Is Key Word Sign Enough For Deaf Children?

Is Key Word Sign Enough For Deaf Children?


In the ever-evolving landscape of deaf education, the choice of communication methodology plays a pivotal role in shaping the learning journey of deaf children. One approach that has gained attention and is regularly advised is Key Word Sign (often presented as a bridge between signed languages and spoken languages.)

However, while the intention behind incorporating Key Word Sign might seem well-founded, it's important we understand the very real pitfalls that this approach carries.

In this blog post, I'll delve into the negative impacts of advising Key Word Sign for deaf and hard of hearing children and why embracing a full signed language is always 'best practice' when supporting and building life-long language & communication skills for these kids.

Limited Linguistic Richness:

Key Word Sign, by its very nature, involves using signs for essential words in a sentence. Although it loosely derives from established signed languages, it is NOT a language. And although it may aid in conveying basic ideas, it falls short in providing the linguistic richness that a full signed language offers.

Depriving deaf children of a complete and expressive language system will hinder their ability to access and understand their environment at a more complex level (and on the same basis as their hearing peers). It can also impact their ability to articulate nuanced thoughts, emotions, and complex ideas as well as develop a strong, first language in which to thrive long-term.

We would never advise speaking to hearing children in only key words and expect them to develop a rich, varied vocabulary - so why would we advise this for deaf children? 

Social Isolation and Miscommunication:

Communication isn't just about exchanging information; it's also a tool for building connections and fostering meaningful relationships. Relying solely on Key Word Sign can lead to miscommunication, social isolation and poor access to their environment. Deaf children might struggle to fully engage in conversations, missing out on the intricate subtleties that come with a comprehensive signed language, which impacts their social understanding and Theory of Mind.


Lack of Access to Learning & Education

In an educational setting, language is the gateway to learning. Using Key Word Sign exclusively will create barriers for deaf children in fully grasping academic concepts. A full signed language provides the linguistic foundation necessary for successful academic pursuits, ensuring that deaf learners have equitable access to educational opportunities and higher levels of education.

Cultural Disconnect

Embracing a full signed language is not just about communication; it's about embracing a rich cultural identity. Advising Key Word Sign over a complete signed language may contribute to a cultural disconnect, depriving deaf children of the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the vibrant Deaf culture that comes with a robust signed language.


To Wrap Up...

While Key Word Sign may seemingly offer a bridge between signed and spoken languages, it's crucial to weigh its potential drawbacks, especially when considering the long-term language & communication needs of deaf children. Advocating for a full signed language is not just about language acquisition; it's about empowering deaf learners with the tools they need for comprehensive communication, rich social / emotional understanding, cultural connection and identity and better future outcomes.

As we navigate the diverse landscape of deaf education, it's time we prioritised communication choices that truly unlock the potential of every deaf child, fostering a future where linguistic richness and cultural connectivity go hand in hand.

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