other touching hands.
Face your child when you are talking, and be in good light so she can see your face.
  • Talk about things she knows and can see: her food, her clothing, her toys.
  • Talk about things that interest her. If she likes trucks, talk about them. If she likes to play with dolls, talk about what she is doing.
  • Talk often, not just at teaching times. Your child may not yet understand the words, but it will help her become more aware of language.
  • Try to reduce the noise around you. Remember to speak close to the child. If her hearing in one ear is
    better, remember to speak near that ear.
A man speaking as he hands a coat to his small child.
It's cold. C-c-c-cold. You need a coat.
Repeat the chosen sound as often as you can. Use the speech sound alone too, for example, by saying 'c-c-c cold'.

How to help your child learn speech sounds

Simply speaking to a child who can hear is enough for him to be able to learn to speak. But to help a child who cannot hear well learn to speak, he needs to listen to and remember the distinct speech sounds that make up words. So in addition to talking naturally to your child, you should have your child listen to and use specific speech sounds.

Every language has sounds that are easier and harder for children to learn. Teach the simpler sounds first (like 'ma' before 'ra').

Every 2 weeks, choose a different distinct speech sound and and use it as often as you can — in conversation, by itself, or as a game. Ask other people to use the same speech sound too.

A woman looking into a mirror.
The words 'baby', 'maybe', and 'pay me' all look the same on the lips.

How to help your child learn his first words

Your child will have to learn to watch your lips and listen very carefully. So it is best to teach only a few words at a time.

Watch your own lips in a mirror, or watch other people's lips when they talk, to see what kinds of sounds can be seen on your lips. Sometimes different sounds look the same on the lips. You will soon see how hard it can be to read lips.

To help a child learn a word:

  1. Choose a few words that are easy to see on the lips. Some sounds are easier to see than others. Sounds like 'b' where the lips start to close and then open are the easiest to see.

  2. A child speaking while playing with 2 other children.
    Let's play
    ball. Give me the ball.
  3. Choose words that are easy to hear. Some sounds are louder than others. Some of the loudest sounds are 'ah' like in 'mama' or 'papa', 'oo' like in 'book' and 'ee' like in 'street'. These are good words to begin with.

  4. A man speaking as he rolls a ball to a boy.
    Now I'll roll the ball.
  5. It is easiest to hear a word if it is at the beginning or end of a sentence.

  6. To teach words, you will have to use them hundreds of times. So choose words that can be used in conversation many times every day.

  7. Use the same words over and over in the same situations. Repeating them is necessary, and young children like it.

  8. Speak clearly. Use careful, but not exaggerated, lip movements.

  9. Make a short list of useful words you want your child to learn, and ask everyone in the family to use them often. Choose words that are easy to see on the lips.
A man sitting at a table talking across the room, observing his wife talk to their son while she holds his hand. The little boy is holding a jacket.
Put on your coat.
Put on your coat now.
Everybody should use the same word for anything that can have different names — like 'coat' or 'jacket'.

When you are sure your child understands the words you have been using, teach more words that look and sound very different from the first few words. As you teach your child the new words, continue to practice the old words.

Your child needs to know different kinds of words

In addition to learning the names of objects and people, your child needs to learn many other kinds of words. This will help your child learn more about the world around her and help prepare her to speak in sentences later on. Be sure to practice all of the following:

A woman speaking to her son; 2 other children are close by.
Nisa and Moshe are here. Let's say hello to them.
  • proper names
    (the name given to each person)
A boy speaking to a small boy who is being held on top of a motorcycle by an older girl.
Yes, you can ride the scooter just like Papa!
  • action words
A woman carrying a baby speaking to her daughter.
You were right. The baby was hungry. She cries when she is hungry.
  • describing words
A woman holds her newborn while a man speaks to his older daughter.
You look happy! Are you happy to see your little brother?
  • feeling words

Knowing 'name words', 'action words', 'describing words', and 'feeling words' helps a child to use those words to think about the world around her.

When children know the meanings of words, they can learn to compare, sort and order things, solve problems, and describe feelings. See Chapter 7 for more information on how children develop their language and thinking.

How to encourage your child to begin using words

If your child has difficulty hearing speech sounds, he can learn to watch your lips to give him clues about how to say these words himself. It is important to remember, though, that many sounds look the same on the lips.

  1. Encourage children to use words when playing. Sit in front of the child in good light and show him something that interests him, like a favorite toy. Encourage him to watch your lips move as you say the name of the toy. Repeat the same word several times.
  2. Have the child try to copy you.
    A woman speaking to her son, who holds up a ball.
    A ball! Is that my ball? It is a very nice ball.
    Be sure to speak clearly and in a natural way. This will help your child read the lips of other people saying the same thing.
    A woman and her son speaking to each other.
    Can you
  3. A woman and her daughter looking into a mirror and speaking.
  4. Sit with the child in front of a mirror, so she can see both of your faces. Show her an object. Say the name of the object, and then have her copy you.

  5. Repeat these steps with different words, especially ones that name things your child is interested in at the moment.

Your child is not going to say words exactly right. Remember, she cannot hear exactly how the words are supposed to sound. At first, you may not even be able to understand what word she is saying. But praise her for trying, and do not be too anxious about having your child say words clearly.

A man pointing to a cup and speaking to his daughter, who answers.
Ramona, do you want some? What is it called?

Encourage your child to communicate simple needs

When your child wants something, she is more eager to learn a word that will help her get what she wants.

  • Whenever your child seems to want something, encourage her to ask for what she wants using words.

How to encourage your child to answer simple questions

Asking your child questions is a good way to encourage her to talk. Remember to use looks on the face (like raising your eyebrows and looking puzzled) and body movements (like tilting your head) to help your child know you are asking a question.

  • To begin, try asking questions that require a 'yes' or 'no' answer. When your child shakes her head 'yes' or 'no', remind her to use the word that sends the same message.

A girl holds her nose and points as she questions her little brother.
Are you wet?
A girl speaking to her little brother.
You are not wet? Say 'no', Nina. 'No'.

A man questions his little boy, who answers.
Did you find something? What is it?
  • Ask questions that can be answered with a single word.

If your child answers, praise him. If your child does not answer:

  • he may not understand the words you are using.
  • he may not understand that a question needs an answer.

You can teach your child about questions by answering them for her at first. After a while she
will get the idea.

A woman holding a sock and speaking to her little girl.
Where is your other sock?
A woman speaking to her little girl.
On the bed. The sock is on the bed.

A small child holding a bowl speaking to her older sister.
  • Create situations that need your child to ask for something. Here, Ana's sister gave her an empty bowl and waited for her to ask for beans.

Help your child pay attention to how words are said

A woman speaking to her little girl, who is standing on a chair reaching for a bowl.
No, Manuel!
Listening to the tone in his mother's voice and her stress on the word 'no' helps Manuel know what she means.

Whenever people speak, they tend to stress some words more than others (loudness), to speak some words more quickly than others (rhythm), and to change how high or deep their voices are (pitch). People also show what they are feeling by their tone of voice. These different ways of speaking all add meaning to the message being sent.

How to help your child say things in different ways

Just as your child learns to listen and watch for the different ways things are said, he needs to learn to speak in different ways.

  • Play games that encourage your child to speak with feeling.
A small boy and his mother playing with blocks.
A small boy and his mother speaking as they knock down blocks.
Boom! All
fall down!
Fall down!
  • Encourage your child to sing. This will help his voice go up and down, and help change the rhythm of his speech.
A man and his 2 children singing together.
...the little chicks say cheep, cheep, cheep...

How to help your child follow simple requests

As your child learns to recognize the names of objects, people, and activities, he can begin to understand simple requests you make. Begin with short requests. Emphasize the words he already knows, and use gestures to make the message more clear. Be sure to give your child enough time to respond. Repeat the request if necessary.

At first, make requests about objects
or people he can see around him.
Then make requests about objects
or people he cannot see.
A woman working on a field speaks to her son.
Chin, put your shirt on.
A man speaking to his little boy.
Get your sandals, Haseeb. You need to wear sandals when you go outside.

Ways to encourage your child to learn more words

The best way to help your child learn more words is to communicate with her as much as you can — and to encourage her to speak to you. Here are a few ideas for communicating often throughout the day:

    A woman speaking to her little girl as she bathes her.
    Is that your knee, Manu? Your knee?
  • Everyday activities are a good time to learn new words. This gives a child a chance to practice the same words over and over.

  • A man speaking to a small girl who answers him.
    What are you buying at the market? An elephant?
  • Make a mistake to encourage her to correct you.
  • A small boy and his father singing together.
    My donkey eats, my donkey — ?
  • Leave out a word in a song or nursery rhyme your child has heard often. Encourage him to say the missing word.

After using single words, a child begins to put words together to express complete thoughts. At first he puts 2 words together. Then he begins to use 3 words — and finally, bigger groups of words.

Putting groups of words together is a big step for a child. It allows him to say more about the objects and people around him. He must first learn to understand how other people do this before he begins to do it himself.