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How to Communicate with Deaf People

By: Joanne Walker BA (hons) - Updated: 30 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Communicate Deaf People Sign Language

Communicating with deaf people does not pose as many problems as a lot of people think. Once the barrier of speech has been overcome most hearing people realise that much can be conveyed through gesture, movement and emotion rather than depending on words. But there are also many ways that deaf people use to communicate words and these can all be learnt or used by hearing people as well. Conversations can be held fairly easily and simply and if you are willing to put in a little effort you may be able to learn a whole new skill as well, thus adding to the benefits for yourself. Sign language, texting and lip reading are just some of the many skills deaf people acquire in order to be able to communicate.

Sign Language

Sign language is perhaps the best and most natural way to communicate with deaf people. Because sign language is a language in its own right, nothing else is needed alongside this. If you learn sign language, you will learn a whole new system of communication just the same as if you learnt Chinese. The words which are represented by gestures are just one very small aspect of this multi-faceted language and much more can be done with it. The language has its own grammar which is distinct from English and has patterns, systems and rules, just as any spoken language does. British sign language is the language most commonly used in the UK and you should not make the mistake of thinking that all sign languages are the same - they actually vary enormously from country to country.


Text is the easiest way for people who do not have the specific skill of sign language to communicate with deaf people. This is a good way for one off messages but it slow, cumbersome and impractical too use as a method of conducting whole conversations. Going back to basics, one way would be to simply write down messages to each other - good perhaps if you do not know the person and just need to ask or answer a question. However, there is something about this method of communication which is cold and impersonal as emotions and feelings can not easily be demonstrated. Another way of communicating via text is to use text messages. These are rightly popular among the deaf community as they allow succinct messages to be sent back and forth between friends wherever they are in the world. The drawback to this is that it can be costly, especially if you are trying to have a whole conversation via text messages.

Lip Reading

Lip reading is a skill which many deaf people have. This is a good way to communicate but you have to make sure they can see you and see your face. So, for example, however good a lip reader your friend is, it will be no use over the phone. The same is true of in the theatre, cinema or any other darkened place. But the advantages to this are numerous. You can talk as you usually would, and simply by watching your lips, the person to whom you are talking will know what you are saying - it really does not get much easier for you than that. And because you will be able to see each other, emotions and feelings can easily be conveyed as well.

So, you can see how to communicate with deaf people and that the options are virtually limitless. Many parents of deaf children decide to take up sign language so they can chat to their youngsters. But sign language should not be reserved for people who have deaf children. It is a good and useful skill to have for anyone and will be an impressive addition to anyone's CV. And once you have learnt sign language, you may start thinking of other uses for it, such as chatting to people who are wearing headphones. Sign language is not a series of gestures - it's a complete communication system.

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