Thesis

English for the deaf child

Because of the “age of modern communications systems”, Deaf adults in the late part of the 20th century face rising unemployment, underemployment, low wages, and little advancement opportunities. Their poor economic condition is largely attributed to poor English language competence, which is required for upward mobility in today’s job market. There are many obstacles to teaching English to deaf children. The first obstacle is the limited short-term memory capacity of children in general, coupled with the need to acquire language before the age of eight to ten. English was manually coded to aid in its acquisition. In doing so, however, an overwhelming load was placed on short-term memory. The second obstacle is confronted after examining the requirements of "appropriate input" for language acquisition. Manually Coded English does not meet two out of three of these requirements, since its focus is not on the input, but its form, and it cannot be sufficiently syntactically simplified. American Sign Language/English bilingualism is offered as a viable alternative. The best time to introduce English as a Second Language (ESL) is shown to be after children are ten to twelve years of age. This, however, brings on the third and fourth obstacles: how are deaf children to acquire American Sign Language as a first language, and how are they to acquire English as a second 1anguage. Deaf adults within the deaf community are seen as the best alternative to teaching American Sign Language to deaf children as a first language. It is suggested this be undertaken as soon as the hearing loss is identified in an otherwise "normal" preschool setting. Pidgin Sign English is examined seen to be appropriate ESL input for the acquisition of English 1anguage skills by a competent American Sign Language/English bilingual. The inordinate time delays seen between when hearing losses are identified and when deaf children enter school is observed to be the sixth and last obstacle. Parents' emotions and conflicting advice by the "experts" are examined as contributing factors. Teacher-organized parent groups are offered as one solution.

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