[Note: I initially asked this at the Linguistics community, but was suggested to try here.]

I have an adult friend who was born deaf. While I am very slowly learning sign language, we generally communicate (in Japanese) by writing messages to each other. Recently, she has shown an interest in learning English. She wants to write English; speaking and listening is not very practical. Whenever I teach her English words, she asks how it is "pronounced", which I approximate the English sounds with Japanese script (katakana). The Japanese language, though, is phonetically much simpler than English and makes a very poor approximation.

I graduated with a minor in general linguistics so am quite familiar with IPA. IPA is a fairly ideal system for expressing English pronunciation. It is also used by many ESL text books, too. However, as my friend is deaf, I am unsure how to teach IPA to her, or even if it could be a useful concept.

I am wondering if IPA can be of any use to a deaf person, and if so, how it can be taught / learned.

Edit: I realize that this question is likely difficult to answer. I would be interested in reading about previous studies / cases if they exist.

  • 4
    Welcome to Language Learning Stack Exchange and thank you for submitting this interesting and challenging question :-)
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 12:29
  • I'm curious, how does your friend conceptualize "pronunciation" now? Was she not always deaf?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 12:50
  • What "pronounced" could even mean for a born-deaf person? Does s/he have any way to perceive sounds? Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 20:20
  • 1
    @Flimzy She was born deaf and has been so her entire life. I am still trying to understand how she conceptualizes it, if at all.
    – Dono
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 0:07
  • 1
    @PeterMasiar - pronunciation is still a meaningful concept to people born deaf, as they are able to produce sounds themselves, and receive feedback on how closely their oral actions are approximating natural speech. In theory, she could learn to distinguish between syllables that she speaks, even if she cannot hear them from other people. Also, there is some level of 'lip reading' that may be possible.
    – Myridium
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 3:54

1 Answer 1


@Myridium already has some useful info there - I'd like to add that deaf or not, people can feel where there tongue is, and feel / see in a mirror the shape of there mouth, and the way air flow is being blocked, released or modulated.

So I (personally) would argue that in principle you could / should be able to teach the different sounds / phonemes used in articulating English speech - but I think it will be hard, hard work...

I'm afraid I don't have any research up my sleeve to show you - though I'd wager there has been people looking into this, whether academically or not. Have you tried searching online ?

  • Hi everyone reading this! As you can see by the sign, I'm new here - I was wondering why this answer hasn't received any upvotes: just out of a lack of traffic, or are there some more serious faults to my answer? I'd be glad for pointers, thank you!
    – Sean CJ
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 21:58

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