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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Cochlear Implants: Evolving Perspectives
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ďI Want for Her to Be Fluent in Both Languages.Ē

The interviewer explored the issue of bilingualism, ASL, and spoken English in depth. All of the mothers believed strongly in the importance of maintaining bilingualism. They all supported and advocated their childrenís language development in both ASL and English. All of the mothers valued ASL and their childrenís membership in and relationships with the Deaf community. Being deaf connects the children to their families. Sierra stated very clearly that her son is deaf and must have ASL. This issue, according to Sierra, was nonnegotiable and therefore not open for further discussion. Jasmine said that ASL can be beneficial for all children including hearing children.

I think the value is having access. Having access is most important because ASL can be used anytime and anywhere. In a noisy environment, if the CI is broken or whatever, he will always have ASL. Itís all set. He wonít have to worry about that. He is not hearing. He will have some challenges. Spoken language is nice and he has access to it, yes, but not fully. He will always face barriers with spoken language. That is what I value about signing. Among other bonuses like culture, community, and so forth, but number one, he is still deaf. He must have access to language all the time, thatís what is nice about ASL. (Sierra)

I believe that ASL supports both hearing and deaf children. Most of the children do not learn how to speak until they are 2 years old. Why not give them an opportunity to be exposed to ASL to develop early communication skills. Also, sometimes, CIs get lost or broken and are unused during bath time or swimming. Children can use ASL to communicate as a backup. Thatís one of the reasons why my husband and I prefer to include ASL. (Jasmine)

ASL is to me . . . a familyís heritage. I have many old signs that I learned from my mother. I feel moved, wow. It is important for me to share that with my offspring. I want to pass on that to my children. I want them to have that same feeling, of family passing on the language. In the Deaf community, we share the same language. I feel at HOME, ďHOME.Ē (Lauren)

The mothers also highly valued their children learning English, because it is the majority language in this country. They believed that it is essential to develop skills in English to be able to function in the larger hearing society and believed that their childrenís English skills would make it easier for them to communicate with hearing people.
English is a majority language. Itís important to be skilled, so we can compete in the hearing world. We have to. Itís important to be an expert in English to be able to COMPETE. (Lauren)

Yes, I value English, reading and spoken, too. Learning English helps her to fit in the majority of the world and fit in with our society. I donít want her to be separated from the hearing world. I donít have many hearing friends, but just a few. Most of my friends are deaf. At work, I donít hang out with my hearing coworkers. Itís hard to fit in with them. (Jasmine)

[Spoken English provides him with] the ability to communicate with anyone he wants. Spoken language is mostly used here [in our society]. Thatís what I value about learning that. He can communicate and learn from different people. The language itself . . . itís nice. Iím not in awe of it. Itís not special to me, no. It just happens that itís out there to use, so letís take advantage of this opportunity. (Sierra)

Even though the mothers had strong beliefs in bilingualism, they stressed the need to provide additional support for their childrenís spoken language development. Lauren admitted that she had been giving more value to her daughterís spoken language than to her ASL skills. She felt content with her daughterís ASL abilities and thought that learning ASL at home was sufficient. All of the mothers sought programs and services that provided abundant spoken language support. Sierraís son received multiple speech therapy services and attended a mainstream school to develop spoken language skills. He also attended a deaf school that practiced a bilingual approach in ASL and spoken English.

Jasmineís daughter attended a childcare program with hearing peers and an auditory-verbal program daily. She also received speech therapy on a regular basis. Lauren had chosen to place her daughter in a mainstream setting with an interpreter to reinforce her spoken language. Both Jasmine and Lauren expressed the importance of having hearing students around as spoken language models.

Itís funny. I . . . I just realize just now that Iím not a good ASL advocate. Oh. Iím more focused on her getting speech therapy. In class, I made sure she has opportunities to speak for herself. I did not want interpreters to take over like a crutch. She can do it. I encourage her. Iím more focused on her spoken language. Why? Itís because she already has ASL in her life. Itís her first language. When I sign to her in ASL, she understands me fully. Itís fine. She signs fluently. Actually itís odd, she does not sign in ASL. Mostly, she signs in CASE. Why? Itís because of her personality, first of all. She is quiet and polite. (Lauren)

I urged my husband to use spoken language with our son. When our son finally showed interest in speaking with his dad, his dad became more motivated to speak with our son more. My challenge is to monitor him and make sure he is ok and has access to both languages to communicate effectively. Itís a lot of work; itís not a fun thing. Having a CI is a lot of work. (Sierra)

The reason why she is going there [oral/auditory program] is because she can receive spoken language exposure. Her parents are deaf, and we canít train her at home. She needs spoken language exposure as much as possible. We hope that the oral/auditory program will help her acquire spoken language more because the classroom is small and the FM (Frequency Modulated) system is available there. They also provide a lot of support in scaffolding my daughterís spoken language. (Jasmine)

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