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Learning language

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 2: Children who cannot hear well need help early > Learning language

When you are surrounded by words, it is easy to learn the language that people in a community speak. Children learn language as they listen to people talk to each other and watch what happens, and as they talk to other people. Language becomes a way for them to understand their experiences and how the world around them works.

Learning a spoken language is difficult for children who cannot hear

A man talks to his son, who stands, confused, near his mother.
Can you say hello to Papa?

When children cannot hear well, they will have difficulty understanding simple spoken words. And children need to understand many simple words to learn a language.
When they know many words, they can learn more advanced communication skills, such as speaking in sentences or engaging in conversation. Children who are deaf or cannot hear well need help to learn skills like saying simple words or doing things that depend on simple communication, like taking turns.

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A child learns a language in steps
then he can use a complete language with the community
learns in words
thinks in words
uses words
understands and responds to words
he hears words

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But without the first steps of hearing or understanding...
...he cannot learn a language,so he cannot develop his thinking or communicate.
He has no way to become part of the community, and gets left out.

How language helps the mind develop

Language enables children to think, to plan, to understand the world around them, and to be a part of a community. Without language, children cannot develop their minds.

When children cannot hear, and do not get help learning a language to communicate, they will face problems in their mental development. Many parents with young deaf children or children with hearing loss are glad if the children learn a few simple words or gestures. But children need more than this. They need to learn a language.

A deaf child needs to learn language early, so that she can use it to talk to herself, that is, to think. Expressing ideas in words makes it possible to think about those ideas.

A girl thinks as she sorts clothes.
The bigger shirt must be Papa's.
A girl thinks as she breaks an egg into a bowl.
First I add the egg. Then I mix in flour until the dough is sticky.
Because she knows the words for bigger and smaller, Amina can learn how to compare sizes. Without language she cannot learn this. Because she has words for doing things in order, Rosa can plan.

She also needs language to express her ideas to others, to tell people what she wants or needs. She needs language to understand explanations. Through communicating with others, she learns about the world around her. This helps her mind to develop and lets her relate to people.

A boy and his father beside a covered well.
A girl thinks as she watches her mother open the door.
Without language a child may not know why he must stay away from dangers. Dan cannot understand why they must keep the well covered. Without a way for her mother to explain, Evi does not understand how her mother knows that someone is at the door.