In my last post I talked a bit about the obstacles parents face when they first find out their child is deaf and how we came to the place we are. This topic is so complicated I plan to post several times about it addressing my opinion on the different factors I feel are involved.
One thing I notice is a general fear of encouraging a child to become bilingual. There is a feeling that the child can only acquire one language. Marla was kind enough to leave a comment on my blog and this sentence hit me like a ton bricks.
"Don't know if you are aware, but in the State of California, only 8% of 4,000 deaf K-12 students are reading at grade level"
Ok, so I didn't fact check this data but do I need to? We all know the struggles our deaf kids face when learning language. The other thing that research suggests is hearing children benefit from being bilingual.
In America we live in a paternalistic mono-linguistic environment. In other countries children can be taught many languages at the same time. There seems to be no feeling of language entitlement in the counties that do that. I feel a child can acquire language without stress at an early age.
So instead of thinking about my bilingual son I am pondering my trilingual daughter.
She was born into a family that uses ASL (maybe PSE since we hobbled along alone) as primary language. Her hearing parents are native in English and her crazy mom tossed her into Spanish immersion when she entered kindergarten. At home she uses spoken English when her brother is at school. That is two hours a day.
She used her first language to navigate the second. She used her first two to easily pick up the third. I am not a hotbox mom so I never taught her written English and all on her own she figured it out. She loves to write in English and Spanish. She code switches with ease.
Yes, she does sometimes need clarification on definitions in English but that takes two seconds. She can quickly relate to another language to figure it out.
So why can't our deaf kids be bilingual? My son has really cool abstract thinking skills. He plays with English all the time as easily as he plays with ASL. Yea, sure, sometimes he needs clarification but it only takes a second.
With the command of language my son can be a critical thinker. Here is an example from last week,
His literature teacher gave an assignment that was to be a book report supported by artistic examples. She asked the kids to pick from a list of awarded authors. My son loves graphic novels. He asked if his report could be about one of his favorite authors?
Thoughtful pause, "Yes, if they have won one of the awards listed."
He jetted down to the library and found a favorite author had won an award. He explained his point to me,
(This is not a quote just the paraphrase of his opinion because I have to translate to my lousy command of English)
"Mom, people are not looking forward. Comic books and graphic novels are modern literature at this point. People look down at them as kids art. The truth is these writers are very modern and latter we will look back on how this form of writing connects with the modern kid and society. We will see the same messages presented in an artistic form but in a way people understand at this time. We might find they are the new "Classic" authors. My report is going to combine not only the original text but also film and contemporary culture."
So my bilingual kid and trilingual kid don't fit in but I am a wee bit happy about that. I don't want my kids to live feeling they have to "fit in". I want them to know that if they can think and learn they can do anything they want. I feel our country is not accepting of other cultures as much as I would dream of and maybe, just maybe, my kids will be.