Myths & Facts: Acquisition of American Sign Language & English

By King, J. Freeman | The Exceptional Parent, November 2015 | Go to article overview

Myths & Facts: Acquisition of American Sign Language & English


King, J. Freeman, The Exceptional Parent


Even though American Sign Language (ASL) and English are totally diverse languages in that one, ASL, is a visual language and English, in its spoken form, is an auditory language, their manner of acquisition is strikingly similar, in that the brain readily encodes both a visual language and an auditory language in like fashion. Certainly, deaf children are born with a predisposition to learn language, whether it be visual , spoken, or a combination of both--the goal being to provide for the basic human right to communicate deeply and meaningfully with others and to develop age-appropriate language skills.

However, a number of myths have developed regarding the relationship of the two languages. In fact, these misconceptions are so prevalent among society and professionals that they might be considered folk-myths. Following are some of the myths and the facts for rebuttal:

MYTH The learning of American Sign Language (ASL) will either prohibit or inhibit the learning of speech.

FACT The learning of American Sign Language can assist deaf children in learning to speak, as well as to write in English. Research has shown that fluency in ASL positively influences speech development and the development of English literacy in deaf students. With or without assistive listening devices, the deaf child is primarily a visual learner. Therefore, it is logical and pedagogically sound to play to the child's strength, vision, and not to his/her weakness, hearing.

MYTH Learning both American Sign Language and spoken English will confuse the child.

FACT Studies have shown that learning American Sign Language will actually help the deaf child learn spoken English and develop literacy in written English. Research conducted in the Visual Language Laboratory at Gallaudet University indicates that deaf children whose first language is ASL achieve higher levels of English competency, due to the carry-over effect of a visually accessible language.

MYTH Deaf children should learn to speak first, because speech is an indicator of academic success. They can learn ASL later when they are adults.

FACT A bilingual approach utilizing both American Sign Language (visual language) and English (spoken language) prevents language deprivation. Research indicates that deaf children who are immersed in both ASL and English achieve language milestones on time and on track with language and literacy development. Contrary to popular belief, a bilingual approach (both ASL and English) does not impede successful language learning; in fact, it has the opposite effect. …

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