Disability and language learning

There’s the track “People with disabilities” in the Polyglot conference and I’m wondering about what it is. Are any of you giving a speech in this track? What’s your topic? What’s the range of topics in this track? Is ist about sign languages or how people with visual, speech, audial, physical or other impairments learn languages? Do you have disabilities that have an impact on how you study languages?

When I think of inspiring disabled language learners, the first that comes to my mind is Javier García Pajares, a deaf-blind blogger, who learnt to speak English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ERUksf7S3Q. I’d love to know more about the methods, he applied for his language learning.

I’m very much interested in sign languages and would love to learn German Sign Language. Two years ago, I wrote about it but haven’t put my plans into practice yet (apart from a couple of easy signs): https://lingotopia.blogspot.com/2018/03/talk-to-my-hand-learning-sign-language.html. What’s holding me back is that I’m worried that I can’t properly form the signs as I’m only having one hand and that hand is also a little bit impaired so I can’t for instance sign all letters of the alphabet correctly and that I didn’t find a place where to learn it. There aren’t German Sign Language teachers on italki. But recently a community college in my town has started offering German Sign Language classes (unfortunately I can’t attend at the moment due to a conflicting schedule). But now I found this online German Language Sign learning platform: https://manimundo.de/. Maybe I’ll give it a try.


Hi! Don’t worry about Sign Language and one hand. I know native Deaf man who has only one hand, my dear Deaf friend had polio and his hand is working very poorly and one girl-interpreter doesn’t have fingers on one hand.
In country where I live we have one-hand alphabet and younger generation of Deafs use only this.

The best method to learn Sign Language is to learn it from the natives. So find club for Deaf people and jump right into unknown water. You would be surprised :slight_smile: Those people are usually warm and glad someone wants to learn their language. Of course, this applies for end of the quarantine
Meanwhile don’t forget to dive into German Sign Language YouTube. You probably wouldn’t understand single sign, and that’s okay, but slowly you will see the rhythm of the speech, facial expressions…and you will slowly start to feel the language :heart:


I’m not sure if this is too tangental to the topic, but I do wonder how language learners who are hard of hearing are faring with video resources.

Closed captioning and subtitles are great… when they’re available and when they’re accurate. I’ve seen some shows whose lines were so heavily changed to favor cultural localization (or bureaucratic regulations) that the meaning of the lines changed. It’s quite the surprise when comparing notes with a hearing friend.

Youtube, a fountain of free material for most learners, is largely restricted by a lack of proper captioning even in scripted videos. When there is captioning, it’s usually slapdash, with little attention given to line length, word breaks, time on screen or notations of music or silence. The auto-generated captions are already poor, but useless if the speaker doesn’t enunciate well or switches to another language. And in the case of the latter, there’s no “multi-language caption” option to read along in multiple languages if you wanted to.

Sorry, this is turning into a rant. :frowning:

On a side note, I know it’s possible to get an exemption for the listening portion of the JLPT if you are hearing disabled. I don’t know about other language tests though.

Note: I am not deaf myself. A while back when I was making videos on another topic, a very patient hard-of-hearing friend pointed me in the direction of materials to improve my captioning, and it’s been on my radar since.


I’m not deaf myself either, but this exactly my view on closed captioning also. I made sure to consider the accessibility of content for my presentation, and have it in English and Persian. It is hard work, but so very, very valuable to others.


Great! It is Indeed very needed :blush:
In the beginnings I rely on captions and headphones (volume on maximum). And lip-reading is important too, but only in speech videos. For videos like ‘room makeover’ I prefer artistic point of view, because I came primarily for pictures and not for speech.

When I try to master a new language, I always, always begin with reading and writing. Perfect is reading AND simultaneously listening to the audio of the text.
After a while, when I improve, in some topics my brain starts to automatically complete sentences I didn’t hear well… It’s not perfect all the time, but it helps :slight_smile:

I must add that I am hard of hearing and not completely deaf.


This is so true! I encourage all of you to at least help make sure that isn’t the case on this platform this year!


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Yup. I know it’s a pain (I’ve done some of my own subtitling and it can take quite a while). But it’s important for roughly 15% of the world adult population who have hearing losses. As we know … it also helps us learn other languages.

For those who would rather spend a litte for captioning in English at least, I recommend rev.com - at $1 per minute, it can be worth spending the money.


I used veed.io to do the “heavy lifting” for my presentation.
Depending on your budget, this may also be handy.

It also has a translation feature for your subtitles - BUT… always requires that human eye and a little formatting.


Does anybody know if there will be another “People with disabilities” track this year? This is my first time attending the Polyglot Conference, so I missed this last year.

Like @Robin I am hard of hearing, and do much of the same things she mentions when learning a new language. When learning new vocabulary I try to learn the words within phrases (I believe it’s called ‘chunking’?) so I can get to the “brain starts to automatically complete sentences” phase sooner.

For the most part my learning tends to be solitary, because social interactions at a beginner level are more awkward than they would be if my hearing were great. Within the last few years I’ve gotten bolder about taking lessons on iTalki, but when I look for a new teacher, my main criterion are: (1) do they speak clearly, and (2) do they perceive my expressions of hearing-loss (i.e. the moments when I ask them to repeat themselves, or when I remind them I am incapable of hearing certain sounds) as a legitimate disability rather than a behavior/intelligence problem. Even better is if they are capable of describing to me how a sound that I cannot hear is made so that I can speak properly (there’s nothing wrong with my mouth, just my ears), rather than have me try to repeat what they say.

I also have a list of sounds that I am incapable of hearing, or that sound exactly the same (‘t’ and ‘k’ are occasionally indistinguishable to me). I haven’t yet had an opportunity to use it, but it exists, just in case my teachers need extra assistance in helping me.