April 15, 2010

Signing Deaf Students Deserve Better

I found a good article which discusses the importance of having complete access to fluent language. Language is the foundation of education, after all. Without language, we have little to nothing.

The article is called The 'Dumbing Down' of Language written by Sarina Roffe. She is a proponent for Cued Speech which is what the article eventually discusses.  It explains clearly some of the points I was trying to make about the importance of having access to fluent language in my earlier post. This is directed to pre-lingual deaf children (children with deafness before they have the opportunity to learn their parents’ spoken native language).

Of course I am aware that there are not many qualified fluent signers stepping up to teach deaf children who depend on and use sign language.  Yes, you could say that some signing is better than nothing. But, signing deaf children should not be constantly subjected to poor language models. They deserve better than that. Personally, I think they are better off being mainstreamed with an interpreter than to have poor language models for several years. Think about how many of them go home to little to no signing. Remember 90% of deaf children are born into hearing families. And some of them will choose to go the signing route.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Hearing people, especially parents, who live with deaf children often ‘dumb down’ their language to make themselves more easily understood..

Consider the following example. Instead of asking a child what kind of cereal he or she wants for breakfast by listing the options available, the person will just say “Do you want cereal?”
Sometimes the person will point to the cabinet where the cereal is stored. If signing is used, the hearing person is usually not fluent enough to fingerspell the names of the cereals.

This is but one example. This “dumbing down” of language is not intentional. It happens without the hearing person knowing it. After all, many people believe that limited communication is the natural outcome of deafness. Decades of poor academic performance, low levels of achievement, and poor reading skills among deaf children has resulted in a lackadaisical attitude among deaf educators toward the possibility of achievement. 

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The at-large Deaf Culture community should expect more from its educators. They should expect educators to teach them to read so they can compete in the hearing world we live in. They should expect enough of an education so they can be liberated from the newspaper press rooms of yesterday’s generation.

In order to achieve this, hearing parents and teachers must stop ‘dumbing down’ the language they use with deaf children. They need to use synonyms, adjectives and idiomatic expressions more freely. For example, once the child learns a word, switch to a synonym. This will increase vocabulary development. When the child learns couch, then it should become a sofa. Sad should be unhappy, disappointed, frustrated, angry or upset.

Different people say things in different ways. Do you turn off the light, turn out the light, shut the light or close the light? Do you sit on the chair or in the chair? 


Link to article cited:


  1. Good article. And I agree with you. It is better for children to have someone who is fluent in sign language IN school. I'm not counting parents because they baby talk their young children anyhow. I believe most hearing children learn a lot of words from conversations around them anyhow. A lot deaf people can't pick up. Of course, to add an insult like you wrote, people who are not fluent in ASL make it worst.

    I'm a personal believer that Cued speech instead of SEE or PSE should be taught in English class, because I do wonder how deaf people understand rhymes in poems and such.

  2. Research has shown that cued speech helps Deaf students MORE if they already know ASL on which to fall back on. However, there is even more research that shows that if you have a strong foundation in ASL, then reading/writing comes naturally. Deaf families are often excellent writers/readers and understand rhymes, alliterations, synonyms, and idioms just fine. Look at this as a hint.

    Yes, we do have to deal with teachers that are not proficient in ASL. However, this is becoming less and less a reality as more and more schools for the Deaf are requiring certain levels of ASL proficiency before hiring anyone.

  3. I learned Cued English a few years ago. I loved it. It really helped me understand how some words were spoken in a clear and fast way. For the longest time I thought that the name "Hugh" was pronounce with the "guh" sound for the g. I did not know that the g was silent until I took up Cued English. I instantly have access to the phonemes through visual means. Very interesting and helpful--I suggest everyone to look into it. Remember, don't knock it until you've tried it.


  4. Well first I am hearing, my son is Deaf. At home our language is ASL. It took a ton of research and work during the first three years to get to a point where we could live this way. I had to relearn how to provide information but it was worth it. Since then life has been pretty easy in regards to literacy. He now is in the sixth grade and tests at the 11th grade reading level. He also loves English and Deaf poetry.

    I wanted to learn Cued English when he was little but there were very few resources and even less time. I thought that combined with ASL would be the perfect recipe. I still wish we had tried that.

  5. Not everyone have wonderful parents like you. You are awesome. Your son sounds great and he owes most of it to your hard work and love. I wish more of my students' parents were like you.



Keep it civil.