Friday, September 3, 2010

Bimodal Bilingualism

This morning I "crashed" (thank you Connie!) the Fairview Learning Network's training at the Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf in New Jersey.

It was certainly strange to be a fly on the wall and not an active participant in the discussions because, as always, I had a few things I wanted to ask/contribute.

However, it allowed me to really listen to the conversation and what struck me was the fact that all of us in the field of Deaf education are asking the same questions. And the academic geek in me became exhilarated to once again grapple with issues of language acquisition, bilingualism, reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing development and teaching methods.

A seemingly new phrase floating around out there is bimodal bilingualism (as opposed to "unimodal"). But this has only added to the confusion between language vs mode. Some use it to emphasize the fact that Deaf individuals communicate in a visual modality (American Sign Language - ASL) and read/write in English, also visual. Although there are others who would not agree with such labels.

There is no doubt that individuals who are Deaf are bilingual but there is debate in the area of codeswitching. Various researchers conceptualize codeswitching (CS) between ASL and English quite differently. There are even different names given to it depending on if the participants are hearing or Deaf.
  • Code switching with hearing signers (like Children of Deaf Adults or CODA's) happens when the participants stop talking and switch to signing ASL or vice verca. This accounts for a small percentage (5-6%) in bilingual pairings.

  • Code-blending which occurs when ASL signs are produced simultaneously with English words. For bimodal bilinguals this is common, accounting for about 95-96% of signs produced.

  • Code-Mixing is a strategy many Deaf individuals use to adapt linguistic resources to communication needs. Communication is the goal so any method that serves that purpose is utilized.
When pondering all of this along with the demands placed upon emergent readers and writers it is no wonder that there are struggles. The idea Fairview promotes is to develop understanding across languages through a clear knowledge of both. Once that happens teachers can explicitly teach techniques like bridging and chunking when there is not a word-for-word equivalent between ASL and English.

This is good stuff and I was happy I had the opportunity to pop in to join the conversation.


Miss Kat's Parents said...

Also, deaf children with auditory access via CI's are perfect candidates for bimodal bilingualism, or the Dual language approach, rather than voice off, traditional bi-bi.

Gary said...

Miss Kat's Parents - Thank you for adding this information as you make a good point about CI's. There are many issues surrounding that and I would encourage folks to take a read at your blog to gain a deeper understanding of the process. Thanks again for your comment.

lettuce said...

sounds really fascinating Gary.


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