Writing Proper English Follow up

I got a great comment from Alicia Lane. Rather than putting it in the comments of the post from April 14, I’m posting it here. She offers an argument that I had not considered. However, I still can’t compare English / ASL to those who speak Spanish as the primary language and English as a second language. You can’t use ASL in writing. That’s where English plays a role. Nonetheless, tricky situation as Alicia raises important points to consider.
I think Bosson touches upon a concept that doesn’t get discussed enough: because of its inaccessibility, English ends up being a second language for many deaf children—and they face similar language acquisition issues as hearing children learning English as a second language. Studies have shown that those who have a strong foundation in their primary language do much better in acquiring English, regardless of whether their primary language is (for example) Spanish, French, or ASL.


Often ASL has been blamed for poor English acquisition—but that’s like blaming Spanish for the poor English skills of Mexican immigrant children, and telling the parents that they should never speak Spanish with their children. Imagine if those immigrant parents were guilted into speaking only English around their children—even though their own English is badly broken? (Let’s also suppose that, like deaf children, those children do not have access to other language models through TV and radio, etc.) Those immigrant children would then be denied exposure to *any* full language in the crucial early years of language development.
For deaf children, spoken English oftentimes is no better than broken English. They only get bits and pieces, if even that. Only with an enormous amount of work from both the parent and child, often at great expense of development in other areas (interpersonal skills, content knowledge areas, etc.) does the child have any hope of picking up enough “pieces” to assemble into a decent, usable language. And THEN the child still has to play catch-up in all those other areas of development.
On the other hand, ASL can provide full access to language models *and* make possible normal development in other areas. The child is able to develop cognitively and build strong language skills in the brain. That solid foundation can then be used to acquire high-level English skills. I myself am prelingually deaf and was exposed to sign language within months of becoming deaf, and my parents and teachers used that sign language access to teach me how to read. I loved it! I quickly became an avid reader, and that skill has served me well.
IMO (“in my opinion” for those not familiar with net-speak), the great failure of our educational system is that it doesn’t make use of ASL as a valuable educational tool to teach English as second language, right from the get-go. I’ve met so many deaf people who are developmentally delayed because they were denied a language in their early years, out of fear that it would “stunt” their English. And they don’t even have good English skills to show for it. Sometimes they are able to catch up as adults, but not always. Yet schools and so-called professionals continue this practice of denying our children access to ASL *and* English. I find this quite frustrating.

2 comments

    • Alicia on May 3, 2005 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks for posting my comment, Meryl! In regards to ASL not having a written form, you are correct. I was referring, though, to the cognitive and language development of young children who cannot yet read and write. At that point, it’s vital that they have full access to spoken language models. Spoken English is not accessible to deaf children, while ASL or other naturally visual languages are.
    In addition, children need access to some kind of spoken language model in order to learn to read and write in any language.
    Your point has more to do with making the leap from ASL to written English, and it’s also an important consideration. In fact the “best” way to do it is still debated among the supporters of visual language access. Some think systems such as Cued Speech or Signed English are needed to bridge the gap, while others argue that the bilingual approach of teaching English as a second language can be adapted to work with ASL and English in the classroom.
    From personal experience, what I find most fascinating is that the brightest deaf people I’ve met, with the most honed writing skills, tend to be those with deaf parents who raised them in a full-blown ASL environment. Each individual family is different, of course, but as a group the “Deaf of Deaf” are really far above the rest of us. Makes sense when you think about all that visual accessibility. 🙂

    • Scott on May 13, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    ASL does have a written form. Check this out:
    http://signwriting.org/about/questions/questions.html

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