Dare to Ask: What's the reading process like for a
By Phillip Milano
The Florida Times-Union
When I read or write, I hear the words in my mind. How do the deaf do it?
Lonnie, El Paso, Texas
When I read, I "feel" the words in my mind. Depending on schooling, etc., we
often learn written English as a second language, since American Sign Language
is not related to English. -- Anna, 30, deaf, Seattle
I don't hear the words, although I could speak. If I read a book, I try to
visualize the story. For praying, I either sign in my mind or think the words. I
used to dream in sign language (or gestures from those who don't know sign
language) when I was a child. Now I dream in telepathy in place of gestures. --
Christy, deaf, Michigan
Research suggests deaf people who have some ability to phonologically encode
letters and words are the best readers. This usually means that deaf readers
with some residual hearing are better readers. -- Terry, 48, deaf female,
Here's what's needed to read, whether you're deaf or not, said Barbara
Schirmer, professor of education at the University of Detroit Mercy who studies
how to improve outcomes for deaf readers:
"You have to be able to identify words, read them fluently and comprehend
them," said Schirmer, author of "Language and Literacy Development in Children
Who Are Deaf."
Using phonics -- sounding out the words -- is a key to more rapidly learning
and remembering words. Even some profoundly deaf can learn phonics, she said.
For those who can't, kinesthetic methods can mimic phonics, such as feeling
inside the throat or touching a deaf student's hand to the speaker's throat, she
Failing that, a newer strategy is to make sounds visual, in which hand
signals coincide with the different letters and sounds in written words. That
"The job of a deaf child is to develop a store of words they can recognize by
sight. That creates automatic word recognition."
It's not easy.
"The best analogy I've heard is that it's not like riding a bike, but more
like playing baseball," Schirmer said. "Baseball consists of learning the
skills, running the bases, catching, hitting, pitching ... you could be good at
all, but still be lousy at baseball, because it's about the whole game. You have
to put it all together."
In reading, the "click" happens when you move beyond identifying the words to
comprehending what they mean together. That is the hardest part.
"The average deaf student graduates high school at a fourth- or fifth-grade
reading level; it's been that way many years," she said. "Lots become wonderful
readers, but it's a challenge."
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Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
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