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Additional needs - introduction

Workshop 9 - Planning support for learners who are deaf

Why teach languages to learners of all abilities?

Workshop 1 Why should we offer opportunities for second language learning to learners who are already struggling to master their first?

British Sign Language (BSL)


Though a hearing aid user myself, I have never, as far as I know, taught a deaf learner. I understand from other language teachers, though, that it is very difficult for foreign language specialists who have not previously worked with deaf learners to fully understand the difficulties they face and to see how teaching strategies might be adapted to better suit their needs. Foreign language specialists often rely on Teachers of the Deaf, interpreters or other communication assistants, who may not be familiar with the language being learned, to mediate the lesson in its usual form, without any particular adaptations.


An alternative 'solution' is to abandon the challenge, for for the deaf learner to be advised to concentrate on other subject areas. For some deaf learners who use British Sign Language (BSL), English can be regarded as their second language and they may be encouraged to concentrate on improving their skills in English rather than to struggle with yet another orally based language. Thus they are excluded from an important part of the curriculum and, arguably, from skills they need if they are to be able to participate fully in the modern world.

Against seemingly impossible odds, some deaf and hearing impaired learners do succeed in achieving amazing results in their foreign language study. (Find a breakdown of recent examination results below.) How do they do it? And how can they be supported effectively? Very little research has been done into foreign language acquisition by deaf learners, but there is some evidence of effective practice which seems to suggest that the key to success lies in effective collaboration between foreign language specialists and the various support specialists on whom deaf learners rely for support in other subjects.


For some deaf learners, especially those who are have been deaf since birth or soon after, any oral language, being unheard, is very difficult to acquire. Some become very proficient, but for others, acquiring competence in oral or written languages will remain problematical. For some of these, their native sign language (SL) may be their first route to communicative competence and can be considered their first language. For all, acquiring competence in written language will present further difficulties. For hearing children learning to read, knowledge of the oral form of a word together with an appreciation of the sounds it contains is a prerequisite for learning to read it. For deaf children learning to read is much more difficult. It has been said that for all deaf children, learning to speak, read and write the language of the hearing community around them is tantamount to learning a foreign language.

With all these difficulties facing them, it is not surprising that their (hearing) parents, carers and teachers often suggest that struggling to learn yet another language may be a step too far. Deaf adults, however, are often resentful at having been denied opportunities available to their hearing peers, and some deaf learners become very competent linguists. Examples can be found on this page. Not every child will be successful, but it is impossible to predict at the outset. If they are denied the chance even to try, we – and they – will never know.


It is worth bearing in mind that deaf children whose first language is a sign language, and whose second language is the oral language of their community, may experience bilingualism well before their hearing peers. Communication skills can take many forms and the pattern of language acquisition is likely to differ from one deaf learner to another. The resources assembled on this page reflect this diversity.


What follows is an attempt to collect, collate and disseminate resources and accounts of good practice which may make success more achievable for deaf learners, their teachers, and those who support them both.

Some downloads follow, then links to external websites which may be of interest. For ease of reference, external links are grouped as follows:

Foreign language learning
English as a second language (as this applies to Deaf learners)
Working with deaf learners
Subtitled resources
Other resources



"I recently taught a hearing pupil who was very adept at signing (her parents are profoundly deaf). Inspired by a talk by Steven Fawkes at a conference two years before, I had been learning some basic signing (along with the rest of the class); we connected some of what we learned to appropriate signs. The effect on the class - and on me - was very beneficial! I didn't do this in any profoundly scientific way; it was quite simply very interesting to see how quickly the pupils can learn vocabulary through signing: I just had to make a sign and at least 90% of the group could remember the vocabulary. There was a twofold benefit in that they were learning French with pleasure; they were also learning some basic signing as well as becoming aware of the needs of the profoundly deaf. The pupil in question gained some recognition for her skills as well!"
(Reproduced with the teacher's permission)

Please see note on copyright

Scottish Qualifications Authority
Summary of results for deaf candidates presented for Modern Languages 2006 - 2012
Download statistics

Scottish Sensory Centre workshop
In November 2005 the Scottish Sensory Centre held a day of workshops for teachers of the deaf on access to the curriculum. The workshop on Modern Languages was presented by Angela Brown and Hilary McColl. Find a link to Angela's presentation below or here. Hilary displayed resources for teaching modern languages and English as a second or foreign language which have strong visual and kinaesthetic components. Find a link to these resources below or here. Handouts included the matrix on supporting deaf learners in foreign language classes that forms the basis of Workshop 9 on this website, and a list of English verbs grouped in ways that might be helpful for deaf learners.
English verb groups

The early learning of English as a foreign language by hearing-impaired children, with particular reference to curriculum modification in special needs schools
This is a copy of a final thesis submitted in 2008 to the University of Cologne Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation. We are grateful to the author, Anne Stoppok (née Klein), and to the University of Cologne for permission to make this research available here. The original report was written in German, with a summary in English. In view of the interest generated by this report, Anne has kindly provided a write-up of her experience in English. All three documents can be downloaded here.
Download full report in German
Download English summary of report
Download English account and Table 3

British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD)
An updated version of the article on MFL in primary schools published in BATOD's news bulletin in 2006.
Download article

Disabled and Multilingual
A deaf student's account of her experiences at university, the hurdles she faced and the measures she took to overcome them, developing in the process a stronger personality and skills in five languages.
Download: Disabled and multilingual


Modern Languages in Special Schools and Mainstream Units in Scotland 2002 by Hilary McColl with Joanna McPake and Loy Picozzi. Extracts relating to provision of language learning opportunities for deaf pupils.
Download extracts

Europe, Language Learning and Special Educational Needs
Section 3E: The European dimension, modern languages and pupils with hearing impairments
y Hilary McColl, Carol Hewitt and Heather Baldry. Published by SOEID 1997 and disseminated to all mainstream and special secondary schools.
Download Section 3E

European Briefing: Sign Languages
Extract from: The European Dimension, Language Learning and Special Educational Needs Newsletter No 3, Autumn 1995
Download article





[Links last checked 27.5.11 unless otherwise indicated]

[29.3.13] Deaf and Multilingual: a practical guide to teaching and supporting deaf learners in foreign language classes
Written by Judith Mole and Mireille Vale, both experienced linguists and teachers of the deaf, and myself, Hilary McColl, deaf and a former teacher of French. See the summary grid in Workshop 9. Avilable and an ebook from iTunes, and in print from:

[6.10.10] SQA Subject Guidance: Introduction to Assessment Arrangements
Links from this page to:
Special arrangements in Modern Languages for candidates with hearing impairments; Use of a scribe in the assessment of writing in Modern Languages.

Count us in: Achieving success for deaf pupils
Report produced jointly by HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) and the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS). The Report aimed to report on the quality of education currently experienced by deaf children in Scottish schools, to provide examples of good practice and to identify signposts for improvement which schools can use when planning for excellence.
Extracts relating to MFL:
... some secondary schools always withdrew the pupil from a second language without consultation with the pupils involved, based on the assumption that an additional language would be too challenging for deaf pupils.
...In one area visited, deaf pupils had a positive experience in studying an additional language and were achieving well. The specific focus on grammar and syntax helped them to understand the differing language structures of English and BSL.

Scottish Sensory Centre workshop
Angela Brown's presentation on teaching a foreign language to deaf learners

MLG Publications (Miniflashcards language games)
Resources for teaching modern languages and English as a second or foreign language which have strong visual and kinaesthetic components.

Mobility International USA
Advice on teaching foreign languages to learners with sensory impairments.

Deaf and hearing students in the same language class (higher education)
The outline and then transcript of a presentation given by Ian Sutherland of Gallaudet University for the Deaf which addresses a situation in which deaf and hearing students are taught together.

New Language Learning Linked To Early Language Experience
A Canadian research team studied groups of deaf and hearing adults to see how the onset and type of initial language experience affects the ability to learn a new language. Report and links to related studies here:

Listening practice with vision and textual support is a joint venture between UK-based Linguascope and the Canadian company Tralco. Videos are presented in a user-friendly interface which allows students to watch at their own pace, with optional subtitles and downloadable transcripts, while completing language-building activities in the same window.

Teaching English and foreign languages to blind and deaf students
This blog from the University of Cordoba, Spain, provides information about resources suggested by students enrolled in the module Teaching English to Special Needs Students within the master programme English for Professional Qualification.

Deaf and Multilingual: a practical guide to teaching and supporting deaf learners in foreign language classes
Written by Judith Mole and Mireille Vale, both experienced linguists and teachers of the deaf, and Hilary McColl, deaf and a former teacher of French. This can be purchased for £10 in print or as an Ebook from

Computers that can lipread different languages...?
Details of a project taking place at the University of East Anglia.

Overcoming the odds to fulfil a dream
Zrinka's hearing impairment didn't stand in the way of her ambition to teach languages. Read about it in Issue 15 (page 4) of the edUKation newsletter. Other case studies related to hearing impairment in the same Issue.

[28.7.11] European Languages Portfolio for Deaf and Hearing Impaired People
European Language Portfolio addresses the language learning needs of the deaf and hard of hearing, and puts language teaching and learning of the target group in the context of common European standards.

Foreign language learning and deaf children
Empower '97 Conference: Workshop 3: Mari MacAulay

Listening skills and the hearing impaired child
Association for Language Learning Journal June 1992. Some of the technology referred to has been superseded, but the principles are still sound.

[4.10.12] Multilingualism, also for children with an auditive or communicative disability!
Until now most logopedists and therapists believe that children with an auditive or communicative disability such as, deafness, down-syndrome or autism should be brought up in one language. Drs. Mirjam Blumenthal, researcher at the Royal Kentalis, proves the opposite with her presentation!

[24.10.12] Multilingualism, a hidden reality
This film is of interest for all professionals working with multilingual children with auditory/communicative disabilities, and for parents who want their child to grow up multilingual.

[18.10.13] Extra
Learn French via YouTube, with subtitles in French. Here's an example:



[Links last checked 7.6.11 unless otherwise indicated]

Moving from signed to written English
A paper by Connie Mayer from the Empower '97 International Conference on Deaf Education

Using ICT effectively with deaf children
An article from the Guardian newspaper's archives.

MLG Publications (Miniflashcards language games)
Resources for teaching modern languages and English as a second or foreign language which have strong visual and kinaesthetic components.

The Daily What
An online newspaper provided by Learning and Teaching Scotland to support literacy and language in Scottish Schools. Every article is available in a basic plain English version and in a longer, more in-depth version. It may provide a usefully differentiated entry levels for classes where some learners have communication difficulties.



[Links last checked 7.6.11 unless otherwise indicated]

International Perspectives on Interpreting
International Perspectives on Language Support
International Perspectives on Educational Interpreting

Proceedings of the Supporting Deaf People online conferences 2001- to 2008

Class Act
Promoting access for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. From the University of Rochester

Assessment arrangements
Details of assessment arrangements for deaf candidates taking National Qualifications in Scotland.

Deaf parenting UK
A website for deaf parents and professionals working with deaf parents.

Signature (formerly CACDP)
Offers nationally recognised qualifications in BSL, speech to text reporting, etc. Centres in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Including all pupils: Dingwall Academy
A video about the inclusion of pupils with a hearing impairment in mainstream classes and the education of all pupils about sign language.

Continuing Professional Development
Courses for teachers in Scotland working with deaf, blind or deaf/blind pupils.

British Association of Teachers of the Deaf
Promotes the educational interests of all deaf children, young people and adults and safeguards the interests of Teachers of the Deaf. Branches UK-wide.

The importance of language (any language) to mental health
In this interview a clinical psychologist talks about how the incidence of mental illness is higher higher amongst deaf people, and how language acquisition contributes to mental health.

[4.4.12] Count us in: Achieving success for deaf learners
Guide for staff working with deaf students in Scotland.

[4.4.12] Deaf friendly teaching
Training packs for improving deaf awareness of mainstream staff.



[Links last checked 7.6.11 unless otherwise indicated]

Here you can view, upload, transcribe and translate any video into any language and create your own subtitles.

TED ideas worth spreading
Hundreds of talks by the world's best thinkers and speakers, most of them subtitled in many languages and with interactive transcripts. If you don't already know this site you're in for a treat!

Do you know about automatic subtitling of all YouTube videos? Read about it here:




[Links last checked 17.9.12 unless otherwise indicated]

Learning and Teaching Scotland
Supporting deaf and hearing impaired learners

[25.1.13] Sign 2 Sing
Resources for getting all the class involved in signing and singing, and in contributing to an attempt to enter the Guiness Book of Records!




Links relating to British Sign Language can now be found on the BSL page.


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