Hesperian Health Guides

Using spoken language

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

People who can hear communicate by talking, and hearing others talk, in their local language. It is natural for families to want their deaf child to understand their words and to talk to them using a spoken (oral) language.

To learn a spoken language, a child who cannot hear well will need to:

  • listen with his remaining hearing so that he can learn to understand spoken words. It may be helpful for him to use a hearing aid.
  • watch a person's lips when she is talking and guess the words she is saying (lip-reading).
  • practice speaking words so that others will understand him better.

Remember, if you use spoken language with your child, you and your family will have to talk to your child as much as you can.

A man and his small boy speak as they hold a spoon
Yes, Raimon, a spoon.

Be patient. Your child will learn language much more slowly than children who can hear well. You will need to make your child use words even when it is easier to do things for him or give him things without waiting for him to ask you.

Your child will speak differently. Most deaf children talk differently than a child who can hear. It is natural to feel embarrassed at first by the way your child speaks. Once you get used to it, you can explain this to other people.

A small boy with a hearing aid in both ears.
This child is wearing hearing aids in a body harness.

Different communities have different ideas about how deaf children should learn to communicate. A pre-school in southern India tries to teach young children who cannot hear well to speak, read, write, and listen.

They try to prepare deaf children to attend regular schools at the age of 5. Because the school wants children not to be ashamed of being deaf, they insist that children wear body-harness hearing aids. Besides making sounds louder, this sort of hearing aid helps everyone see and accept that these children are different.

Benefits of using spoken language

  • A child who communicates like other people in the community will have many more people who understand him.
  • A child who uses a spoken language will be more ready for a school if that school does not use sign language.
  • A child using spoken language may find it easier to read, because the language he speaks and the written language are similar.

2 women sitting and speaking together while a small boy sits closeby.
I am glad Haipeng is going to a nursery school where he can talk with other children who cannot hear well.
Yes, and I hope it will prepare him to attend the regular school later. I want him to study so he can get a good job when he grows up!

Difficulties with using spoken language

A woman sitting and looking into a mirror.
The words 'baby', 'maybe', and 'pay me' all look the same on the lips.
  • Spoken communication usually works well only for a child who has some hearing (enough to hear the differences between many words) or for a child who became deaf after he had learned to speak.
  • A child may find it difficult to read lips, because many sounds look the same on the lips or cannot be seen on the lips. For example, the words 'baby', 'maybe', and 'pay me' all look the same. You can see this yourself in a mirror.
  • A child who has difficulty hearing speech sounds will find it very difficult to speak clearly, because he cannot hear himself talk. His speech may not be understood by anyone but his family.
  • Young children may not sit still for long lessons to teach language.
  • Because so much effort goes into learning to talk and learning to understand what other people are saying, a child may miss learning more about the world.