February 3, 2011

Fluent Language Important When Teaching the Little Ones

When I was a graduate student in a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing program, with non-fluent signing skills, I thought that if I wanted to teach in a school for the deaf, it would be better for me to teach preschoolers or babies. I assumed that I would not be required to sign as much or use fluent ASL with the real little ones, because it would not hurt to have them exposed to mainly basic signing skills. Because of this, I came to the conclusion that it would be way easier to work with babies and very young children than older children using sign language. I did not have to worry about teaching complex subject matter in sign language or be expected to use "big words" with infants and very young children.

Silly me.

Now it is apparent to me that babies and very young children should have the most exposure to fluent language models; more than older children who may already have a good foundation in language. If babies and very young children are only subjected to basic signing skills or simple and inconsistent language, usually they will have a harder time obtaining good language skills when they are older.  How are they suppose to learn language in a natural way if they are mainly exposed to people signing haltingly or in a simple way? Most hearing babies do not grow up listening to people talk in this way. For example, unless she or he has some sort of language or speech difference, a teacher would not introduce him or her self like this,

"Hello.      My     name   i s      M  s.      B  r o  w  n.      I    will        be         your   teacher."  
It would probably be more like this,

"Hello everyone! My name is Ms. Brown and I am going to be your teacher this year."

While it is not exactly clear how children learn languages, most can agree that the way they are exposed to language in the early years is important. They are like little sponges unaware that they are quickly picking up whatever language they are exposed to, unless they are profoundly deaf and people only speak to them without directly teaching them what those sounds and mouth movements mean.

It is all about having plenty of access to fluent language and how you get access to it.

Because I am not very fluent in sign language I would not be an ideal language model for very young children or babies using sign language, in my opinion.

So, if you are currently a student in a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing program, learning sign language, and you think that preschool aged or younger would require less signing skills, you are dead wrong! Please be aware that it is crucial that signing deaf and hard of hearing babies and very young children receive plenty of exposure to fluent and consistent signing. They deserve to be exposed to language the same way hearing babies and young children are exposed to language.

*Please note that I am mainly referring to d/hh babies and young children who come from families that chose to go the sign language route and/or d/hh babies and young children who do not benefit from wearing hearing aids or CIs and using oral/aural methods.

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  1. (e, you couldn't have said it any better. That's what we are promoting in the State of California. This post and a few of your back blog posts illuminate our efforts to get parents to get that side of information.

    Personally, I believe parents need to get information of both ASL and oral language option and hear both pros and cons of both.

    Thank you (e, for posting about important issues that deserve all of our attention. It shouldn't be polarizing at all. It is astonishing to me how AB2072 became a hot potato.

    The question should be: to which language will deaf babies and deaf students have BETTER access? Not the question of which language is easier for parents to deal with.

    I appreciate your post very much because you are sticking your head out.

  2. Yes, If a child can't benefit HAs or CIs, its bad enough that the parent are as fluent as they like to be, but its worst when a teacher isn't fluent either.

  3. Well said!!! As a hearing parent, my child needed the most fluent role models and professionals in her life but unfortunately it didn't happen until we got her to a bilingual Deaf School. Early Intervention provided us with a hearing teacher who used pidgin sign but didn't know ASL. The Deaf and HH preschool she attended only provided SEE and Oral systems. We didn't know the difference being new parents. Finally when it appeared our daughter needed more, we moved close to a bilingual Deaf School where she finally had fluent ASL role models and peers. That is when her language blossomed.

    Today in mainstream, schools are hiring educational interpreters who may only be able to interpreter 60, 70 and at the very best 90% of the curriculum. Can you imagine if hearing children only got 90% of the information from the teacher? There would be some pretty angry parents out there. But parents of deaf kids in the mainstream are expected to tolerate their kids getting much less than 90% of the curriculum through their interpreter. Plus most mainstream school Deaf and HH programs have no screening to determine the teachers ASL proficiencies or even their signed system levels. It's nuts. And the children that need language the most, are getting the least fluent teachers and interpreters.

    What does it take to get schools to realize that they are going about this wrong?

  4. So what do you make of the odd tendency of many adults to "baby-talk" to infants? Does that hinder their language acquisition? (We modeled formal English with our children. In some public places it could be like a "secret code" ;-P )


  5. yes we do babytalk, but hearing babies do overhear people's conversations while deaf babies can't. I don't think babies with CI can do this as they are learning noises for the first time. many late-deafened will tell you that they had to relearn sounds even though they heard before. Take that and imagine hearing noise for the first time at one years old or even 6 months old, you are not going to get everything you need to overheard other people conversation, plus I am not even sure if CI is capable of picking up background conversation without adjusting it electronically. I do think some signing is better than no signing (and some people believe some sounds is better than no sounds) but they do deserve someone who is very fluent in signing. In the older days, some deaf kids spend time with deaf adults, especially those who came from many generation of signing and deaf family, to gain fluency in signing and language. Those days are becoming rare though.

  6. This post describes the exact reason why I want to take actual classes to learn about the structure of different types of sign before I just take on ASL alone. I'm not a signer, but do you think the structure of the language is solid? In mainstream, we take "English" classes and not only do we learn vocabulary, but we learn the structure of putting these words into sentences accordingly. If it's enforced for hearing to learn proper structure in English -- shouldn't there be standards with Deaf Schools for students to learn the proper structure in ASL or Sign Language? In my opinion from the OUTSIDE... in order to become fluent in a language there has to be a foundation of structure (rules & concepts within that language). With that being said, it's the educator/parent/community that needs to enforce and teach the BEST form of ASL in order for them to absorb it and apply it to their daily lives.
    (Mind you, I don't know ASL, I read lips and I'm profoundly deaf... and I'm curious)

    Shouldn't the school & community raise their standards for the students (from birth) to learn the BEST?

  7. "shouldn't there be standards with Deaf Schools for students to learn the proper structure in ASL or Sign Language? In my opinion from the OUTSIDE... in order to become fluent in a language there has to be a foundation of structure (rules & concepts within that language)."

    Yup, I agree. Unfortunately, it seems as if no one can agree what is "true ASL" at the moment. Most deaf people I meet use PSE. No one really uses the same type of sign language at certain mainstreamed schools. It does not help that some hearing parents, even though they request a full time interpreter, do not use sign language at home. Also, at some schools for the deaf I worked at, not everyone was on the same boat in using the same sign language with the students, some used ASL, some use SEE, and most used PSE.

    It is confusing.


Keep it civil.