Figurative language: idioms, metaphors, similes, and the like, can be one of the most difficult aspects of language for English language learners, and children with hearing loss, to master. How can we help children learn, understand, and use nonliteral language in a way that is natural?
I remember making beautiful flashcards for teaching these sayings as an undergraduate. It seems silly and counterproductive now, but I really thought I was doing a great job then! Think about it: is there a worse way to teach natural language and jokes than flashcards?
But just because children today have better (and earlier) access to hearing via technology doesn’t always mean that they pick up on this language naturally. So what can you do?
First and foremost: Don’t be afraid to use figurative language! I think sometimes we err on the side of caution and use only language and vocabulary that we’re sure the child knows. It saves time and misunderstanding. It’s safe. But safe doesn’t promote growth!
Step out on a limb and use that familiar saying or rhyme or old wives’ tale. If a child does need some explanation or explicit teaching, that’s fine, but now you can do it in context instead of teaching figurative language in isolation, separated from the when, why, and how you could actually use them.
Books are also a great way to exposure your child to sayings and vocabulary that may not come up every day in your household. Classics like Amelia Bedelia and more on this list are great for all ages! If your child doesn’t get all of the idioms at first, don’t worry! Typically-developing hearing children don’t either. Start with one at a time, and then use what you’ve learned from the book in different contexts throughout the day to help your child generalize her new knowledge.
The ability to understand and use figurative language is one of those little things that help children make the leap from “age appropriate on paper” to really sounding like their typically-developing hearing peers and succeeding socially.