Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Language Learning While Deaf

Many Deaf people I know are like me and grew up in a multilingual family which was told to speak only one language - English - in the home, in order to make me speak English. In my case, I began to learn Spanish and Arabic as a small child, then my family changed - and as a result, I learned no ASL or other foreign languages for a while.

In school Spanish, French and German were offered. Until my last year in a hearing school, however, none of these were available to me. Instead, I was taken out of classes for speech 'lessons' - and I learned to speak English as well as read and write it. I also learned some signing, because audiology's dirty secret is that a little ASL goes a long way towards making English comprehensible. We're used to working with very little, we Deaf children. In the end they let me take some French classes - one of the languages I had no family connection to!

So when my friends introduced me to Duolingo, an app for iPad and iPhone, I had reservations - but was quickly overjoyed. The app is designed to help people learn six languages, mostly European (I'm hoping they add more in the future, but it's a start.) Users play decoding games where you're forced to figure out how words work together. It's a strategizing process that makes you learn and remember not only new vocabulary but declensions, grammar and phrases. You have the option of using a microphone or speaker if you like, or turning them off, and questions and types of questions will adapt themselves to your needs. And it's ENTIRELY FREE. I am now able to read and decipher many articles in El Diario, a popular New York newspaper. (In any language, the news is depressing, but at least I'm learning!) I hope to one day go to Puerto Rico and be able to converse with my relatives, who are an interesting mix. Best way, people say, is to go there and learn–but a foundation won't hurt.

Compare this to Rosetta Stone, which is a commercial program costing anywhere from $100-$500, depending on what elements you purchase. . I have tried this program and found it unusable. Other writers, like Louise Sattler, have tried to simulate using the program "from the Deaf perspective" and found it usable; maybe I should give it a second try. Sattler says there's continual text and captioning, but hearing people are often able to fill in blanks which we Deaf people don't even know exist, so I'm hesitant to take her word for it.

I still have some issues; I am Puerto Rican, not Spanish, so some of the words, grammar etc. are different. Like many Puerto Ricans, I am part Taino, and their language has blended somewhat with Spanish to create a new hybrid, so I am going online to make up for these gaps and differences.

How do you learn foreign languages?

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