|This page presents an essay written by Ikuko Murayama, a veteran teacher
working at the Kyoto City School for the Deaf. Its purpose is to familiarize
ALTs who will be teaching at a deaf school in Japan for the first time
with why teaching there is so important and the main purposes of their
|Teaching English at a Japanese Deaf School
By: Ikuko Murayama
It is a recent trend in Japan that the current course of study in English
classes for secondary schools has placed more emphasis on communicative
ability. Various English tests and entrance examinations also require listening
and speaking performance. For deaf students, should speaking and listening
be emphasized in English classes in order to increase foreign language
communication skills? What is the most effective way to teach English in
a deaf classroom? To what degree can deaf students develop their communication
skills in another language?
About 40 deaf secondary students (junior + senior high school) are learning
at the Kyoto school for the Deaf now. All the students are encouraged to
wear hearing aids, but most of them are not fully able to even hear their
own voice. Therefore, various communication modes such as sign language
(which may be considered their mother tongue), finger spelling, lip reading
and vocalization, are used among the students. Classes are mainly taught
in spoken Japanese using sign language.
Language is very important for people in order to access information and to communicate with each other. Children with normal hearing acquire a language system and get information through the experience of repeatedly hearing words from their family and people they interact with in society. Deaf children grow up outside this environment and have very different experiences because of their lack of hearing. It is a very difficult task for them to acquire a language, even Japanese. As a result, most deaf students have low Japanese ability and this also affects their ability in the English classroom. What can teachers do to teach a foreign language when students do not have any other basic language skills?
First, the important thing is to try not to create an inferiority complex
in the students for learning languages. Deaf students need to gain confidence
in understanding what teachers are doing in class. For deaf students, learning
through the use of any kind of communication mode in class is part of the
process of developing their communicative abilities. Through learning a
foreign language, students can simultaneously learn the Japanese language
and also increase sign language skills.
Another point to be mindful of is giving students many chances to discover
both the world outside the one they know and the new world inside. When
students learn a foreign language, they learn its culture and explore the
world in relation to their own interests. Learning a language means not
only increasing their skills in terms of grammar and vocabulary, but also
understanding the background of the foreign language. A language represents
the environment in which it is spoken. Awareness of the variety of cultures
in the world may lead to more successes in communication within deaf students'
Additionally, increasing their motivation to communicate with other people is important. Deaf students tend to live in a very small world around them that consists of home, school, and maybe a part time job or other activities. Students are satisfied talking with the few people they know who can speak using sign language in their home area. In a sense, teachers at deaf school are the main people they communicate with in their world. Information provided by teachers has a great influence on their students' lives. ALTs, whom students must communicate with in a foreign language, have an opportunity to open students' eyes to the outside world and hold the power to change the course of their lives. Students who learn from ALTs not only gain language skills but also learn about the foreign culture which ALTs introduce them to. Deaf students can experience firsthand the ALT's different communication style and their underlying value system through the time spent interacting with their foreign teachers. It brings out, to a greater or lesser extent, the students' motivation to explore the outside world.
Acquisition of adequate language skills is not the only aim for teachers
of deaf students and ALTs. It would be great if students could also gain
successful command of inter-cultural communication in tandem. Japanese
English teachers teaching alongside ALTs may help open their students'
minds to the outside world, foreign cultures, and different viewpoints
that students may not have thought of otherwise. English team teaching
classes have the ability to develop this potential in Japanese deaf students.