Language Acquisition: Deaf Versus Hearing Children

~ Authored by Heather Flynn

The greatest opportunity for language acquisition to happen is from birth to 5 years old.  (Morgan) This is when the brain is most receptive to learning a language.  Language can be taught after that time period, but the rate for fluency in a language decreases.  This is why it is so important to expose children to language as early as possible.  (Weaver and Starner)

Stages of Learning: Hearing Children

Language is learned in a progressive pattern.  The stages of language acquisition in hearing babies start with cooing around 2-3 months and babbling between 3-6 months, repeating consonant-vowel sounds, with no real meaning.  By 6 months of age, babies start stringing sounds together imitating the intonation patterns they hear.  Between the ages of 9-18 months, babies produce their first verbal words.  (Boggs)  They progressively work their way up to stringing multiple words together with grammatical structure.

Stages of Learning: Deaf Children

The same is true for Deaf babies learning American Sign Language (ASL).  They start with hand and finger movements at around 3-6 months.  They start pointing and gesturing between 6-12 months until they are forming intentional signs by the time they are 12 months old.  They start with single signs and add more signs until they are producing multiple signs with grammatical structure.  (Boggs)  Language is acquired in the first few years of a child’s life with no formal instruction, simply through exposure to the language.

CRITICAL: Language Exposurelanguage acquisition

The critical aspect is exposure to the language. The earlier a child is exposed to a language, the better the child’s fluency in that language.  The fluency of one language can lead to the fluency of the second language.  (Morgan)  They have a language foundation from which to build.  Language acquisition is very important for Deaf children.  Knowing ASL is not enough.  They are going to have to learn English in order to succeed in school and in society.  Deaf people interact with hearing people every day, unlike hearing people who may never interact with Deaf individuals.  Early exposure to language leads to successful citizens.



We Need to Communicate! Helping Hearing Parents of Deaf Children Learn American Sign Language” by Kimberly A. Weaver and Thad Starner, 2011
Critical Period in Language Development” by Gary Morgan, 2014
Speech and ASL Developmental Milestones” by Laurie Boggs, 2008
The Value of Deaf Children Learning Sign Language” by MT&A

Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review