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I have a friend who is deaf. While I am very slowly learning sign language, we communicate (in Japanese) by writing message to each other. Recently, she has shown 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.

marked as duplicate by Hatchet Mar 23 '18 at 3:35

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migrated from linguistics.stackexchange.com Mar 22 '18 at 23:11

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    Depends on the nature of the disorder. A person who is deaf from birth might not have a good idea of what sound, articulation, acoustics etc actually mean in practice. (On the other hand, understanding the basics of phonology could be helpful for better understanding the world of spoken language.) – tripleee Mar 22 '18 at 7:22
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    This person may need some introductory course of English, designed for hearing impaired people. So this question may be worth asking at Language Learning. – bytebuster Mar 22 '18 at 7:32
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    @tripleee I should have specified. She was born completely deaf. She reads lips to a degree, but other than soft laughter I have not heard any spoken words from her. It is difficult to tell what kind of understand, if any, she has for the concept of sounds in general. As for why she asks for the "pronunciation", I assume it helps her remember words. Similar to how Japanese uses Chinese characters (kanji / hanzi) for many words, knowing the Chinese character helps remember / understand the word. – Dono Mar 22 '18 at 7:33
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One puzzle you might try to resolve is how she thinks サ and ス are pronounced. It is possible that she has some understanding of the articulation but not the acoustics of katakana. This suggests a visual approach to concretizing writing systems. It may be that a first stem is to decompose katakana CV letters into C and V parts, if that much is not already clear to her.

DCH's interactive sagittal section may be useful because it allows you to match articulatory configurations with phonetic descriptions and IPA letters. You do have to specify the articulation and then see the articulatory configuration (you can't enter an IPA letter and get the description / articulation from that). Also, it doesn't do vowels. An alternative would be to create a set of drawings that encompass the phonemes of English (dispensing with uvular and retroflex, for example). This would be labor intensive, and possibly marketable if done well. As for whether this would be useful, that's hard to say, but I think the fact that she is interested in understanding this concept of pronunciation means that it would be somewhat useful.

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