Early language intervention in deaf children of hearing parents

Keywords: Keywords, Deaf Education Early Language Intervention, Language and Cognitive Development Language Acquisition, South African Sign language.


Language development is often hampered by the fact that 90 per cent of deaf children are born into hearing families who do not know Sign language (SL) or haven't had any previous contact with the deaf world. Such parents often use only spoken language to communicate with the child, which results in no or very little language exposure. Many deaf children only start to learn a language, signed or spoken, when they start attending school, usually between the ages of three and seven. As a result, the deaf child has a delay in cognitive and language development and finds it hard to learn a SL, like South African Sign Language (SASL), as well as a written language (e.g., English). This late exposure to SL proves to be a serious cognitive problem for deaf children when compared to those children who acquired language from birth.This problem led to the research question namely, whether deaf children’s language and cognition can still develop to the required level for school readiness if early language intervention (ELI) takes place within the critical period of language acquisition. To answer the question, a case study was done at a school for the deaf and blind with a small group of deaf learners in the foundation phase. The results show that the little language exposure these children received in only one year of school already made a huge difference to their language and cognitive development. This article also makes recommendations to the various stakeholders in deaf education.

Author Biographies

Annemarie Le Roux, University of the Free State
Annemarie le Roux is a junior lecturer in South African Sign Language (Acquisition and Linguistic) in the Department of South African Sign Language and Deaf Studies at the University of the Free State. She previously taught at De la Bat School for the Deaf in Worcester and Thiboloha Special School in Qwaqwa.
Marga Stander, Sol Plaatje University, Kimberley University of the Free State (research associate)
Marga Stander is a senior lecturer in Afrikaans and also teaches SASL as a conversational language at the Sol Plaatje University.  She is also a research associate in the Department of South African Sign Language and Deaf Studies at the University of the Free State. Previously she taught English and Art at the Thiboloha Special School in Qwaqwa.