What is the difference between American Sign Language and Signed English? Is there another name that people refer to Signed English? Is it preferable to teach kids Signed English?
Sign (or signed) languages are not universal languages, nor are they invented ones. They are, like spoken languages, natural languages, grown and transmitted in communities of language users. In the case of sign languages, the cores of these communities are deaf people and their deaf or hearing relatives. Languages constitute one of the most important characteristics of the cultural and psychological identities of various peoples. This process of cultural identification explains why deaf people in the United States use American Sign Language (ASL), deaf people in France use French Sign Language (la Language des Signes Francais), and deaf people in the Netherlands use Sign Language of the Netherlands (Nederlandse Gebarentaal). The structure of sign languages resembles that of spoken languages with their own vocabulary, phonology (albeit in manual form), morphology, syntax, and pragmatics; so ASL is not a form of English.
There are also systems that combine speech and sign according to different rules, and Signed English is one of these (as are Signed Dutch and Signed Polish). These systems differ in the extent to which they represent the lexical and grammatical properties of the spoken language in the sign channel. Some systems are strict, designed to represent the elements of a spoken language 100% in manual components. They manually encode English or Dutch fully, or at least that is the intention.
There are claims that deaf children will learn to read better if they learn a manually-coded form of the spoken/written language (like English), but there is little evidence to support that claim. Although systems like Signed English have the advantage of being more English-like, they do not “hold together” structurally the way natural languages like ASL do. Different children will find different modes of communication easier to master, and one could probably argue either way. ASL is a true language and at the heart of the Deaf community, however, while Signed English is an artificial sign system intended as an educational tool and is not often used in conversation.
Holcomb, T. K. (2013). An introduction to American deaf culture. New York: Oxford University Press.
Marschark, M. (2007). Raising and educating a deaf child, Second edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Is research on Cued Speech being taken into account when evaluating and recommending a communication mode that promotes literacy in deaf children?
The wording of your question makes it a difficult, or perhaps sensitive one to answer (especially for someone who has been an advocate of cued speech). For those know unfamiliar with it, cued speech involves the use of handshapes and locations around the mouth to distinguish speech sounds that look the same. It thus supports the visual perception of speech (i.e., speechreading or lipreading). A recent study involving a large nationally-representative sample of deaf high school students indicated that over 50% of their parents thought they were using cued speech in school. The true figure is less than 5%, suggesting that many parents (and perhaps students themselves) are not familiar with the terminology used in educating deaf students.
Because you are writing from the United States an honest answer to your question would be “if research on cued speech is taken into account when evaluating and recommending a communication mode that promotes literacy in deaf children, it should not be used.” Cued speech has been shown to support the acquisition of reading-related subskills, when used both at school and at home, among deaf children who are learning French and Spanish as their first language. In its more than 60 years of existence, it has never been found to facilitate the acquisition of reading skills by deaf children who are learning English. According to Leybaert, Aparicio, and Alegria (2011), well-respected proponents of cued speech, this likely is because relative to French and Spanish, the sound-to-spelling correspondences of English are highly irregular.
Recommended reading: Leybaert, J., Aparicio, M., & Alegria, J. (2011). The role of cued speech and language development of deaf children. In M. Marschark and P. Spencer (Eds.) The The Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education, volume 1, 2nd edition (pp. 276-289). New York: Oxford University Press.
Are there assessment tools to help determine what type of sign language modality would be most effective for an 8 year old child? Are there assessments that measure the effectiveness of various sign language modalities? Are there resources that describe and illustrate (video tapes) the different sign language modalities (ASL, SSE, Conceptually Accurate Sign Language, etc.)?
We carry out specialized individual assessments of deaf children’s signing skills at City University London’s Compass Centre (http://www.city.ac.uk/health/public-clinics/compass-centre). Our assessment team includes deaf native signers and hearing staff who are fluent signers. When considering the best modality for a child, we compare their sign language abilities with their spoken language and, if applicable, their sign-supported communication. With 8 year olds we can assess their BSL comprehension and production skills using standardized tests (Herman et al 1999 http://www.forestbooks.com/products/pages/search.php and Herman et al 2004 http://www.city.ac.uk/health/public-clinics/compass-centre/sign-language-assessment-clinic/assessing-bsl-development-production-test). There are similar tests available for other sign languages (see Haug’s website http://www.signlang-assessment.info/index.php/sign-language-acquisition.html). We do not know of any similar assessment tools for SSE. The final decision about the best modality takes account of test results alongside careful consideration of the child’s communication environment. This includes observation of their everyday communication with native signers, communication at school and at within the family and discussion at the assessment appointment about how they communicate with deaf and hearing people in general. In this way, we try to determine the best communication approach for a particular child. We do not know of any assessment tools for SSE but there are also assessment tools for speech reading in children of this age available: http://www2.cmp.uea.ac.uk/~bjt/avsp2009/proc/papers/paper-36.pdf
References (for BSL)
Herman, R., Holmes, S., & Woll, B. (1999). Assessing British Sign Language Development: Receptive Skills Test. Forest Bookshop. Gloucestershire, UK.
Herman, R., Grove, N., Holmes, S., Morgan, G., Sutherland, H. & Woll, B. (2004). Assessing BSL Development: Production Test (Narrative Skills). City University Press.
Can you tell me what the story is on sign-supported English?
I know, I know, everyone says that sign-supported English (SSE) and simultaneous communication (SimCom) – both involving speech and sign at the same time – are bad. On the theoretical/political side, people point out that neither is truly a language unto itself, and argue that they therefore are “inappropriate.” Empirically, people point to two studies, both done over 20 years ago, which found that several teachers and parents of young deaf children said more than appeared on their hands (by anywhere from 20 to 50%). The sign abilities of those parents and teachers were never examined, however, and some people are extremely good at SSE (or whatever language) and SimCom. Research over the past 30 years has shown that when teachers are highly skilled at SSE or SimCom, students learn just as much or more than with ASL from a teacher, interpreting, or spoken language alone. In our own work, we’ve recently have found the same thing, as deaf college students learned exactly the same amount when they had teachers using SimCom, voice-off ASL, or utilizing interpreters. Importantly, these were skilled teachers of the deaf, who had been using SimCom for many years with classes that included oral students, ASL students, and everything in between. Although it frequently is not discussed (at least in public) many deaf students request teachers to use SimCom and ask interpreters to include “English on the lips.” It seems likely that SimCom would be particularly beneficial for children with cochlear implants, who generally do not receive auditory input as clear as that received by hearing children.
Unfortunately, the unearned stigma associated with SSE/SimCom seems to have prevented anyone from doing the appropriate study. Meanwhile, both are used effectively in many classrooms, even if students use a natural sign language or spoken language in other settings. What is essential is that deaf and hard-of-hearing children have early access to fluent language. That usually is difficult with spoken language alone and most parents are not fluent in sign. So, SimCom/SSE might be helpful in ensuring communication for new-signing parents, but this DOES NOT mean that SimCOM/SSE can replace full access to a natural language (actually, there isn’t research one way or another). The issue clearly is more complex than we can deal with here. For full discussion of what we know and what we don’t know, see Spencer, P.E. & Marschark, M. (in press). Evidence-based practice in educating deaf and hard-of-hearing students. New York: Oxford University Press.
I hear that research is showing that deaf children who use Cued Speech as are achieving literacy rates similar to those of their hearing peers. Also, I am reading that there is Brain research to support that cueing children are processing language in a manner that allows them to have access to the phonological awareness ( which is essential reading and literacy) in the same manner as hearing children.) I’d like to find more information on this subject. any idea?
You might look at the earlier response to Ginny R. about cued speech and literacy. I cannot find any research relating to cued speech and brain activity, but there is research by Jacqueline Leybaert and her colleagues in Belgium indicating that cued speech (when used at both school and at home) facilitates phonological/phonemic awareness and other literacy subskills for children learning French. Leybaert previously had found that some deaf children develop phonological (sound-related) codes by combining information from lipreading, residual hearing, printed, fingerspelling, and feedback from their own speech. This is similar to the way that many blind people develop visual images for things they have never seen by combining information from several sources. Unfortunately, we do not yet know how to predict which deaf children will develop such codes and which will not. Meanwhile, cued speech has not been shown to facilitate the development of literacy skills for English, and there appears to be very little research going on in this domain, perhaps because of the increasing popularity of cochlear implants.
My son has a bilateral, severe hearing loss and will be entering the third grade. His second grade teacher suggested that cued speech might help with his reading, which is really hard for him. She says cued speech easy to learn, but it sounds too good to be true. Is it?
It has been estimated that only about 20% of English is fully visible on the lips (which is what makes lip reading or “speech reading” so difficult). Cued speech is a system of hand shapes and positions intended to make mouth movements unambiguous, for example, by adding different cues to “b,” “m,” and “p.” (Note, these are not signs!) Cueing clearly helps with speech reception although, interestingly, most cued speech kids I have encountered do not cue themselves (that is, they do not use it when they speak). There is a wealth of evidence from the French-speaking part of Belgium, and a little from Spain, indicating that when cued speech is used both at school and at home, it significantly improves reading in deaf children. However, despite 40 years of trying, no one has ever shown it to help reading for children who are learning English. The folks in Belgium have suggested that this is because French (and Spanish and Italian) are very regular in their sound-to-spelling correspondences, while English is one of the most irregular languages. Add that to the fact that English has well over five times as many words as French, and the situation is not so surprising. Unfortunately, people hear about the French results and assume they apply to English. For more information on cued speech, language, and literacy, see the review by Jacqueline Leybaert and Jesus and Alegria in the Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education Oxford University Press, 2003, edited by M. Marschark & P.E. Spencer).
The ASL specialist at my school insists that research has shown SimCom [simultaneous communication – use of speech and sign together] to be harmful to deaf children’s language and educational growth. True or false?
From Marc: This is a common myth in the field, but one without any evidence to support it. We do know from a couple of early studies in the 1970s that parents and teachers who are not skilled in using speech and sign together say much more than they sign. This would suggest that at least in the hands of novices, simultaneous communication would not provide optimal access to language (although there does not appear to be any published evidence indicating that it either hurts or helps language development). In the educational domain, in contrast, there is abundant evidence that students from middle school through university learn just as much from teachers who are skilled in using simultaneous communication as they do from teachers using ASL. Surprisingly, recent evidence also indicates that high school and college students can learn just as much from text as they do from deaf or hearing teachers using natural sign languages (e.g., ASL or Auslan – Australian Sign Language). This is not one to say that there is anything wrong with using natural sign languages in the classroom, just that language development and learning involves more than just using one mode of communication or another. For more information see Marschark, M. & Wauters, L. (2008). Language comprehension and learning by deaf students. In M. Marschark & P. C. Hauser (Eds.), Deaf cognition: Foundations and outcomes (pp. 309-350). New York: Oxford University Press. (Marc Marschark)
From Barbara: It is difficult to see change coming and fear it won’t be for the better. There are some things you can do that may influence the outcome. First, make sure you have the correct information. Contact the school superintendent or a member of the school board, or someone who is in a position to know what is going on. Confirm whether or not what you heard is true. Share this information with other parents of deaf and hard of hearing children and community members. Meet with the officials who will be making this decision to let them know your views. Usually when proposals like this are put forward there are public meetings. Attend these meetings with other parents and speak up. Write letters.
While the main concern you expressed is about social interactions, there are other issues you may want to raise. You could consider:
Of course, there is the Individualized Education Program (IEP) as well. The services listed on the children’s IEPs must be provided. IDEA requires that the IEP Team consider the language and communication needs of the child, including opportunities for direct communication with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode. Wisconsin uses a document called a communication plan to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing children’s language and communication needs are addressed in the development of the IEP. You can emphasize the opportunities that exist at the current school and the difficulty of ensuring that these opportunities will exist at the new school. So this is not “just” a social issue, it is an issue of language development and the need for these children to develop and maintain age-appropriate language for them to be able to access the general education curriculum and succeed in school. For more information about IDEA requirements, go to www.deafchildren.org, click on Resources, click on Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
During your communications with decision makers of course you should be polite and civil. Offer to work with them to find the best solution for all. Thank them for meeting with you and considering your concerns. Stay in touch with them until the matter is resolved. (Barbara Raimondo, Esq.)