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Studying a foreign language with hearing loss

learning foreign language with hearing loss
Studying a foreign language with hearing loss can be challenging. All the subtleties in pronunciations and dialects can be difficult to master, especially if you have a hard time hearing every nuance.
But, it’s not impossible! Here are some tips for studying a foreign language with hearing loss.

Can students with hearing loss study a foreign language?

For children with hearing loss, communication can be a factor in deciding which classes to take. Every deaf child is different, with varying levels of hearing loss to diverse hearing technologies. What works for one child may not for another.

The key thing to remember is to not let their hearing loss stand in the way of achieving their goals. Studying a foreign language with hearing loss is absolutely possible. First, chat with your child to see how they feel and what resources they think they might need to achieve their goals.

Studying a foreign language with hearing loss

I learned German as a foreign language throughout my secondary education, all the way through to A Levels (senior year). As a profoundly deaf person who wears hearing aids and communicates through speech and lipreading, I passed all my exams, which is a massive achievement.

“As a profoundly deaf person who wears hearing aids and communicates through speech and lipreading, I passed all my exams, which is a massive achievement.”

Of course, my parents had doubts about whether I could study a foreign language with a hearing loss. My teacher encouraged my parents to let me give it a go. I proved I could do it and flourished each year at school.

If the prospect sounds too daunting, that’s okay. There are plenty of other subjects to choose from. Some may be better for career choices. It’s always good to weigh the options and discuss the pros and cons of each subject with your child.

Note: If your child communicates via sign language, there are other foreign sign languages that can be learned, but they likely won’t be available in the education system.

Read more: Learning a foreign language with hearing loss

Choosing a foreign language

Typically, there are several foreign language options. In school, had a choice of German, French, and Spanish. I noticed that French and Spanish are higher pitched languages, so I struggled to hear them. German is low pitched, making it easier to hear. Also, German words are pronounced whole. This makes the language easier to lipread compared to other languages with silent or quiet word endings.

Someone else might have different qualifiers, perhaps choosing a language that’s more widely used and/or closer to English. Examine all the angles and make the choice that’s best for you.

Classroom adjustments

To help make language learning easier for someone with hearing loss, there are some modifications that can be made.

Planning, preparation, and productivity

To start, it’s always good to chat with teacher/s to explore the curriculum/course plan, discuss situations that may be challenging, and what steps can reduce these barriers. It’s worth explaining how your child who’s deaf currently learns in other subjects, what adjustments are made, or the hearing technologies that are used. The main aim is to make it an enjoyable experience, but accessible too.

The teacher/s may have to consult with the exam boards for advice on what accommodations can be made. Tools like  hearing aid accessories for the classroom can also be beneficial.

If it’s the first time the teacher has had a student who’s deaf, inform them that there have been other people with hearing loss who successfully studied foreign languages. It always helps if teacher/s and language assistants can take part in Deaf Awareness training to make them aware about hearing loss. They must also have the mindset of being encouraging rather than focusing on barriers.

Educating other students that a fellow pupil has access needs is helpful as well. Teach them a few simple tips to help make classroom life easier. This can be done in a fun, positive way, and helps prepare students for the future if they meet other deaf people.

Language assistants

If your child usually has a learning support assistant or support worker in classroom settings, they may be able to help in basic foreign language lessons. As the curriculum gets harder, however, they may struggle supporting the child.

If the school has language assistants who work specifically in those lessons, it’s worth exploring if they can work with the child who’s deaf instead. This can be beneficial as they know the language inside out. They may need some extra training from the support assistant on how best to assist with the child’s needs. Alternatively, there may be some students at a higher level (pre-University or currently at university) who may be able to help.

Daily learning

Children with hearing loss may find it easier learning visual reading and writing tasks compared to oral/audio/speaking tasks. Like any subject, it’s useful to have anything visual from books/diagrams/accessible videos to aid with learning. People with hearing loss are much more receptive to visual clues, which helps them to piece information together.

For pronunciation and speaking practice, teachers/language assistants should explain how words are spoken by writing how they are said (syllables) compared to how it is written. If there are specific sounds or letters which are pronounced in different ways, they should demonstrate how they are said differently or what sounds similar. Like any language, learning the basics such as vocabulary, grammar, and structure are key to understanding.

Audio, videos and listening tasks

All foreign languages include learning from audio clips, videos and listening tasks. Any videos should be subtitled or transcribed prior to lessons. This is hugely beneficial for the deaf child and means they can follow the lesson without missing out on crucial information. If it’s not provided, it can delay learning.

Audio clips are slightly different as they test hearing students’ ability to understand what is being said. The best way around this is for the teacher or language assistant to read the audio clip aloud to the child who’s deaf in a quiet room and for them to lipread what is being said. This is a reasonable adjustment made in exam situations. In listening exams, if the child reads from the script, it can be considered cheating as the answers are in the script. If it is too hard, they may be able to be exempt from the audio tasks.

Group situations

Like any subject in a classroom, foreign language classes may include group work. Gently remind students to raise a hand before they speak, and speak one at a time. This makes it easier for the child who’s deaf to follow.

Hearing technologies

Technologies can be hugely beneficial to assisting the hearing levels of a child who’s deaf. Some can be used in a one-on-one situation or group situations. Take microphones, which can reduce background noise and focus on people’s voices. Technology may be particularly useful in foreign language classes if it can aid with listening to specific sounds.

Exams and tests

The school must inform the exam board of the child’s hearing loss and communication requirements. This way, reasonable adjustments can be made so exams are accessible. This also ensures they are given reasonable dispensation for their hearing loss.

Quite often deaf children are allowed to take their exams in separate rooms with extra time for processing information. Check with the exam board about this. For the listening exams, if teachers can read aloud transcripts of the audio clips, it means the child who’s deaf can access it visually, like a hearing child would auditory.

Exchange trips

Some schools offer the chance to be paired with an exchange student from that country, which really boosts learning and helps to improve language skills. This may lead to potential exchange trips abroad which are amazing, fun opportunities for children to learn more about the language and culture. They also build confidence while traveling and making new friends – all valuable life skills for the future.

Potential for the future

Learning a foreign language is beneficial in many situations. It looks great on resumés and job applications and can help broaden career choices. It’s useful when talking to someone who speaks the language, enabling conversations without language barriers. Best of all, it comes in handy when traveling and visiting countries which use that dialect. Learning a foreign language is a skill that even a child who’s deaf can master.


Author Details
Ellie was born profoundly deaf, uses verbal communication, lipreads and wears Phonak Sky Q hearing aids. She is currently learning British Sign Language. Ellie hasn’t let her disability stand in the way and embraces every new challenge. Her deafness didn’t prevent her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as excelling in her education, previously working as a Marketing Executive and now as an Events Coordinator for a deaf organization, as well as blogging for Hearing Like Me. She is passionate about deaf awareness, campaigning for equality and helping others through her personal blog as Deafie Blogger.