We The Deaf People

6. Bilingual ASL/English approach

We the Deaf People supports the Bilingual American Sign Language/English (otherwise known as the Bilingual-Bicultural or Bi-Bi) approach. In this approach, ASL is used as a first language to teach English and other languages.

Bi-Bi may represent a return to the original approach, as practiced by Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet at “Old Hartford,” the American School for the Deaf. They educated several generations of literate and successful tradespeople, farmers, artisans, and teachers. The results we’ve seen with Bi-Bi are good to excellent.

Students who have access to more than one language learn better. And Deaf students who have ready access to ASL and written English do very well.

Research supports the Deaf community’s view that Bi-Bi is an effective approach, offering full language access to Deaf children. As an example of the benefits of ASL/English bilingualism, here’s are three abstracts (summaries) of scholarly articles:

This article presents the findings of a study of the relationship between American Sign Language (ASL) skills and English literacy among 160 deaf children. Using a specially designed test of ASL to determine three levels of ASL ability, we found that deaf children who attained the higher two levels significantly outperformed children in the lowest ASL ability level in English literacy, regardless of age and IQ. Furthermore, although deaf children with deaf mothers outperformed deaf children of hearing mothers in both ASL and English literacy, when ASL level was held constant, there was nåo difference between these two groups, except in the lowest level of ASL ability. The implication of this research is straightforward and powerful: Deaf children’s learning of English appears to benefit from the acquisition of even a moderate fluency in ASL.—Michael Strong and Philip M. Prinz, “A Study of the Relationship Between American Sign Language and English Literacy,” Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education (1997) 2 (1): 37-46

Recently, it has been argued that American Sign Language (ASL) should be the first language of some deaf children and that English should be taught as a second language. This article supports that argument on both philosophical and empirical grounds. Philosophical support stems from viewing deafness as a cultural difference rather than as a medical disability. Empirical evidence demonstrates that (a) ASL is a natural language, (b) deaf children acquire ASL in a normal and predictable manner when exposure occurs at an early age, and (c) deaf children who acquire ASL at an early age may outperform other deaf children on all measures of academic achievement. Based on the empirical evidence presented, implications for educational practice are provided.—Erik Drasgow, “American Sign Language as a Pathway to Linguistic Competence,” Exceptional Children (April 1998), vol. 64 no. 3: 329-342

The widespread implementation of newborn hearing screening and advances in amplification technologies (including cochlear implants) have fundamentally changed the educational landscape for deaf learners. These changes are discussed in terms of their impact on sign bilingual education programs with a focus on the relationships between language and the development of literacy and the changing role of signed language in this process.—Connie Mayer and Greg Leigh, “The changing context for sign bilingual education programs: issues in language and the development of literacy,” International Journal of Bilingual Education, Special Issue: Deafness and Bilingual Education, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2010): 175-186

Our position:

We disagree with AGBell’s position that oral language should come first and should be a deaf child’s primary or sole language. We affirm our support for the Bilingual ASL/English (Bi-Bi) approach.