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English for the Student with a Hearing Loss
by Naomi Epstein


This issue's question:
Q: When working on reading comprehension, I (the teacher) often translate difficult words into Hebrew for the students. Sometimes, despite simple translations, this does not help the hearing impaired (will be referred to as h.i.) student at all. Why is this so?
A: Learning a language when your hearing is impaired or non existent is a difficult task, especially due to the fact that visual input (lip-reading) cannot take the place of auditory input. Thus, the pupils have "holes" in their command of their mother tongue. As the examples below endeavor to show, these gaps in the pupil's knowledge of their L1, often interfere with their reading comprehension in L2.

"THE ASHTRAY"
11th grade, class of pupils studying for the 4-point Bagrut Exam. The teacher has translated the word "ashtray" into Hebrew for the H.I. student, yet the student continues to look at the teacher blankly. The Hebrew translation "ma'afera" is every bit as unfamiliar as the English words "ashtray". The student comes from a family who doesn't smoke, so she wasn't exposed repeatedly to the phrase "pass the ashtray". In the school Hebrew curriculum the word "ashtray" hardly appears, if it all, (even when studying a unit on "smoking" you might not come across this word). There was no repeated exposure to the word or direct instruction of it. The pupil has seen people use ashtrays, she knows "the concept" of what an ashtray is, but it's something she knows without having a word for (or perhaps thinks of it as something called "cigarette bowl").

"Addicted to Computers" - Scenario A
7th grade class, the teacher has written the title of the new story on the board: "Addicted to Computers" in English, and then in Hebrew "Machur Le Mehashvim".
Asked to predict what the story might be about the H.I. pupil confidently responds: "It's about a man who sells computers". How did The Hebrew word " Machur" (addicted) become "Mocher" (salesman)? Both words are formed by the same four letters and the pupil unconsiously rearranged the letters into something familiar that makes sense to her - selling computers.

"Addicted to Computers" - Scenario B
When asked to predict what the story might be about the H.I. pupil looks puzzled and responds: its about someone who gets drugs from the Internet. The pupil DOES know the word addicted (at least in Hebrew) but she is only familiar with one use of it "addicted to drugs". This is something that is taught in school and discussed. But how can one be addicted to computers when they can't be inhaled or injected? And thus the pupil tries to make sense of this contradiction by including the Internet which helps her original assumption to make sense.

The "investors" and the "inventors"
9th grade class, teacher translates difficult words for the new Unseen passage on the board including the word "investor". As students work individually in class the teacher discovers that the H.I. student has, despite what is clearly written on the board, translated the word "investors" as "inventors" and as a result has misunderstood an important part of the passage. The previous year the class had done a unit and a mini project on "famous inventors". The pupil had been exposed to the word "inventors" many times in a meaningful way and remembers the word well. Since English classes often seem to be a situation of endlessly puzzling out words for the Deaf student, seeing the familiar letters on the board automatically brought to mind, with a sense of relief, the familiar word "investor' and the pupil literally did not see the different translation until it was pointed out to her.


In conclusion, use of translation into the student's mother tongue can be very helpful for the H.I. pupil, but the teacher must be prepared to use synonyms and examples to explain the word in L1 when necessary.

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