In what language do deaf people think?

I must take issue with a few comments in this post. Cathy Malvern asked what language the deaf dream in. She then says, “But since deaf people cannot hear, they can’t learn how to speak a language.” This is totally and completely false. In answer to the question, Cecil writes, “The profoundly, prelingually deaf can and do acquire language; it’s just gestural rather than verbal.” Another false assumption. I feel as though both these people were speaking of a time 30 to 50 years ago.

One of my sons became profoundly deaf at age 9 months - certainly before he acquired language. Although I have been an educator for many years - fortunately, I had no preconceived notions of what deaf kids couldn’t do. It was a struggle, I admit, but at age 3, he said his first word (lip movement, mirrors, gestures, pictures all around the house - whatever worked). That opened the floodgates. As soon as he realized a sound was associated with a specific thing, it became easier to teach him English. He had to learn every word separately until he could read at an elementary level. At that time, he learned words/definitions on his own and would come to me to learn how to pronounce the word. He finally caught up with the vocabulary of ‘normal’ kids probably about the time he was a sophomore in college.

I had to fight the school system all the way from grade 1 through 12 - educators are the worst for having erroneous assumptions. My son had an interpreter, but I refused all other ‘special education’ help. He took regular classes along with everyone else. He met the same graduation requirements as everyone else. I remember he had to take a speech class- the first day of class, his teacher came up to him and asked, “How can you take a speech class if you can’t hear?” My son replied, “Because, sir, I can’t hear, but I can speak. You might have to let me know if I need to speak louder or softer.” The teacher ended up being terrific.

Three years ago, my son graduated from Texas A & M with a degree in computer science and math. He is currently employed as a programmer and web designer. Can hearing people understand his speech? Yes, people have no trouble understanding him. Does he sign? Yes, he also has learned signed English.

My point - with some hard work, deaf kids CAN learn to speak very good English. They, too, can excel academically. The reason this is not happening today except on an individual basis is because the public and the school systems are carrying around false assumptions about the capabilities of deaf children. Some of these misconceptions were reinforced in this article.

Please help change how people educate and perceive the deaf.

Thank you - Mom in Texas

Here’s a link to the relevant column.

Welcome to the Straight Dope, ireland5! It is customary to provide a link to the column being referred to because there are so many columns out there, so I dug up the one I think you are referring to.

I mean in no way to diminish any of your son’s work or accomplishments.

However, in that column Cecil makes the strong distinction between those who became deaf after exposure to language and the “prelingually deaf.” He talks explicitly about those who are deaf from birth.

Your son became deaf at nine months. The column states:

I’m not in any way an expert, but my limited reading suggests that babies gain a great deal of knowledge of language even in the first nine months. I don’t know what the cut-off line might be between birth and normal talking age for deafness and language exposure, but your experience seems to confirm rather than than conflict with what Cecil wrote.

If you read closely, Cecil said:

It appears that you realized that your son was deaf early. Therefore, your experience and your statement above are in synch with what Cecil stated.