Hesperian Health Guides

Sign language and spoken language

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 7: Choosing and learning a language > Sign language and spoken language

The 2 kinds of language a child who is deaf or cannot hear well can learn are:

  • sign language, when she uses her hands to communicate with the signs used by the deaf community in the region or country where she lives.
  • spoken language, when she uses her voice and lip reading to communicate in the spoken language in that region or country.

Some children who can hear a little will be able to speak and read lips. Other children communicate best by making signs with their hands. You may want to begin with one language and teach your child other ways to communicate as he gets older.

For example:

A woman signing and gesturing to a girl.
It's time to sleep.

Many people start with gestures and signs with a young child, especially if they are not sure if the child can hear speech sounds. Then, as the child gets older and understands some signs, they may try teaching her to read lips and to talk.

A girl and a small child speaking as they hold a ball.
Ball! That's right!

Other people start with speaking and lip reading if they know their child can hear some sounds, or if he became deaf after he learned to talk. When a child is not learning a spoken language after a period of time, it may mean that a sign language is better suited for this child.