How to Communicate With a Deaf Person

Five Methods:Starting Your ConversationCommunicating through Lip ReadingMaking Sure You’re UnderstoodCommunicating Through WritingUnderstanding the Deaf Person

Communicating with a deaf person can feel daunting for the hearing, especially when you’re not used to it. But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it might seem. The trick is to be patient, straightforward, and to remember that deaf people communicate visually. [1][2] Before you know it, you’ll forget you were ever worried!

Method 1
Starting Your Conversation

  1. Image titled Communicate With a Deaf Person Step 1
    Get the person’s attention. You can do this by moving into the person’s field of vision and waving from a polite distance, or by tapping the person gently on the shoulder. [3] If it’s a real emergency, you can also flick the lights off and on quickly. [4]
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    Position yourself carefully. Make sure that the light in the room is shining directly onto your face, and that you’re not standing with your back to a light. Stand directly in front of the person (as opposed to standing off to one side or behind the person), at a normal distance. [5]
    • Make sure the person is looking at you. Wait until the person finishes what they’re doing before you try to talk to them. If you’re showing a deaf person how to use something, for example, you can’t talk at the same time as they’re looking at the object. [6][7]
    • Try not to fidget or move around a lot as you speak. This is distracting and makes it harder for the deaf person to watch what you’re saying. [8]
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    Find out how the person prefers to communicate. Some deaf people are better lip readers than other. Some deaf people may prefer to write back and forth or to use an interpreter. Many interactions between the deaf and the hearing require a combination of these methods. The best way to know which methods are most effective is to ask. [9][10]
    • If you know ahead of time that you’re going to be communicating with a deaf person, try to learn some basic sign language. Greetings and simple phrases like “please,” “thank you,” and “how are you?” are useful and will make the person feel comfortable. It’s also really helpful to learn the sign language alphabet.
    • If the deaf person uses an interpreter, always make sure to look at the deaf person while you talk, not the interpreter. If you are looking at the interpreter, the deaf person will feel like they’re not really part of the conversation.

Method 2
Communicating through Lip Reading

  1. 1
    Keep your mouth clear. Don’t smoke, eat, or chew gum while you’re talking. This will make it hard for the deaf person to read your lips. [11] Never cover your mouth while you’re talking. [12]
  2. 2
    Speak at a normal volume. Yelling or talking loudly to a deaf or mostly-deaf person will not help them to hear you any better. In addition, yelling looks aggressive to the person you’re talking to and makes others nearby feel uncomfortable. [13]
  3. 3
    Speak clearly and at a normal pace. Most deaf people can only understand about a third of what you say while lip reading, so it’s important not talk too quickly. [14] Try to speak clearly (don’t mumble or stutter, if possible), but don’t exaggerate your speech, either. It’s fine to start off speaking at your normal pace. You can always slow down if you need to. [15]
    • Don’t over-enunciate. Exaggerating lip movements will make it harder for the deaf person to read your lips, not easier. [16]
  4. 4
    Keep your sentences simple and use plain language. Try not to get too complicated with your wording in the beginning. The more complex your phrasing and vocabulary, the more likely your deaf companion is to miss something. Try to avoid using slang or jargon that isn’t widely known. [17]
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    Make sure only one person talks at a time. If multiple people are speaking at once, the deaf person won’t know who to look at to follow the conversation. This means that they’ll miss parts of the conversation. [18]
    • When someone else is speaking, don’t turn away from the deaf person in your group. This will make them feel left out of the conversation. You don’t have to look at the deaf person while someone else is talking, but try to make sure your face is visible. [19]

Method 3
Making Sure You’re Understood

  1. 1
    State the topic of conversation. If the topic is clear, the deaf person will have an easier time following what’s being said. If the conversation shifts into a new topic, state the new topic for the deaf person. [20]
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    Use gestures and body language to clarify. While too much movement can make it hard for a deaf person to follow what you’re saying, using gestures or facial expressions can be useful for filling in gaps. If the person’s having trouble figuring out what you’re saying, try acting it out. [21][22]
  3. 3
    Show your emotions. While you don’t want to exaggerate your facial expressions, don’t try to hide your emotions as you speak. Facial expressions and emotional cues help deaf people to understand the tone of the conversation. [23]
  4. 4
    Ask questions to make sure the person understands. Don’t assume just because a deaf person is nodding that they understand what you’re saying. Just like anyone else, deaf people don’t always like to ask people to repeat themselves or admit they don’t understand what’s going on. [24]
    • You can ask your deaf companion open-ended questions to check that they’ve understood everything that’s been said without embarrassing them or calling them out. [25]
  5. 5
    Write down key information, names, or dates. This will ensure that the person understands important points. You can also offer to summarize what’s been said. [26]
  6. 6
    Be patient—if the person doesn’t understand you, try again. Lip reading is useful, but it’s not perfect, and often important details get missed. If your deaf companion doesn’t understand what’s been said, try to say it in a different way. [27]
    • Ask what the deaf person understood, so you can figure out what they missed.
    • Re-word phrases and sentences whose message didn’t come across the first time. Don’t just say the same thing over and over in the same way.
    • Monosyllabic words can be harder to read than longer words, to try using a longer word. [28]
    • Slow down your speech.
    • Break what you want to say into shorter, simpler parts. [29]
    • If you’re still having trouble, write it down.
    • Never tell a deaf person “never mind” or “it’s not important.” This will make your deaf companion feel left out, and may hurt their feelings. If you keep trying, the message will come through eventually and the deaf person will appreciate your efforts. [30]

Method 4
Communicating Through Writing

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    Keep sentences short and simple. Remember that, just like other people, some deaf people are better readers and writers than others. Start off using simple language and short sentences. If the deaf person is using more complex language, you can follow their cue and do the same. [31]
  2. 2
    Write legibly. The deaf person will have lots of trouble understanding you if they can’t read your handwriting. If you know you have bad handwriting, try slowing down. It might take longer, but it won’t take as long as it would to rewrite the same sentence multiple times because the deaf person can’t read what you wrote.
  3. 3
    Use visual aids. You may find it useful to show your deaf companion any available images or documents in order to clarify your meaning. You might also point to objects or people in your environment; pointing is not considered rude in the deaf community. [32][33]
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    Take advantage of available technology. You can use a smart phone or computer to Google search images that might help clarify what you want to say. You can also use instant messaging, email, or text messaging to communicate through writing. [34]

Method 5
Understanding the Deaf Person

  1. 1
    Listen closely. You will notice that your deaf companion has an accent when they talk. Sometimes this accent may make it hard to understand them. It’s important that you pay close attention when they talk until you get used to the accent.
    • It may be useful to minimize the noise in the room, if possible. This will help you to hear better.
  2. 2
    Tell your deaf companion if you don’t understand something. Deaf people know that they have an accent when they talk. Just like anyone else, they want to be understood, and they will repeat or restate so that you can understand.
    • If you’re really having trouble understanding, ask your deaf companion to switch communication methods—to written communication, for example.
  3. 3
    Don’t be surprised by bluntness. Deaf culture values straightforwardness. Many hearing people are surprised or taken aback by deaf bluntness. Be aware that in the deaf community, this is not seen as rude, just efficient. [35]

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Education and Communications | Deaf and Hard of Hearing