How do I help my child answer questions?

25 July 2019

By: Shefali Shah

I have had some families remark that their hearing-impaired child imitates most of what they say but does not necessarily answer questions as asked.

When a child has a hearing loss, caregivers are so wanting their hearing impaired child to talk that they tend to encourage their child to imitate what they are saying, often in parallel. Two year olds with normal hearing do tend to imitate key words that the speaker says. However that imitative behavior quickly transitions to true words that they begin to use spontaneously. Deaf children who are encouraged to imitate what the speaker is saying, do not make this transition easily; they need to first unlearn the imitative behavior that they were taught.

Spoken language is learnt when it is meaningful. Meaning comes from context. When spoken communication fulfils your child’s need to communicate, it becomes meaningful. This then makes your child’s social interaction using spoken communication, appropriate. As caregivers, how can you facilitate this?

Use spoken language to convey a thought; not to test that your deaf child is listening.

E.g when reading a story to your child, it is natural to reflect and ask your young child, “ Hmm… do you think that was a nice thing to say/do?” Waiting will help to elicit a yes/ no response even if it is merely a shake of your child’s head. It is not natural however to ask questions such as “ What did the boy say?” particularly just after you have read aloud what he said.

Ask real questions.

Questions are a genuine request for information.

Questions such as : Has Papa come home yet?/What would you like to eat for dinner tonight?/ Are your tired? are all real questions.

Questions such as: What’s that? What colour is your shirt? How many biscuits are on this plate? are test questions because the person asking the question already knows the answer. They are not real and since they do not address a communicative need, your child eventually tires of having to answer them and becomes unresponsive.

It is important to note here that though “How many biscuits are on this plate?” is a test question, “How many biscuits would you like?” is a real question.

Model the appropriate response when you need to.

Children often don’t understand the response expected and so remain quiet. If this happens when you ask your child a question, model it with a sibling or an adult so that your child gets to listen to the appropriate response. Then ask him and wait for the response.

Eg. “Do you know how to play this game?”

If you are on your own and have no third person to rely on, you could model it slightly differently. E.g. You could say “ I want to, do you?” (with an expectant look at your child). She will likely nod too.


Spoken language skills are easily and most naturally acquired through Conversation. Make conversation (not lessons) central to your family life. Infants put at the centre of family conversation, look form one speaker to another, absorbing the art of being an effective conversationalist.

Immerse your child in Conversation and see her blossom into a chatterbox!