Well, I’m afraid not.
In many ways, we actually do read with our ears.
But then you actually KNOW that – the points mentioned below will getting you nodding in agreement.
Oddly enough, it’s the connection between this information and the difficulties many hard of hearing or Deaf students have when learning English as a foreign language, that seems to be less obvious to teachers.
One of the most frequent comments I encounter is: “There is nothing wrong with their eyes, is there? So there should be no problems with either vocabulary acquisition or writing skills”.
It doesn’t work that way. Let’s look at the following points you are familiar with, in the context of a child with a hearing loss:
Reading comprehension skills are affected by knowledge of vocabulary (duh…)
Children in the EFL classroom are first taught to listen, speak (and even sing!) in English before learning how to read the language. This is an attempt to imitate the natural order of language acquisition of a mother tongue.
However, a child with a hearing loss in the EFL classroom faces a complex situation:
Cannot hear/see on the lips all the sounds teacher is saying
(especially if the children are singing & clapping, not to mention remote instruction!)
Needs knowledge of the language to fill in the gaps of message that has been missed
Lacks the necessary knowledge of the new language needed to do so
Has trouble acquiring the necessary knowledge
Cannot hear/see all the sounds teacher is saying
This leads to many Deaf and hard of hearing students lagging behind significantly in the process of developing their vocabulary in English as a foreign language.
Reading comprehension skills are affected by general knowledge (“duh” point no. 2)
Think of a greenhouse. An actual greenhouse.
Now think of a Deaf or hard of hearing students who didn’t hear the advertisement on TV (which is left on for hours in some homes) for winter greenhouse melons or his mother exclaim that the greenhouse tomatoes are not as tasty as the summer ones. This child may have completely missed the word greenhouse when the teacher warned the students never to enter one on a school trip.
“Incidental learning” – children born without a hearing loss are exposed to more language in context than they are explicitly taught!
Our imaginary student learns about The Greenhouse Effect at school and learns the word in a context of an environmental issue.
But then – confusion!
Faced with a reading passage on the future of farming, describing some ultra-modern greenhouses, the student has no idea what they are or where the ozone layer fits into the information. Some students go as far as to “forcibly” insert irrelevant facts known from the lessons at school because it makes more sense to them.
Reading comprehension skills are affected by the level of knowledge of students’ first language (“duh” point no. 3)
The teacher is using the context of going on an imaginary camping trip to introduce new vocabulary items in class. One of the words is causing a problem – the word “damage”.
When asked to give an example of how a student could damage her cell phone while camping, a student replied:
“She could lose it”.
Losing a cell phone and damaging it, are not the same thing.
However, simply translating the two words into the student’s mother tongue wasn’t clear enough.
It turns out that the student, in her mother tongue, only uses words such as “break”, “destroy” and “lose” and doesn’t really know what “damage” means in her first language either.
Babies begin hearing in the womb before they are born. After birth, It often takes time for a child’s hearing loss to be diagnosed, particularly when the hearing loss is not severe or profound. Some children develop amazing language skills in both their mother tongue and English as a foreign language despite the time lost during what is often referred to as “the critical period for language acquisition”.
But many others grapple with the consequences of these language gaps all their life.
In many ways, we actually do read with our ears…