Language acquisition for students with hearing loss: a case study

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This article aims to relay the findings of a study done surrounding students with hearing loss. The broader study of which only a part is recorded in the article focused on Afrikaans second language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing students at university level. The broader study examined the relevance of the task-based approach to Afrikaans second language teaching for deaf students and students with hearing loss.

Due to changes in basic education regulations, inclusive teaching and learning have moved to the forefront of research. This, combined with the efforts made by universities to promote inclusive education, has led to language lecturers and tutors having a variety of students in their classes – some of these students with specific challenges in the teaching process (including physical disabilities, visual challenges, hearing loss, as well as severe dyslexia and other learning challenges). According to McManis (2017) inclusive education refers to the adaptations which education institutions, classrooms and curriculums need to make to accommodate the needs of all students in education.

The design of task-based activities for students with hearing loss can prove challenging for language teachers and linguists. One such challenge is the lack of academic research on the matter in the field of language acquisition. Furthermore, there is a lack of research on Afrikaans language acquisition and deafness. An additional challenge for language teachers is the wide variety of physical and psychological factors they have to take into account when teaching deaf students and students with hearing loss. The lack of relevant theoretical research combined with the sensitive nature of the research requires a thorough study of the relevance of inclusive language teaching for students with various degrees of hearing loss. The aim is thus to create task-based activities that are suitable for deaf and hearing students studying Afrikaans as a second language at tertiary institutions in South Africa.

The article specifically discusses various classroom strategies for both students with hearing loss and language lecturers. In this article, we try to answer the following research question: How can language acquisition classes be adapted to accommodate the diverse needs of students with hearing loss? In this regard, we refer to classroom strategies as different tactics that can be incorporated by the lecturer or student to ease the language learning process. For the lecturer, the following quote by Busch (2012:3) is quite important:

It is the responsibility of the deaf educator to include appropriate goals for the student in the areas of speech, language development, auditory skills development and any academic areas that may be affected by the hearing loss.

Because there is no standard method for teaching students with hearing loss “educators need to learn how to specifically individualize the education process for their students” (Busch 2012:4). Other strategies the lecturer can use are to send all class notes and PowerPoint presentations to the students with hearing loss and their sign language interpreters before the lesson starts; use a routine-based lesson format; stand in such a way that the student can see the lips of the lecturer if he/she lipreads; and schedule tests and other assessments according to the needs of these students as they can become tired more quickly because of the constant watching of the sign language interpreter. Some of the strategies for the students with hearing loss are to communicate clearly to the lecturer what their needs are; make use of a classmate as a note-taker in class; and familiarise themselves with the classroom layout.

In the article, we primarily undertake a literature review which focuses on emotions, hearing loss, and various strategies and adaptations regarding language learning for the deaf and hard of hearing student. Through a qualitative research approach, various key factors are identified and discussed.

The first theoretical framework used in this article is Krashen’s (1981; 1982) second language acquisition theory. Krashen’s theory on the affective filter (1982) is of relevance to the study since it theorises that language acquisition is influenced by a variety of factors, including motivation, confidence and anxiety. This is especially important to our study seeing as students with varying degrees of hearing loss benefit greatly from an empowering and motivating language learning environment. This is because students with hearing loss enter the language learning process with a disadvantage. Students with hearing loss can experience second language acquisition as degrading, humiliating and time-consuming. These feelings are increased when the students struggle with spelling, pronunciation or other elements of language.

The second important theoretical consideration is academic emotion. In this regard, the work of Moss and Blaha (1993) and Pekrun, Goertz, Titz and Perry (2002) are discussed as they are extremely relevant to the topic of language acquisition for students with hearing loss. Furthermore, the studies undertaken by Case (2005), Busch (2012), Bell (2013) and Hernandez (2017) are discussed concerning Deaf Studies. In language acquisition classes where there are students with hearing loss, certain classroom and curriculum adaptations need to be made. This includes changes to the tempo at which new work is discussed; the use of sign language interpreters in the classroom; and designing alternative assessments that do not rely on spoken language alone.

Our third theoretical approach is task-based teaching and learning. The task-based approach is a pedagogic framework for teaching and researching second and foreign languages. For this article, we used the task-based framework for class methodology. The three stages of pre-task, task cycle and post-task form the framework of our task-based language teaching lessons.

In the second part of our article, quantitative methods are used through the incorporation of participatory action research and a case study. In the case study, a questionnaire and task-based lessons were used to develop lessons for students with hearing loss at university level. This was done to establish the language needs of the students. The participants in the study were three students with hearing loss enrolled in an Afrikaans language acquisition module. Only one student participated when we did the empirical study – which can be seen as one of the limitations of the study. Through our empirical research, it was established that a student with hearing loss is most likely to succeed in learning a second language if he/she is interested in the subject matter and excited about the language learning process and lessons.

Finally, we concluded that an adapted approach to language learning can be extremely beneficial to deaf students and students with hearing loss and that it assists the Afrikaans language acquisition process.

Keywords: academic emotion; Afrikaans language acquisition; classroom adaptations; Deaf Studies; students with hearing loss; task-based approach


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