Building language skills first

Improving literacy rates has been a major focus of investments in global education. However, it is important to see if these investments are reaching all children. Reading is a sound-based activity, even is you read in silence you are essentially linking letter to sounds you know. Combinations of sounds will inturn form words you know.

When Deaf and hard of hearing learners learn to read they have no/limited sounds to link letters to and they will not know as many words as their hearing peers. Therefore reading become a much more difficult task for Deaf and hard of hearing learners. A cochlear implant or other hearing technology can help because they increase access to spoken language. The more you hear of the spoken language, the easier it is to learn to read. But this technology does not provide full access to spoken language, nor is it widely available, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Deaf and hard of hearing learners often grow up in an environment where they are not surrounded by a fully accessible language. Their parents, extended family and community often do not use sign language and spoken language is not (fully) accessible. Thus they come to school without the expected language competences that hearing learners enter school with. School is often the first place where Deaf and hard of hearing learners have full access to a language.

The curriculum, however, expects children to come to school with basic skills and to build on these skills through by teaching literacy and numeracy. Early access to language and a school environment that allows Deaf and hard of hearing children to develop language skills first is needed.

Not only for cognitive development but having strong first language skills allows you to learn a second language with more ease.  Obviously having a shared language between teacher and learners is crucial for learning!

Kentalis, together with experts from Uganda and Tanzania, has developed a reading method for Deaf and hard of hearing learners consisting of materials and training to develop the knowledge and skills of teachers of the Deaf and hard of hearing. The method moves away from sound-based reading instruction and relies on building language skills first. By ensuring that teachers develop the necessary pre-reading skills and apply Deaf specific teaching strategies for teaching reading, they are able to teach more effectively and with more joy.

The project is being finalised in Uganda and Tanzania and you can read more about it here. The method provides teachers with the skills to adapt their lessons to the Deaf and hard of hearing learners in their classroom.