Handout: Sign Language as a Bridge to Spoken Language

Sign Language
as a Bridge to
An early start in
developing strong cognitive and
linguistic foundations is important to the mastery
of language for a profoundly deaf child.
At the beginning of the 21st century, cochlear
implants are available for child at a very early
age. What can be done to assure that these
children develop the cognitive and linguistic
skills of their hearing peers—on schedule? It is
essential that aggressive language intervention
begin as soon as the hearing loss is detected.
The child’s mind, his ability to manipulate
concepts through the symbols of language must
begin early. Although it is important to
development even the smallest amount of
residual hearing, given that the child has a
profound hearing loss, the auditory avenue will
not be the most efficient means for acquiring
language. Vision, the child’s primary sense,
must serve as the early pathway for learning
language. After cochlear implantation, these
visually-based skills can be transferred quickly
and easily to the auditory system. Time is so
very precious in the development of a child’s
brain. Early intervention is essential in ALL
areas of development.
How can sign language serve
as a foundation for the
development of spoken
As a supplement to early language
Sign language can provide babies and
toddlers with a system to symbolically
encode the experiences of their lives—
through a sensory system that is
intact—that is, vision. The auditory
system of a profound deaf child (preimplant) will provide very limited
access to the auditorally-based
communication system of spoken
As a clarifier in development of
As a child’s auditory skills begin to
develop through a cochlear implant, the
world of sound can be overwhelming,
especially the rapid, complex barrage of
spoken language. As a child learns to
associate sound with meaning, signs can
be used to bridge the new experience of
sound with the familiar experience of
visual language.
As a cataloging system for new
A young child is constantly
experiencing new things—people,
places, things, concepts, emotions, etc.
The fledgling auditory system is not
capable of “capturing” and “filing”
these new experiences through audition
alone. There, new experiences can be
encoded quickly through sign, through
mature system of vision, and can later
be transferred—quickly and easily—to
the auditory system.
How is sign language
systematically reduced?
One of the primary communication strategies in
developing the child’s auditory skills through a
cochlear implant is to provide the auditory
information first. Before showing the child a
picture or an object, talk about it. Make an
auditory impression first—even if the child may
not understand initially. THEN, provide the
visual information. This should become
automatic for professionals and parents when
communicating with a child with a cochlear
implant. Now—see how this technique leads up
naturally and effectively to the decreased
dependence on sign language?
allow processing time.
 Provide a visual clarifier (i.e., a
 If the child responds to the
then the sign is not necessary.
Mary E. Koch