In this day and age, there are advantages to being bilingual. The ability to speak multiple languages allows for additional career opportunities. Years ago, the possibility for people with hearing loss to learn more than one verbal language was not even a consideration. However, with advances in technology (digital hearing aids and cochlear implants), it is definitively achievable for those with hearing loss to learn a second language.
Research has shown that the younger the better, for second language acquisition. Thus, many schools are now including foreign language programs at the elementary school level. The idea of these programs is to begin to expose the brain to the sounds and structures of another language at an early age, as the brain is still developing.
For the child with hearing loss who is mainstreamed, the question of participating in the foreign language program comes up often. There are several factors to consider in determining if your child is ready to learn a second language and participate in a foreign language program.
Keep in mind, that there are some people who are just “wired” to easily learn languages. Looking at the general population, it is clear that even amongst children without hearing loss, some children do better with learning a foreign language than others.
Factors to Consider:
- Child’s Auditory Skills—-Does your child have strong auditory skills? The child who has been receiving listening and spoken language therapy from a very young age and has developed a strong foundation of listening skills may have an advantage in some ways. The child who has received auditory therapy has worked hard to learn to listen to fine differences in pitch and intonation patterns and minimal sound contrasts, which often make learning a second language difficult. For the child who is newly implanted or a child who still struggling with moving up the auditory hierarchy, introduction of a second language may not be suggested.
- Child’s First Language Skills—-Does your child have age appropriate or close to age appropriate skills in the first language? If your child is already well on the way to developing age appropriate language skills in the first language, he/she may be ready to try to learn a new language. However, if your child is struggling with learning the vocabulary, grammatical rules and speech sounds of the first language, introducing a second language may not be beneficial at this time.
- Child’s Academic Skills—-Are your child’s academic skills in line with their peers? This includes all areas of academics, reading, writing, spelling, math, science, social studies, etc… If your child is struggling with learning to read or spell, the addition of another language may make this even more challenging.
- School Service Times—-Is your child pulled out of the classroom frequently for services (speech, teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, special education)? If so, it may be best to use the foreign language time for these services so that the child can be included during other academics as much as possible.
Making the decision regarding a second language is complex and every child’s circumstances are different. Asking yourself the above questions can help to guide you in making the right choice for your child.