For adults who have been profoundly deaf since childhood or infancy their deafness may have a significant effect on their use of English. Deaf children may miss out on language learning through informal immersion and by picking up sounds and language around them. What is critical is not being exposed to language as it is used in situ, in formal and informal situations, with different intonation and inference.
Many Deaf people who do not use English will use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language instead. BSL is not a signed form of English nor a collection of gestures nor mime. It is a fully functioning language with its own grammar and syntax and lexicon. The language makes use of space and involves movement of the hands, body, face and head. It can express the same complex concepts and ideas that any other language can.
The Best Communication Tactics
Your deaf students will have worked out ways to communicate effectively with hearing people, they will have their own preferred ways of working to get access to information. Here are some basic tips when you are involving your d/Deaf student and to give you some confidence:
- Talk. Sit down and get to know them a bit before the course starts, make sure you understand any possible problems or what they will need from you in order to access the course fully.
- Don’t worry. If you both feel that communication may break down, or it is breaking down have a conversation with them about this. Don’t be worried about writing things down, although not ideal it is much better than not finding out what is needed.
- Make sure you have their attention before you start lecturing. You may want to wave or tap lightly on shoulders. Or smile and check.
- Don’t shout. Please don’t shout at the student or exaggerate the words with your lip patterns; this makes it really hard to understand. By far the simplest way to communicate is at a normal pace and clearly.
- Be clear with your words. Both the student and the support worker may need clarification if you have a strong accent, a beard, moustache or speak very swiftly. One on their own is okay, but a combination and they may ask you to repeat.
- Be clear with your mouth. Let the student see your lips, this either helps their residual hearing or their lip-reading. Make sure that your mouth is not covered with your hand, pen or scarf.
- No pacing like a caged tiger. If there is a deaf student in the group, please don’t walk up and down in front of the class or lecture.
- No shadows. Lighting is important, shadows will be cast by lamps or windows and it will be hard to see your face.
- Remember the student. If the student has a support worker e.g BSL/English interpreter, a lip-speaker or a note-taker always talk to the student. The student will be looking at the support worker, but the conversation is between yourself and the student.
- Different ways to say the same thing. If the d/Deaf student cannot lip-read what you are saying or cannot understand, try saying it in a different way.
- Keep the context clear. Don’t jump around topics without announcing, verbally what you are doing. Announce that you are going to talk about something different, don’t presume great leaps of words and imagination will be followed, then do it.
- Silence is golden. If there is lots of background noise, this it can make things difficult. Try moving away from the noise or finding a quiet place to improve communication.
Remember, more tips can be found here.