Students are introduced to language and communication. They listen to short readings in English and other languages, and investigate why they do or do not understand what they hear. The lesson concludes with students reading two short paragraphs relating to the critical period for language development.
Hearing involves sound, while communication involves the brain. There is a critical period for language acquisition to occur.
After completing this lesson, students will
Consult the following sections in Information about Hearing, Communication, and Understanding:
|Activity 1||Master 1.1, The Rhythm of Language (Prepare an overhead transparency.)|
|Activity 2||Master 1.2, Stories of Language Development (Make 1 copy per student.)|
|Activity 1||computers with Internet connection and sound card|
|Activity 2||no materials (except photocopies)|
Because this lesson involves a teacher-led discussion, the best approach is to use one computer for the entire class. This allows you to play the tracks in their recommended sequence and to control the discussion after each track is played. Before class, adjust the computer’s sound system so that the entire class can hear the tracks as they are played.
The American Sign Language (ASL) video, used in Activity 1, is a large file. If you have a slow Internet connection, you may want to load the file before class begins. To do so, proceed to http://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/hearing/student and click on “Lesson 1—Getting the Message.” When the page comes up, click on “Track 4” to allow the video to load in a separate window. By following this procedure, you can begin Lesson 1 without waiting for the large file to download.
This lesson requires access to the Web site. If you do not have Internet access at your school, you might consider using a computer at home or the library to record the sound tracks on a cassette and playing the tape in class as described below.
In this activity, students listen to the first sentence of the Gettysburg Address spoken in different languages. After each track is played, students are asked what they can understand. Many students will not understand any words until a track spoken in English is played. If you have students who understand Chinese, Hebrew, Spanish, or American Sign Language, they will understand those tracks, although they may not identify the track as part of the Gettysburg Address.
A common response is, “I learned from my parents.” Students with younger siblings may have observed how young children acquire verbal skills by listening and imitating what they hear.
Answers will vary, although first words will be short words with simple sounds that young children have heard repeatedly, such as “mama” and “dada.”
Students may respond that this has something to do with the nature of the sounds that infants hear. Perhaps babies sense patterns of sound. Some patterns may be easier to interpret than others. Begin focusing the discussion on the brain as the body organ that interprets the environment.
This activity features links to six tracks. Each track plays the first part of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In addition to reading the original wording in English (Track 6), the sentence is also read in Chinese (Track 1), Hebrew (Track 2), Spanish (Track 3), American Sign Language (Track 4), and a more modern form of English (Track 5).
Students probably will reply that what they heard was in a foreign language; it was not English. Languages differ in many ways. The basic sounds of speech, as well as how they are put together to form words, may be different. Also, the rhythm of sounds and pauses, the way the voice varies in pitch, and the patterns of loudness and softness vary.
Students should recognize that in each language, some elements of speech are louder than others. Students also will note that there are differences in the rhythms (the alternation of sounds and silence) among languages.
The brain interprets information with which it is presented. Interpretation relies on previous experiences. We learn that male voices are generally lower pitched and female voices, generally higher pitched. We learn what anger, happiness, and other emotional states look and sound like. If students could not identify the Gettysburg Address as the source in the modern reading, it may be because they lack the experience to interpret the material from one context and to place it in another.
Many students will assume that they could learn their first language at a later age, the way they do a foreign language in school. This discussion leads to Activity 2, where the focus continues to be on the central role of the brain in communication.
The important point is that the young, male white-crowned sparrow has a specific time, or window of opportunity, in which to learn the song. Only during this time can the brain interpret the song, enabling the bird to sing it.
Students may respond that humans need to hear spoken language during a specific time to learn speech. Other students may answer that humans, with our larger brains, are not so dependent on a window of time for learning language.
Students may make a connection between the idea of a critical period for language acquisition from “Birdsong” to the apparent lack of exposure to human language during a critical period in Victor’s situation. If students do not offer this explanation, help them understand that Victor may have had difficulty learning spoken language because he did not hear it during a critical period when he was young.
It is also possible that Victor might have been born with a developmental disorder that left him unable to learn well at any age. Students should realize that there is no simple explanation. Scientists still debate the reasons for Victor’s inability to demonstrate normal language and communication skills.
The class will work together to construct this diagram. Refer to Figure 1.8 to see the complete diagram.
Many will be named. Group them into three categories: voiced, musical, and environmental (environmental is everything that is not voiced or musical).
Students should recognize that the brain is necessary to interpret sounds so that we understand the meaning behind the sound.
Students should recognize that there are means of communication that do not require sound. An example is American Sign Language. If students do not suggest this, ask them to consider sign language.
Students should mention that the sense of vision and an agreed-upon series of hand signs are needed. If students gloss over the role of the brain, be sure to mention that the brain is required to interpret the visual input from signing so that we understand the meaning behind the sign.
Sign language is similar to “Sounds” in the diagram. Therefore, write the words “Sign Language” beneath “Sounds.” A person using sign language uses his or her eyes to take in the information in a manner similar to the ears taking in sounds. Draw an arrow leading from “Sign Language” to the words “Eyes/Vision.”
You may wish to save this diagram on the board to introduce Lesson 2.
Yes, though it may seem impossible, people without both sight and hearing can learn to read, write, and communicate with others. Students may have heard of Helen Keller. Although she could not see or hear, she authored many books and reached a worldwide audience. She helped others understand that the abilities to communicate and function in society reside in our brains and are not tied to any one of our five senses.
Animals need to communicate for a variety of reasons, such as to find a mate, warn other members of their group of danger, or find their parents. Students should realize that animal communication is similar to human communication in that animals also take in sounds through their ears and process the information using their brains. Some students may feel that because no other animals use spoken language, they are of limited usefulness in exploring human communication. You can mention that mammals share many anatomical and physiological features with humans. Mammals also have similar versions of many human genes. These similarities are being used to investigate the relationship between hearing and communication. The comparison of the human and mouse genomes is very helpful in this regard.
|Activity 1: What Did You Say?|
|What the Teacher Does||Procedure Reference|
Review with class how they learned language as children.
Log onto the student Web site and click on “Lesson 1—Getting the Message.”
Play Tracks 1–3 in sequence, and ask students what information they can gain from the readings, such as
Play Track 4 (American Sign Language) and ask students if they can tell what is being communicated.
Play Tracks 5 and 6 (modern and traditional English) and ask the class if they now can understand what is being said.
Examine sound patterns of speech on Master 1.1, The Rhythm of Language.
Review the types of information that can be obtained without understanding the language.
Discuss the consequences of not hearing language when young.
|Activity 2: When the Time Is Right|
|What the Teacher Does||Procedure Reference|
|Have students read “Birdsong” from Master 1.2, Stories of Language Development, and relate it to human development.||Steps 1–3|
Have students read "Wild Child" from Master 1.2, Stories of Language Development.
|Steps 4 and 5|
Work with students to construct “The Path to Understanding.”
Discuss how a person who has neither sight nor hearing can communicate.
Have the class consider how animal communication and human communication are alike and different.
|= Involves using the Internet.|
|= Involves using a transparency.|
|= Involves copying a master.|