Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

The Language Dilemma of the Deaf Child: An Educator's Viewpoint

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

The Language Dilemma of the Deaf Child: An Educator's Viewpoint

Article excerpt

Introduction and background

The development of language and communication is the area of main emphasis in the education of children with hearing impairments. It has been discovered that the child who is deaf in Zimbabwe faces a language dilemma at home and at school. The majority of children who are deaf are born of parents who are not deaf (Chimedza and Mutasa 2003). They have problems accessing the mother tongue which is usually either Shona or Ndebele. Sign language is usually not known by the hearing parents. The children use unstructured gestures as they attempt to communicate with their parents and siblings. When the children go to school, they are introduced to English which is an official language used as a medium of communication in Zimbabwean schools. They are also introduced to the Zimbabwe sign language as described in Chimedza, Rinashe and Sithole (1998). They are supposed to communicate in any of English, Shona/Ndebele and the Zimbabwe sign language with their deaf peers and their teachers. One can understand the language dilemma the child faces as he grapples with acquainting himself/herself with three languages. It is in this light that this study seeks to examine the language dilemma of the deaf child from an educator's view point.

When hearing is limited, it affects the individual in significant ways, limiting communication access to orally presented information as well as independent living (Smith 2001). Hearing loss, according to Vaughn, Bos and Schumm (1996), impacts on normal speech and language development which in turn impacts on reading development.

Hearing impairment includes the deaf as well as children who are hard of hearing (Turnbull et al 1995). 'Deaf' describes severe hearing loss that precludes the understanding of speech even with a hearing aid and amplifying systems (Heward and Orlansky, 2009). Hearing loss may be pre-lingual (occurring before spoken language experience) or post-lingual (occurring after spoken language experience) (Hallahan and Kauffnan 2006., Smith, 2001., Chimedza and Mutasa, 2003) Language development for the deaf is crucial but these children are at greater risk for more problems in this area (Smith, 2001). The family's role in their child's language development is vital, often beginning with their choice of communication method for use during the early childhood period. Deaf children born of hearing parents are more apt to receive early amplification, auditory training and pre-school education (Meadow, 1980). There is, therefore, need for parents to be able to deal with various professionals who will become an important part of their child's life. It has been realised that young deaf children who are taught conventional sign language develop language in sign comparable in both content and form to the child language that young hearing children develop in speech (Goldwin--Meadow and Morford, 1985).

The birth of a deaf child to hearing parents can be frightening and even devastating. A difficult decision for many families during the early childhood period is about which communication mode to use. Should the family use sign language, a language the family will have to learn? Will they use total communication, which can combine signed English and oral language? Smith (2001) poses these questions which obviously cannot easily the answered. In concurrence, Quigley (1994) refers to the bi-lingual and bi-cultural approach in which students who are deaf are taught sign language and a spoken language. Once the sign language has been mastered, they learn to write English as a second language. This may be easier said than done. Hence, this study investigates perspectives of teachers regarding the language dilemma faced by the child who is deaf.

Many deaf parents and a growing number of educators support the view that sign language should be accepted as the natural language of deaf children. (Winzer, 1996) and Mclntire (1994) confirm that deaf children born to deaf parents who use sign language learn this system of communication as effortlessly as hearing children learn oral language from their parents. …

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