Letters to the Editor: This is what I learned about language teaching deaf students

A woman and her daughter side hug as they say 'I love you' in sign language
Rena Tafoya and daughter Maya Flores, 11, sign “I love you” to each other. Maya, who is deaf, attends L.A. Unified.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: For seven years I taught at Gallaudet University, a college in Washington, D.C., for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. I also have a master’s degree in audiology, so this is my two cents’ worth on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education’s vote to overhaul its deaf education programs.

As professionals well know, there are many different kinds of hearing loss — some are present at birth before language is learned, and others occur after some language acquisition. Some children have hearing parents, others don’t. Some parents are optimistic about the child’s ability to learn English, others are not. Some are in denial of their child’s hearing loss.

Every child is basically a different case, and obviously all these factors will influence how the child performs.


But I became convinced that a child who is exposed to any language from birth is better off in the long run, so to insist on education in English only is a disservice to the deaf child. By the way, did you know deaf babies can learn to babble in sign language?

I also became convinced that both American Sign Language and English are both essential for a deaf person to succeed in a mostly hearing world. The deaf students I taught wanted to learn language, in any form or shape, and also enjoyed spoken or written Spanish and even Hebrew.

But they communicated with each other in American Sign Language. It all made sense.

Sabina Dym, Newport Beach