What is Oralism?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 May 2020
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Oralism is one of the two main approaches to providing education of deaf students. Considered by many to be especially effective with children who have retained a small amount of hearing ability, oralism has its origins in the 18th century, and continues to be a popular option in helping deaf children and adults to function in society.

Understood to be part of the auditory training technique, oralism involves the use of sight and touch in order to assist the hearing impaired in learning to communicate with other people. Learning to recognize what is being said by learning to read lips allows the deaf individual to understand the communication without the need for writing a note or the use of sign language. Along with teaching the deaf person to recognize the words that are being articulated by another person, oralism also addresses the act of responding verbally. This process is enhanced by using touch to learn how pronouncing certain words is accomplished by the movements of the lips and the contractions of muscles in the throat. The result is that an individual who was born without the sense of hearing can still learn to speak in a manner that allows for communication with others.

Opponents of oralism often point out that the process does have limitations. It is generally accepted that reading lips provides some assistance in relating to the world at large, but that the process is not exact. Many words require only the slightest differences in the movement of the lips or the contractions in the throat to produce. This creates a situation in which the deaf person must attempt to interpret the words in some sort of context in order to properly interpret what was spoken. In addition, many people have a tendency to move their heads or walk around when speaking. Both these tendencies can make lip reading more difficult.

Another often cited disadvantage to oralism is the amount of time and effort that is required to achieve results. Because oralism demands a great deal of repetition and a high level of dedication, the slow progress that is common to the technique can be discouraging. Due to the length and intensity of oralism methods, many deaf people find the process less rewarding than learning to communicate by using the written word or with the aid of sign language.

Still, oralism often is successful with children who retain a residual amount of hearing ability, as well as with adults who lose hearing ability later in life. For deaf people who do benefit from oralism, the end result is a higher level of confidence and a sense of fitting into society with greater ease.

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