Learning Chinese for the hearing impaired

Does anyone have tips for learning chinese with a profound-severe hearing problem? Reading and writing for me is okay but speaking skills are dependent on listening skills, i can barely make it through a conversation in english without lipreading, and have been able to apply lipreading somewhat to chinese [ex: when my chinese teacher says “忙嗎?” (máng ma?) without lipreading i am completely lost as i cannot really distinguish the tones at all, however with lipreading, máng ma is read/sounds like “man ma” (is this pronounced correctly?)]

Ask your teacher to use kinesthetic markers for tones – moving his or her chin up or down, or marking tones with a hand. But I wouldn’t worry about tones much if I were you.

Concentrate instead on acquiring – really, really internalizing – vocabulary. The number 1 impediment to listening comprehension is lack of automatic, instantaneous decoding of vocabulary. This holds for hearing or hearing-impaired people alike. There are VERY few situations in Chinese where – assuming that you know the structure of the language – you could not figure out what was being said with no tones at all, plus the context of the situation, if you can lipread well enough to get the consonants and basic vowels AND you really, really know those words. Tones alone are not sufficient to make Chinese incomprehensible, no matter what people say – ASSUMING that your grammar and usage are perfect. And if you’re talking to a native speaker, you can assume they are 99% there, so your lack of perception of tones shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for comprehension. There are only a few pairs that would be trouble – most notably “mai” and “Mai” for “buy” vs. “sell”. But then again, context will often clarify that quite nicely.

Using tonal spelling and color coding (as in the TOP romanization system – another commercial! :smiley: ) will help with tone knowledge for when you speak. It will be more challenging for you to speak with correct tones as you won’t have the constant aural input to cement the correct tones in your mind. Consider reading in Pinyin whenever you can, and do sound out the words as you do, to come as close as possible to audio input which would include the tones. Use kinesthetics – hand motions, directional gestures, and so on – plus color coding and so forth to make the tones as memorable as possible. Just remembering the darn tones is problematic for most people with constant aural input, so do anything you can to make up for this lack.

Be aware, too, that in Taiwan, many people actually DO pronounce “manG ma*” as “maN ma*”, which is probably adding to your distress. :doh: The -ng sound is a velar, so it’s so deep in the mouth it would not be very visible unless it were being pronounced very clearly so as to move the jaw somewhat backwards – and I doubt most Taiwanese do that if they distinguish at all. (Teachers should distinguish, but…)

Obviously, the usual things for a hearing-impaired lipreading person – making sure the teacher really faces you to make it easier for you to lipread and so forth – will help. Has someone gone over the phonetics of Chinese for you, so that you know what positions you’re looking for with some of the sounds that don’t occur in English? Knowing something about the articulatory phonetics of what’s going on might help improve the lipreading efficiency (though I know little about the mechanics of lipreading). I’d be happy to help you with articulatory phonetics questions though; maybe we can help to relate the different, smallish mouth and lip movements and shapes to the specific sounds of Chinese, using your foundation in English lipreading. (IMO Chinese speakers move their mouths less than English speakers, which probably isn’t helping. They can speak intelligibly with their teeth clenched, but English speakers can’t.)

Just some quick thoughts – feel free to post more specific problems and we’ll have a bash at solving them or at least improving the situation for you as much as possible!

Sorry for the delayed reply, things happening irl. I agree with what you said about the use of kinesthetics, my high school Chinese teacher used that to help enable me to understand what she was talking about (that and turning to face me for lipreading), however we found that even with kinesthetics and lipreading I still had the worst pronunciation in the class; come college, which had an office for students with disabilities, I was able to get a captionist who did not know Chinese, however, in order to help me understand, she wrote what she heard on screen in a way to pronounce it in English (before she added it to her dictionary so that it shows in pinyin w/o the tones) for an example [ “huānyíng”{歡迎} she would put “Yuan Ying” so i could pronounce it, other examples include “zhè”{這} she would put “jer”; “píjiŭ”{啤酒} she would put “pi joe”]. What I am trying to say is that based on experience, for high school teacher’s method (kinesthetics & lipreading) vs. college teacher’s method (captioning & lipreading), I would have to say that for listening and speaking skills, the college teacher’s method worked more because with the captioning, I could have better pronunciation, and since I knew what words sounded like, I could better understand and lipread the teacher. Although, I think if the college teacher also used kinesthetics there would be improved understanding.

Well, it sounds like you’re basing lipreading on English (not surprising, that’s the language you lipread first), so “translating” the sounds of Chinese into English (like “pi joe”) instead of seeing Pinyin on the captioning would help, because the only way Pinyin really works well as a system is if the student has enough auditory input of the sounds of Chinese first, so that Pinyin triggers those sounds, not the corresponding English sounds. If you’re looking at Pinyin and falling back on English sounds to decode the words, you will have a horrible accent no matter whether you’re hard of hearing or not!

I doubt, though, that there were ever be an opportunity to find a captionist in a small language school in Taiwan…let alone one who knew English.

For the best pronunciation, though, if having the best accent in the class is important to you, I’d still go with a teacher who knows segmental phonetics and can explain the point of articulation for different sounds. There’s a distinction to be drawn between your oral output and your ability to lipread the language. Just comparing the sounds of Chinese to English will always be limited in the degree of accuracy that can be achieved.

Rinchan18, I’m also severely hearing impaired and a teacher of the deaf in the US. There’s a thread in Chinese Forums about deaf learners of the Chinese language, try to google “Chinese Forums”, or send me a PM. Speechreading in Chinese from my experience is indeed possible. Make sure you go through every pinyin sound face-to-face with a Chinese person so you can internalize what that sound looks like. Not every pinyin sound will be viewable/distinguiable in speechreading, so this is where auditory training comes in. If you have enough residual hearing or use amplification, be sure you are able to listen to every pinyin sound even though some will sound the same to you. Auditory training using different and similar word pairs may help. Though I don’t agree with some of what ironlady said about kinesthetic markers - as a teacher of the deaf I’ve seen students start bad habits like rocking back and forth and bobbing their heads while speaking orally or even my deaf students learning Chinese start bobbing their heads with tone kinesthetics, so I totally avoid those. Something that I did when I learned tones - I actually had a friend who was a teacher of the deaf in China and she showed me how to tighten up my vocal cords in the right place for the tones. Anyway PM if you want to…Lelan

The tone kinesthetics I recommend do not involve inappropriate generalized motions like bobbing the head or swaying – they are specific gestures associated with specific words as a learning aid. Students would not use them after the words have been internalized.

Moving the chin up and down is what you said - that in a way is bobbing the head - and using gestures is what you said in your original post - I can tell you from teaching experience that my hearing impaired students internalize those gestures along with the words and phrases being learned, and it makes them look strange when they’re speaking and bobbing and waving their hands. It’s very hard to break this habit once they get on this habit.

The directional gestures that I promote regularly in workshops do not involve any single movement representing tones. Instead, they use a spatial concept similar to that used in ASL, where the space above the collarbone represents the first tone, and the space at navel level or thereabouts represents the third tone; rising movements represent the 2nd tone and falling movements represent 4th tone. Within each of these regions or movements, a word-specific (meaningful) gesture is used.