How I learnt a foreign language with a hearing loss

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You might be wondering, how can a deaf person with speech, learn a foreign language? During my time at school, I learnt German. Here’s my experience, to share with you all…

Being born with a profound hearing loss meant that communication didn’t come easy. My parents and Teacher of the Deaf worked tirelessly days and nights to get me to speak. Over time, it gradually improved and after speech therapy sessions, I feel I can speak well.

Languages in school

When I started mainstream high school, everyone had to study three foreign languages. Instantly, my parents assumed this was impossible and questioned if there was any point in teaching a deaf teen a foreign language, let alone three! After a meeting with the Head of Year, he encouraged me to give it a go and see how I got on.

To my parents’ surprise, I picked it up a lot better than they thought. I found French and Spanish harder than German, as they are both higher pitched languages, compared to German which is quite low. I asked if I could continue studying German, but to drop the other two as I couldn’t quite hear the sounds and they were too soft and vague.

Why German?

There was something about German language that made it easy for me to pick up. I’d say it was a combination of the low sounds and also when speaking the words, you pronounce all the word endings, rather than some which you don’t, therefore it made it easier for me to lipread.

It’s quite a logical language and the vocabulary has similarities to English. Plus, my interest in the German culture and history was a factor too!

How I learnt it…

As I rely fully on lip reading when speaking or listening to English, it’s the same with German. To start with, they always focussed on vocabulary. I learnt to lipread different patterns on my teachers’ lips when they were saying different words. My support worker would point to the word as they said it so I could work out what the lip patterns looked like, and roughly what it sounded like. With constant repetition, like in English, I gradually picked it up.

Exchange Trips

I was lucky to be able to go on German Exchange Trips at school, where you get partnered with a student from the partner school in Germany. You got to stay with the family, to experience their culture and school life.

I love travelling and I was up for it, but I did have my concerns about how I was going to communicate with someone in a foreign language, let alone it’s a challenge in English! Fortunately, my teachers were really helpful and partnered me with a lovely girl who was kind and understanding of my needs. After a few trips, we are now best friends from different countries!

Different foreign languages

Exams

I went on to do GCSE and A Level German, which I achieved grades that I never imagined possible! I definitely surprised my parents.

The exams were definitely the hardest part. I had a separate room so the background noise wasn’t distracting for me and extra time. I could do the reading and writing section, but the listening section, I couldn’t hear the MP3 player. Therefore, the teachers had to read out the script so I could lipread them! My final exam was three gruelling hours long but I’m pleased that I passed!

Tips to help you learn a language!

1.  It might be trial and error to start with. You could try experimenting with different languages until you find one that suits you. Your individual hearing loss might determine which languages are easier to understand than others.

2.  Vocabulary is key! It helps you understand the basics and even when visiting the country, it will help your visual understanding when reading signs!

3.  Grammar may be boring, but once you get to grips with the sentence structures and verb endings, it will make more sense.

4.  If you can, visit the country. I found it easier to learn German as I was speaking it daily during the exchange trip. (When I came home, I forgot how to speak English!) If not, why not see if there are any classes or groups in your local area who you can practise with.

5.  If you really struggle learning a foreign spoken language, Sign language counts as a language and each country has their own sign language!

Good luck! If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them.

Foreign languages

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