Late First Language Learners

When technology (hearing aids, cochlear implants, etc.) provides sufficient access to spoken language or when children receive sufficient access to signed language, they acquire age-appropriate first language mastery and, except for the use of some strategies that provide access to students who are Deaf and hard of hearing, learning can simply move forward when the children enter school. This is not the case for late first language learners.

Generally speaking, children learn the language that is around them. Children who are Deaf and hard of hearing are no different. They are just as capable of learning language as any other child; however, special care is needed to ensure the language around them is accessible to them. If it is not accessible during the early years, they will have already passed the optimum first language acquisition period (birth to five years old) by the time they enter school.

There are two common case scenarios for late first language learners who are Deaf and hard of hearing. In both cases, children have access to spoken language only.

In the first scenario, children are fitted with hearing aids or cochlear implants. For some reason, these technologies fail to provide them with enough linguistic input to acquire spoken language.

In the second scenario, and for many and varied reasons, some children have no technology available to them. In both cases, these children enter school without age-appropriate first language mastery.

Because these children will not have access to the education going on around them when they enter school, the critical task is to create a first language acquisition environment. (See the section Creating a First Language Acquisition Environment.)