Vicki Hardy
CSD 385
Dr. Danielle Rich
April 23, 2011
Bilingual Students at the Deaf Schools:
Teaching and Learning Strategies
Most deaf children acquire their first language American Sign Language (ASL)
before acquire written English as Second Language (ESL). Therefore the acquisition of
two languages becomes bilingual for the deaf children. These two languages can be quite
confusing to some deaf children because the foundations of ASL and written English are
not the same. For educators of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) to understand that the
deaf students have learned two languages at the same time, the literacy acquisition
process can be difficult. As being bilingual, the educators must be able to recognize and
respond to all forms of language variation that could be there in the classroom. They
need to accommodate signing and non-signing deaf and hard-of-hearing children in their
classroom to become fluency in reading and writing. Actually it is teachers’
responsibility to develop two languages which the ASL is highlighted as a part of daily
classroom activities; also emphasis on English.
According to the article, Fingerspelling appear to play a critical role in the
children’s literacy development; it served as a tool to “decode” English words and often
functioned as a placeholder until other contextual information was comprehended
(Humphries and Allen 2008). Most of the times, deaf student will use Finger spelling as a
decoding the text, just because the student does not know what that word means or does
not know the sign for the word itself. Once the deaf student understands the word, moves
on to the next word and so forth. Often that will prevent deaf children to understand the
chunking of English print to whole concept.
Again, the teachers recognized ASL as an important language to teach and use for
daily communication and instruction. Between ASL and English, these two languages
are equal but different. In the classroom situations, additional information in English is
usually about print rather focus on auditory or oral skills. According to the article,
translation skills or methods for comparing the languages of ASL and English are
necessary in teaching deaf children within a bilingual/bicultural context (Evans 2004). It
is important to teach deaf children the conceptual translation – reading the chunking of
English print and convert to ASL or vice versa especially for writing session, thinking in
ASL to convert into English on the paper. It also is important to distinguish between
“literal” and “conceptual” translation. Literal translation involves one word by one word
between words and signs. It is like a manual code for English that was established to be
for spoken and written English visuals. The problem with the literal translation is that it
(English) does not linked to ASL that was meaningful to students most of the times. For
example, the word alone means one thing, but when the word in the sentence tends to
change the meanings. The conceptual translation is to help link the English print to
concept. For instance, “dirt floor”, to the deaf student, it may means dirty floor but it is
actually means the floor was made out of dirt, not the wood, nor tile. It is important for
educators to help deaf student to identify the differences in the sentences. However the
findings suggest that strategies such as using ASL as the language instruction and making
translation conceptual rather than literal contribute to literacy learning.
Recent surveys of deaf education have recognized that classrooms of deaf and
hard-of-hearing children are linguistically and culturally diverse place (Humphries and
Allen 2008). However, not all deaf students may be fluency in two languages, ASL and
English at first. Most of them are fluent in one language or another. The deaf and hardof-hearing children will acquire two languages eventually. The reasons for teaching
bilingual/bicultural approach with deaf students to one significant factors: the persistence
and effective of ASL as a language in the classroom because it makes the information
accessible as the first step of learning. Another reason is that once teachers and students
share the same language, it will make the learning effective.
The bilingual/bicultural approach of educating deaf students needs to increase the
potential to participate in both Deaf community and the whole society. For Deaf people,
their view on ASL and awareness of Deaf cultural are valuable. Also it establishes
identity for them. For Hearing people, they emphasize the need of competence in
reading and writing in order to be successful in the world. Both views are valid and
important, however through the bilingual/bicultural strategies of teaching, they are
moving closer to find the common ground.
Evans, C.J. (2004). Literacy development in deaf students: A case studies in bilingual
teaching and learning. American Annals of the Deaf, 149(1), 17-27
Humphries, T. & Allen, B. (2008). Reorganizing teacher preparation in deaf education.
Sign Language Studies, 8(2), 160-180