In today’s global village, more and more deaf students are taking foreign language courses successfully. Navigating accessibility and course requirements for foreign language courses is not always as straightforward as they may be in other courses.
Institutions should evaluate accommodations for these classes on a case-by-case basis. Effective collaboration and flexibility plays a major role in implementing accommodations including a “trial and error” approach to configuring accommodations.
Creating Access: Foreign Language Classes offers suggestions with substituting or modifying specific assignments and activities to allow a deaf student to demonstrate their mastery of a language.
Speaking is Not Essential to Learn a Foreign Language
One challenge is the common belief that listening and speaking the foreign language is an essential component of the course requirements. Implying that a student needs to be able to “speak” or “listen” to a language in order to meet the course requirements may be frowned upon by the Office for Civil Rights because it can be seen as excluding certain groups from partaking in an institution’s program. However, when institutions have taken creative approaches to accommodate deaf students, the students often thrive in learning other languages. One example is Tory’s Story and her journey in learning Arabic.
To determine the best route, accommodations or substitutions, start with the student to understand their comfort level with different types of communication modes. Careful consideration of the intent of the course objectives would help guide the discussion on determining a reasonable alternative. Options to consider with an equitable alternative:
If the oral component is about communicating effectively (pragmatics and semantics of the language), a written alternative may be reasonable. This would align with other strategies the student may use to communicate in their daily lives.
If the oral component is about grammar use (syntax of the language), a written component that demonstrates the student’s use of grammar may be appropriate. A one-on-one setting with the instructor for verbal or spoken components may be another option, if the student is comfortable with it.
If the oral component is to assess articulation and speech production (phonology or morphology of the language) then a waiver of this portion may be reasonable or replaced with another activity such as cultural/historical research.
If an audible file component is about listening, a transcript of the audio in the written version of the language can provide access to the audio.
If a video is shown or assigned, the captions should reflect the video’s language versus subtitles, which are translations from one language to another.
Service Providers for Foreign Language Courses
Depending on the student’s communication preferences, providing both interpreting and speech-to-text services can ensure receptive and expressive language skills can be satisfied with foreign language learning. Both kinds of service providers must be qualified to convey the foreign language accurately. The level of competency of the service provider could directly impact the student's capacity to participate, perform, and meet the academic standards of the course. There are service providers in both the interpreting and speech-to-text services fields that are fluent in more than one language.
A good first step in finding qualified service providers is to discuss the language of instruction, communication requirements, and interactions within the classroom setting with faculty. For example:
What percentage of the class is conducted in languages other than English?
What level of competency is needed to navigate this class, spoken and written forms? Beginner, intermediate, or advanced fluency?