What Language Do Deaf People Think In

You may have thought “what language do deaf people think in?” The thoughts on our head control almost everything we do, they are like our guardian angel. We think in our native language or any language we are well versed in.

This means if you are French, you think in French or if you are American, you think in English and if you are German, you think in German. 

Since we all think in the language native to us, what language do deaf people think in? There are many deaf people in the world.

There are about 34 million children in the world who are affected by some sort of hearing loss, including deafness. Deafness is a hearing impairment that causes very little to no functional hearing. Some people are born with deafness while others become deaf later in life due to conditions like accidents, disease, genetics and other situations.


There are many studies and researches on what goes on in the brain especially the areas related to language when a person is born deaf. The brain has two primary areas that are affected by deafness and these areas are the temporal lobe and the left hemisphere.

The temporal lobe contains the Wernicke’s area, this part is responsible or plays a role in processing sounds and language including both spoken and written. The left hemisphere contains Broca’s area, this part helps to translate thoughts to speech.

When a person is born deaf and cannot hear speech or language, these areas of the brain are affected. However, this does not mean that these areas (Wernicke’s area or Broca’s area) do not activate in deaf people. A study by The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education in 2008 found out that these areas do activate for sign language instead of speech. The evidence from the study proposes that the brain is responsive to the perception and production of sign language in deaf people just like it does in people who are able to hear.

Also, a small research study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 carried out a test on the language and speech related areas of the brain in both deaf and hearing participants. The findings of the test showed that there is a similar language activation areas in the brain between both deaf and hearing participants.


The answer to this question is dependent on the language used for daily communication by the deaf person. There is no fixed language for deaf people to think in.

What Language Do Deaf People Think In
What Language Do Deaf People Think In

There are factors that determine the language they think in like:

  • Whether they are born deaf or became deaf due to circumstances
  • If they are exposed to sign language early in life
  • The amount of useful information they can hear from hearing aids or cochlear implants.

We will answer the question by classifying deaf people into two groups which are:

  • People who were not born deaf or previously hear
  • People who were born deaf
  • People who were not born deaf or previously hearing people

This is the most important thing to consider if you are trying to know or find out the language deaf people think in. You should find out if they have been able to hear. Just so you know, some people are born fully hearing but due to circumstances like disease, accidents or genetics, they become deaf. The deafness could start like slight reduction in hearing which then progresses to complete loss of hearing. 

After finding out that the deaf person could hear previously, the next thing is to know how old they were when he or she was when the deafness occurred.

For instance, a person who lost his or her hearing at a very young age before starting to really remember things are very unlikely to remember why the native language was. On the contrary, a 50 or 70 year old woman who became deaf after an illness, or accident is more likely to remember the sound of her language and therefore still think in this language.

If an adult becomes deaf suddenly as a result of accident or infection that affected the cochlea or 8th nerve, there will not be sudden change in the way he or she thinks or the language the thoughts are in. This means that if a deaf person loses his or her sense of hearing in the adult age, the native language will still be in their memory and they can think in their native language. Their thoughts will also be in the same native language.

People who were born deaf

Those who are born deaf have no memory of the sound or pronunciation of any language including their supposed native language. It is important to think how they communicate as this has a direct and huge impact on the language they think in.

People who are born deaf have never heard spoken speech. This makes it unlikely for them to think in spoken speech. The primary method for deaf people to process is by visualizing things (visual methods of communication), they are likely to think in images. The images may be of pictures and images of objects and things. They can also use word images like sign language or lip reading. 

Sign Language

The world has over 300 sign languages, the most common forms are American Sign Language, Makaton, and British Sign Language. These languages are well established and known, they use symbols and gestures send their messages and communicate with other people.

The body is designed in a way that when any of the five senses (taste, touch, sound, sight, and smell) does not exist or is damaged, the others become stronger.

So, in a deaf person, the sound sense is damaged but their sight is stronger as they tend to use this more. The strong sight makes it easier for them to picture images and thoughts in the mind. 

So, deaf people think in their sign language rather than in their native language. So, when a hearing person thinks “I need water”, a deaf person who uses American sign language will rely on the language to visualize the sign that means “I need water”.


When deaf people think in a sign language, they imagine or have a feeling of themselves signing. Just like hearing people have inner speech, deaf people have inner sign. Some deaf people can think in spoken language, this is possible if they can feel the movement of speech from the mouth or they can visualize patterns of the lips. Some deaf people reported a switch between imagining themselves communicating and imagining perceiving, or watching the communication of others.


Deaf blind people do not hear nor see, so it is unlikely for them to think in a sign language because they do not have the ability to see sign language and learn it. So, how do they communicate? Deaf blind people use a combination of tactile sign and braille to communicate. Tactile sign is a language that uses touch to convey non-textual messages.

Braille on the other hand, is used in communicating as it has raised bumps that look like a natural language such as English.

Most deaf blind people use both tactile and braille to communicate. Deafness or blindness does not have any effects on the cognitive ability of the brain so people with both conditions have think in their own language. Most deaf blind people think in tactile sign and braille and therefore this is the language that they think in. 


Deafness does not mean you should disrespect people with this disability. Everyone in the society should respect and be inclusive of deaf people.

Some ways of showing considerations for deaf people are:

1. Speak in full and clear sentence especially if the deaf person is a child: This will not only help you to communicate to them but also help them to strengthen their language skills. Children especially are fast learners who can easily pick up new skills or language. You should ways use clear speech or sign language for deaf people.

2. Make sure your sight is in a direct line while you speak slowly: You should maintain clear view of your face and mouth if you are speaking directly to a deaf person. This will help them to better and easily understand your speech.

3 Include deaf people in social situations that involve family, friends or co-workers: It is common for deaf people to feel left out on social situations. You can try by including them in your conversations to make them comfortable and welcomed.

4. Use accessibility options: There are accessibility options like closed captioning or translator. This will help to also include the deaf people in situations.

5. Ask what the person needs if you are in doubt: Not every deaf person communicates the same way. You can ask them the best way to communicate with them and any way you can make communication easier for them.


Deaf people think but not in the same way as we do. We think with words but since they do not hear, for those who were born deaf, how will they think? Their thoughts depends on many factors like methods of communication. If the mode of communication is known, it will be easy to detect the language used in thinking.

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