The Story of My Life Questions and Answers
by Helen Keller

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How did Ms. Sullivan teach Helen to take part in a conversation? 

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Ms. Sullivan repeated what others said to Helen and made suggestions when she had nothing to say.

When Helen Keller was a toddler, a serious illness took her sight and hearing and almost took her life. As a result, she never really learned to communicate with words until she met Anne Sullivan. She was aware that she was different from hearing people, and would observe their conversations with her remaining senses, frustrated because she could not take part.

I had noticed that my mother and my friends did not use signs as I did when they wanted anything done, but talked with their mouths. Sometimes I stood between two persons who were conversing and touched their lips. I could not understand, and was vexed. (Ch. 2)

When Anne Sullivan came, she was able to teach Helen language. Of course, it was not the language of hearing people. Helen had the other problem of not being able to see, which is useful for sign language. She had to have signs spelled into her hand.

Anne Sullivan realized that Helen was being left out of hearing and sighted people's conversations. She taught her to have conversations by repeating what others said to her using her language, and making sure she was involved in the conversation.

From the beginning of my education Miss Sullivan made it a practice to speak to me as she would to any hearing child; the only difference was that she spelled the sentences into my hand instead of speaking them. (Ch. 6)

If Helen had nothing to say, Anne Sullivan would make suggestions. In this way, Helen went from a little girl with no language to someone who learned to participate. It was not easy. She was stunted by needing everything interpreted for her. It was a long process, because Helen could not see people's expressions or body language or hear the tone of their voices, but she was there and a part of the discussion.

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