Berent (1988) found that the relative order of difficulty that deaf college students experienced on a variety of English structures generally correlated with the extent to which structures deviated from expected SVO order. On an English grammar test, students' average success on six types clause structures followed the order shown below, from most successful to least successful:
The following example sentences illustrate the extent to which sentences containing each clause type conform to or deviate from SVO order:
She (S) can't clean (V) the house (O) because she (S) doesn't have (V) any time (O).
They (S) thought (V) they (S) saw (V) the robber (O).
His parents (S) forced (V) him (O) to sell (V) the motorcycle (O).
They (S) enjoyed (V) watching (V) the movie (O).
The movie (S) that we (S) saw (V) frightened (V) us (O).
Slowly pouring (V) the milk (O), I (S) filled (V) my cup (O).
In a follow-up study, Berent (1993) found that, over time, deaf college students made significant improvement in their knowledge of all of the above structures. Grouped into three levels of overall English language proficiency (high, mid, and low), students in the low English group actually improved to a greater extent than students in the high and mid groups.
The results of the study are promising because they indicate that, despite the challenges that English poses to many deaf students, they are capable of improving in their knowledge of difficult grammatical structures. However, in order to optimize deaf students' improvement in English and their prospects for academic success, both English teachers and content teachers need to undertake a collaborative and sustained effort to support their students' continued English language acquisition.