What factors affect language acquisition?

It is also important to keep in mind the factors that affect language acquisition in hearing-impaired children. For instance:

  • hearing status of parents or caretakers (Deaf or hearing?)
  • degree of hearing loss (Mild or profound?)
  • type of communication (ASL, spoken English, cued speech, etc.)
  • age of identification of child's hearing loss (Have they passed significant stages of learning? Are they on track?)
  • age of language exposure (Once again, have they passed specific learning stages?)
  • whether or not the child has other conditions that could affect language development (Autism? Cognitive disorder?)

Language development vs Language learning

When comparing language acquisition among hearing and deaf children, it is important to remember the distinction between language development and language learning. (Schick, 14)

  • Language development is typically used in the sense of a natural or automatic unfolding of language along a regular path, which is indicated by typical language milestones.
  • Language learning, however, refers to language acquisition that requires some amount of effort on the part of both the learner and the teacher.

Although this distinction doesn't mean much when you are analyzing language acquisition in solely hearing children, it is very important to take into consideration when analyzing language acquisition in deaf children. Language development seems to occur relatively naturally in both hearing children with hearing parents and deaf children with deaf parents. However, deaf children with hearing parents rely more on language learning from some sort of early intervention program.

Timing of Milestones

If the hearing impairment is identified early and sign language is introduced to the child, he will be able to develop sign language just as a child with typical hearing develops spoken language (Robinshaw, 1995; as cited in Magnuson, 2000). When the child sees and uses sign language from the beginning, he will benefit from the early introduction.

In fact, children who are learning sign language and children who are learning to speak follow similar timeframes when they are acquiring language. Children who are learning sign language and children who are learning spoken language typically begin to babble around the same time as each other and typically use their first word or sign at about the same age as each other (Petitto & Marentette, 1991). This is really interesting that children are able to acquire either language, and they do so at similar ages.

However, according to Bonvillian, Orlansky, & Novack (1983), sign language is sometimes acquired a little bit earlier than spoken language. In their study, many of the children used their first sign around 9-months-old. This could be because the motor control of the voice is mastered later than the motor control of the hands (Sperling, 1978; as cited in Bonvillian et al., 1983). It is interesting that these are separate and develop at different rates, though it does not make a big difference in the timing of language milestones.

For more information specific to sign language, visit this other wiki page Sign Language.

How similar is ASL to spoken languages?

Much of the research done on American Sign Language has attempted to show how the development of ASL is no different from the development of other spoken languages. Many similar counterparts have been found across the two types of language, such as correlations in phonology, syntax, pronouns, and morphology. However, there is much to be learned about ASL by examining how it differs from the typical spoken language. A visual language has the unique characteristics of space, nonmanual markers, or classifiers to indicate meanings typically expressed by sequentially ordered bound and free morphemes in spoken language (Schick, 16). A better understanding of how visual languages develop will have direct impact on early intervention and educational programming for deaf children, improving opportunities and efficiency.

Important Note: Deaf Community

In speaking about deaf and hearing-impaired children, it is important to note that many people view deafness not as a disability or impairment, but a cultural difference. In this case, the word Deaf is spelled with a capital D.

For an individual to belong to this ethnic group composed of those who are Deaf, one must wish to belong to the group, and they must be accepted as a member of the group.

ASL is a language belonging to the Deaf community, just as other languages are native to other countries.

In fact, deaf parents are often overjoyed to learn that their newborn child is also deaf, because it is not seen as a disability.