Thursday, January 6, 2011

How Much Language Do We Allow?

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.


  1. Most parents are told by the oral industry if their deaf children are exposed to sign language, their hearing and speech abilities become impaired. They are strongly encouraged to avoid sign language to ensure that their children maximize speaking and hearing skills.

    In reality sign language enhances the acquisition of speaking and hearing, if it's properly done. Look at the hard of hearing kids growing up in Deaf families. They master both spoken and visual languages.

  2. My bad! Here's the link to the statistic I put out in your previous blog. Helping you to fact-check.

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  4. How was your daughter immersed in Spanish? Are you or your husband fluent in Spanish? Through classes? I would love to learn how you do it!

    That is awesome; imagine the opportunities that open up with being able to use several different languages.

    If I have were to have any children with my current boyfriend they would most likely be trilingual-Spanish, Sign language, and English. Even though I am not fluent in sign language, they will be hanging around my deaf and interpreter friends who are fluent in sign language, so they can pick it up--while I use my non fluent signing with them at home. They would be immersed in Spanish through their father.

    I knew an interpreter who came from a deaf family, grew up in Miami, so she knew English, Sign Language, and Spanish. I was so jealous of her!!


  5. Thanks Marla, I am so lazy!

    (e, my daughter attends a Spanish immersion program. The program is 100% Spanish so the only time the kids are exposed to English at school is at lunch, dance, music and art. It is a public school. She is now in second grade.

    Many parents I talk to think I am crazy. They would worry their child wouldn't learn English but I can report the immersion kids are doing fine. We are a country that loves tests and I can report my kid tests at grade level.

    Another issue people worry about is stress on the child. My daughter loves school and it is just the normal sense of life for her to use different forms of communication. In fact the teachers often ask her for signs to use in class. The world is full of English so really she isn't deprived of her countries primary language.

    In my opinion her life options open up with more than one language. I love that you would also consider this option for your child!

  6. Of course your daughter will learn English. She is pretty much immersed in English as well. My boyfriend grew up in Honduras with Spanish and English--more Spanish of course (family and culture) but he is fluent in both English and Spanish. So, you are not crazy to have her be in Spanish immersion school. Kids are able to learn different languages better than adults.

    I would love it if my child was fluent in Spanish, ASL, and English. I would also throw in German. At the moment, I am learning Spanish, German is next!


  7. I love this post! As a European who knows six languages (fluent in four or five of them), I applaud anybody who instills a love for languages in their children, and who understand that languages do not crowd each other out or make it hard to learn the dominant language. If I have children, I would love to teach them my native language, plus ASL and Spanish. Since I currently live in the US, they would of course pick up English too.

    (I am new to your blog but I love it!!)

  8. oh goodness

    we r such a monolingual country its so sad

    i had a 20 year old woman tell me at her oral school in St Louis they didnt even let them use signing during LUNCH time - this was just 5 years ago in the U S of A

    its unfathomable this whole - one language (an inaccessible one if we r talking of Deaf folks) is better than > 2 or more