A Professional Challenge: Teaching Nina Two Languages

Article excerpt

Public School Caucus

"Can children with hearing loss be bilingual?" That was the question Cecilia Fumberg asked when the Delaware County Intermediate Unit's Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) team first met her three-month-old daughter, Nina, in May 2003. Nina had recently been diagnosed with a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.

At home, the Fumbergs were all bilingual, and Spanish was the dominant language. Nina's eight-year-old brother, Nico, and her five-year-old sister, Maia, used only Spanish until age three when they were introduced to English at their preschool and in their community. Both children were fully bilingual, and the Fumbergs wanted Nina to achieve the same language skills as her brother and sister.

"When Nina failed the newborn infant screening and subsequent Auditory Brain Stem Response evaluations, we were scared. We didn't know what Nina could and couldn't hear or how she would communicate and learn," said Fumberg, Nina's mother. "We hoped that Nina could be bilingual like Nico and Maia. They had learned English and Spanish naturally, but we wondered if we could do all that would be necessary to teach Spanish and English to Nina."

The IFSP team, which included a social worker, audiologist, and me, a Certified Auditory-Verbal therapist, was skeptical, but we agreed to try.

Nina's IFSP goals focused on optimal use of amplification to give her auditory access to all the sounds of spoken language, and on teaching the family strategies and techniques that would facilitate listening and the development of language. Unlike Nina's siblings, however, we chose to use English as her "anchor" language, which meant that her progress in understanding and using language would be measured only in English.

As a veteran teacher of the deaf and a Certified Auditory-Verbal therapist, I had my doubts about the wisdom of exposing a baby with hearing loss to two languages.

Would it delay Nina's acquisition of English? Would she have only marginal competence in two languages rather than full competence in one? …