Frequently Asked Questions: Considerations for Using an ASL and Spoken English Bilingual Approach with Young Children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

This FAQ, developed at the Clerc Center, responds to questions related to bilingual development in two modalities. It discusses evidence supporting an ASL and spoken English approach and the planning process essential to implementing this approach with young children. It provides references and resources related to this topic.

Download PDF

A.      What is an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach?

An ASL and spoken English bilingual approach is an approach designed to facilitate early language acquisition in both a visual language (American Sign Language) and a spoken language (English).

You may also see this approach referred to as an ASL and English bimodal-bilingual approach, with bilingual referring to the development of two languages. In this case, it is American Sign Language (ASL) and English, and bimodal refers to language acquisition and use in two modalities, visual and spoken. This approach can be planned and implemented to meet the individual needs of children with varying hearing levels and varying levels of benefit from listening technologies (i.e. hearing aids and/or cochlear implants).
 
B.      How does an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach differ from other approaches where sign language is used?

An ASL and spoken English bilingual approach addresses development of each language and modality early in a child's development.  This differs from bilingual-bicultural (bi-bi) approaches, which typically promote establishment of ASL as a child's first language with later attention to development of English, primarily through print. Approaches that include sign systems typically use sign as a support to, or in conjunction with, spoken English.

C.      Why consider an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach for young children who are deaf or hard of hearing?

Use of an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach is based on evidence indicating that it is essential for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to have full access to language as early as possible, in order to facilitate development of linguistic competence and avoid language delay. This approach, which facilitates both ASL and spoken English (based on the individual characteristics of each child) early in a child's linguistic development, has the potential to promote and safeguard language acquisition through both visual and auditory modalities. It reflects that most children who are deaf or hard of hearing have the ability to fully access a visual language. It acknowledges that even with early, appropriately fitted, and consistently used amplification and/or cochlear implants, spoken language abilities and outcomes will vary for each child.

D.      What is the evidence supporting the use of an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach in early childhood education?

  • The evidence to support this approach centers on the following findings, observations, and experiences (discussed in the references below): the importance of facilitating early language foundations in the most accessible way possible and as early as possible to avoid language delay;
  • brain imaging suggesting that the brain can readily handle and can benefit from language development in more than one language and more than one modality without detriment to the development of language in either modality; and 
  • documentation that use of a visual language can facilitate, map onto, link to, and, in general, support the development of spoken language. (Note: There does not appear to be specific evidence demonstrating that use of a visual language will inhibit spoken language development when spoken language is also utilized and valued in the child's environment.)

E.       What are the key components of an ASL and spoken English bilingual early childhood program?

Effective implementation of an ASL and spoken English approach within any early childhood setting requires that the program have a clearly articulated philosophy stating the value and benefit of both ASL and spoken English. Also, at the core of this approach is a systematic, individualized assessment-driven planning process to guide language acquisition and use of both ASL and spoken English. The individualized plan should include:

  • a profile documenting a child's background characteristics and abilities in ASL and spoken English (based on informal and formal assessment tools);
  • development of achievable goals and objectives in each language and modality;
  • identification of how to allocate use of each language and modality within the child's day, and supports, strategies, materials, and resources to facilitate development and use of each language (both at home and in school); and
  • ongoing assessment and monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan in guiding program and service recommendations. The plan must be adaptable in reflecting the child's progress or possible changes in variables such as obtaining a cochlear implant, a decrease in hearing levels, etc.

It is recommended that the educational program include deaf and hearing professionals working collaboratively with families to support the skill development and use of both ASL and English (spoken and written). Successful implementation requires planned, purposeful use and exposure to each language based on the individualized goals of a child.

F.       What supports should be provided to facilitate ASL development in early childhood programs using an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach?

When implementing an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach it is important to include a variety of avenues to facilitate a child's ASL development including:

  • teachers and professionals proficient in ASL available to provide instruction in the development of ASL as a language. (i.e., ASL classifiers, grammar, facial expression, etc.);
  • family sign language classes;
  • ASL adult and peer language models to foster language acquisition and learning in natural contexts (i.e. interaction with the Deaf community, Deaf mentor programs);
  • daily story signing; and
  • ASL resources and materials (i.e., ABC handshape stories, DVDs, iPad apps, etc.). 

G.     What supports are integral to facilitating spoken English in programs using an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach?

When implementing an ASL and spoken English bilingual approach, it is important to include a variety of avenues to facilitate a child's spoken English development including: 

  • ongoing audiology testing to gather a clear picture of a child's hearing levels, both with and without amplification;
  • exploration of hearing aid and/or cochlear implant benefits early in a child's development, and daily checks and monitoring of listening technologies;
  • access to specialists skilled in facilitating spoken English for children who are deaf or hard of hearing (i.e. listening, speaking, speechreading, literacy, etc.);
  • opportunities to interact with spoken English adult and peer language models;
  • availability of listening, speech, and spoken language materials and resources (i.e. internet-based activities, DVDs, music, and iPad apps); and
  • opportunities for oral read-aloud specific to an individual child's profile and plan.

References and Resources

This site was supported by federal funding. Publication of this material shall not imply approval or acceptance by the U.S. Department of Education of the findings, conclusions, or recommendations herein. Gallaudet University is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, hearing status, disability, covered veteran status, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, place of business or residence, pregnancy, childbirth, or any other unlawful basis.