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February 11, 2011

Learning Language in Nontraditional Ways

For most of us, the acquisition of language is something we never stop to think about. Learning language is something that seems to come naturally to us. It begins with our parents or caregivers, and continues throughout our lives. We rarely give any thought to how we learned all of the words and the meanings of the words we know today. Two girls, Helen Keller and Diana Adams, both blind since they were babies, were not able to learn language in the way most of us do. However, each girl was fortunate enough to have the right person cross her path, and teach her language in the most unusual and nontraditional ways. In “The Day Language Came into My Life,” from Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life, Helen wrote about the dense fog she felt she lived in. Helen’s blindness was compounded by the fact that she was also deaf. With no vision, and no hearing, one can only imagine how dark and silent Helen’s universe could be. Helen did not have any idea of what the meaning of colors or objects meant. Her mother hired a teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan. Anne had a unique way of teaching Helen. She used sign language, and she signed the word into Helen’s hand after giving her an object to feel. This was no easy task, and Helen became very impatient and frustrated. Her breakthrough came unexpectedly one day while Anne was trying to teach her the difference between “mug” and “water”. Anne let the water flow over Helen’s hand while she signed the word “w-a-t-e-r” into it. Helen described this magical event as “a misty consciousness as of something forgotten.” Never in her life was she able to understand language in the way Anne taught her. Finally, Helen was able to identify to her world in the way that most of us take for granted. Diana Adams, a character from the movie, Mask, was blind since birth. She could feel someone’s face, and get a general idea of what he...
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