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Teaching English to Hearing Impaired Learners

This page deals with teaching English to the hearing impaired. You will find a brief description of different types of hearing impairments as well as tips for teaching hearing impaired learners. This page is written specifically for English language teachers, but may also be of interest to parents, students, and administrators.
hearing impairment (noun): varying degrees of disabilities related to hearing (from mild loss of hearing to total deafness); people with limited hearing may be referred to as hearing impaired and may be described as hard of hearing, while those with no hearing (or an inability to hear even with the amplification of sound) are usually referred to as deaf. Some people experience hearing loss in both ears, while others experience hearing loss in one ear.

For the purposes of this page, the term hearing impaired refers to learners with severe hearing loss and/or no hearing ability.

What is hearing impairment?

Hearing impairment refers to the inability or limited ability to hear. Some hearing impaired students have mild hearing loss and may be able to use hearing aids to amplify sounds, while others have no sound perception in one or both ears. A person who has no sound perception in both ears is deaf. People may be born deaf or may develop hearing loss from disease, aging, exposure to noise, or trauma. Teachers may find it useful to know the origin or background of a student’s hearing impairment.

Challenges of teaching English to the hearing impaired

In some schools, hearing impaired students are educated in a specialized setting with other hearing impaired learners or with other learners who have unrelated difficulties or disabilities. In other schools, hearing impaired students are integrated into classrooms with students who have normal hearing abilities. Teachers may or may not be specially trained to teach hearing impaired learners.

For deaf learners, communication is a daily challenge. Learning an additional language, especially in a foreign country, is more difficult for learners who do not have a strong base in their first language. This is often the case for hearing impaired learners who rely mainly (or entirely) on visual processing for learning. Some hearing impaired students use lip reading and/or sign language or finger spelling for communication in addition to print and visuals.

Trying to learn a new language (which is sometimes compared to the challenges of having hearing loss) is exhausting for those who suffer from hearing impairment. Teaching hearing impaired learners can also be stressful and tiring. Teachers need to adapt their expectations and seek assistance from both specialists and other students. Knowing what to expect can reduce some of the stress. Here are a few challenges that teachers of deaf learners can expect:

Being sensitive to a learner’s needs

Hearing impaired learners may not appreciate the term “hearing impaired”. They may prefer the term “deaf” or “hard of hearing”. Teachers should find out how their students would like their difficulties to be labeled as there will be times when you need to mention this challenge to other staff or students. Having a buddy system can be helpful. A buddy can take notes and answer questions and make a student feel more comfortable. A hearing impaired learner may be more comfortable telling his/her buddy that your lesson is too difficult or your body is too difficult to read.

Certain activities that teachers normally use in an ELL classroom, such as watching a video or listening to a recording will need to be modified for a student with hearing impairment. If you can’t provide the script for an audio task or the captioning for a video, skip the task until you are properly prepared. Removing the script when it is time to do an exercise or task can be similar to turning off a recording.

Useful communication skills to teach the hearing impaired

In some classrooms, hearing impaired learners are also immigrants or refugees. Their reason for learning an additional language is to survive in an English-speaking country. Teachers should focus on survival skills that are needed most, including some of the following.

Assistive devices for the hearing impaired

In addition to speech therapists and note-takers, there are many tools and aids that can be beneficial to hearing impaired students. A student may have some of his/her own devices, including hearing aids, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, or other electronic devices. Here are some tools and devices that teachers may want to consider having available for hearing impaired language learners.

Setting up an appropriate learning environment

Hearing impaired students require preferential seating as well as other accommodations. Here are some ideas for creating an ideal learning environment.

Additional tips for teaching hearing impaired learners

One of the best tips for teaching a hearing impaired learner is to speak to previous teachers who have worked with the student that is now in your care. Find out what worked and what didn’t work. Here are some other tips that experienced teachers offer:

Useful links

Written for EnglishClub by: Tara Benwell