Monday, February 6, 2012

How Does Deaf People Learn To Read?

"How does Deaf People Learn (to) Read?"

SO...Here is my OVERDUE It is a DEAF thing post.....

The most common questions I get all of the time from Hearing people is: How did you learn to read if you were unable to hear as a child? I think it is actually a good question. Hearing kids learn to read by understanding the sound of each letter in a word then combining the letters to make a word. For Deaf way, this is going to work. We can't hear. BUT we can see. 

Hearing kids learn how to read pretty much all in the same way. 

Deaf kids don't.

Let me start telling you how I learned how to read. 

I was a very little girl, about 2 years old, when my aunt gave me a pink binder called Ashley's Signing book. It was to teach me to associate a picture to a sign then associate it to a word. I learned that a picture meant something and that something had a "word" for it. A picture of a grizzly bear meant B-E-A-R....bear! A picture of a ball meant B-A-L-L....a ball! Ever since that, I was hooked to reading and wanting to learn what a picture meant in a word. 

 In the animated pictures down below, you'll see actual pictures from my book: 

When I read, I see images instead of sounds, and it is almost as if a movie is unfolding in my head. This is why I have always loved reading since I was a little girl. Every time I read, I open an entire world of bringing my characters to life, and I love living with them in their world. I wish I can say the same for college textbooks, ha ha ha! Even so, I still do visualize what I read in the textbooks from school years. 

Now, is this true for ALL Deaf people? I asked my good friend, Sharon, about how she learned and associated words with reading. To my surprise, it is completely different from how I learned to read. 

She had explained that she was also visual like I was, however, she did not see images. She simply saw the outlines of the letters in a word then matched it to the printed word on the text. To her, it was how she learned, and associate words to reading. 

How curious! 

My other Deaf friend explained that he did not learn to "see" individual letters when he first learned to read. He clumped letters together to form words in his mind. If there was an individual letter then it was simply discarded. It had no meaning to him. But once there's a word then it made sense to him as what it meant. He did not see "imagery" like I did, but rather assorted texts and words floating in his mind waiting to be formed into a sentence. 

Was I the only one who saw images when I read?

So I asked yet other few Deaf folks. Most of them simply said that they see themselves "signing" words and sentences in their minds while reading. It was very much like how a hearing person "talks" and "hears the sounds" in his/her head while reading. Several did say that they saw "movie" or "pictures" while reading ... just like me. 

All of the responses I have gotten makes me wonder if it had to do with left/right brain hemispheres. For those who are more "logical", they seem to see letters, and words to be completed while for those who operates with "artistic" brain side seem to rely more on imagery and signing while reading. 

In an ideal world, Deaf people should learn their language first (American Sign Language or any form of Sign Language) to help them associate their language with English.  It is proven by people like us. We all have a common ground; We know ASL first before learning English. It has definitely given us boost in understanding English. 
Actually, it depends, Mr. Dinosaur. *winks* 

Having said all this, it is pretty obvious that Deaf people can read with help from their dedicated parents, well-founded education system with great educators, and inner will to accomplish/survive in the hearing world. Unfortunately, it is not very common that you'll find well-read Deaf people due to faulty education system, burned-out teachers, lack of communication between parents and the Deaf child,  and lack of inner motivation due to learned helplessness among Deaf students. It is sad to say that many Deaf adults read at 4th grade level or below, and cannot understand  English very well. None of this is their fault. It isn't an ideal world that we are living in. 

On the flip side of the've may notice a "FAD" with teaching BABY SIGNS to hearing babies, and how it may impact their speech development. The truth is...Baby signs are very beneficial to the hearing babies especially when they are not talking yet. Are you teaching them a complex language of American Sign Language from baby signs? No. You're teaching them basic and simplistic signs such as milk, water, tired, sad, happy, and etc. So, this doesn't interfere with their speech development at all. Just think about bilingual families. Babies in those families learn Spanish and English and turn out just fine. Same with baby signs and teaching them to talk. :-) But that's just my two-cents. 

Anyway, that's how I learned to read despite my being unable to hear.  It is pretty much self-evident that Deaf people can do anything but hear. 


  1. Thanks, Ashley! Never really thought about that perspective (so bad coming from an elementary media specialist). DEFINITELY agree with teaching baby sign--my son communicated a lot sooner with basic sign than by voice and it was super beneficial! Another great post :D

  2. I always love your "It's a Deaf Thing" posts! That's so cool that you see pictures while you read (and YES, haha, if only textbooks were so fun to read!)- and that's such a nice book from your aunt, thanks for showing us the pics. That's awesome that you learned to read so young, by the way- I don't know exactly when I started reading, but at 2 I was definitely not smart/ambitious/focused enough to pick up reading! I agree w/ you about baby signs- I've taken care of many a baby and being able to do simple signs w/ them makes life so much easier!