Sign Language (cont.)

Why Does American Sign Language Become A First Language For Many Deaf People?

Parents are often the source of a child's early acquisition of language. A deaf child who is born to deaf parents who already use ASL will begin to acquire ASL as naturally as a hearing child picks up spoken language from hearing parents. However, language is acquired differently by a deaf child with hearing parents who have no prior experience with ASL. Some hearing parents choose to introduce sign language to their deaf children. Hearing parents who choose to learn sign language often learn it along with their child. Nine out of every ten children who are born deaf are born to parents who hear. Other communication models, based in spoken English, exist apart from ASL, including oral, auditory-verbal, and cued speech. As with any language, interaction with other children and adults is also a significant factor in acquisition.

Why Emphasize Early Language Learning?

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Parents should introduce deaf children to language as early as possible. The earlier any child is exposed to and begins to acquire language, the better that child's communication skills will become. Research suggests that the first six months are the most crucial to a child's development of language skills. All newborns should be screened for deafness or hearing loss before they leave the hospital or within the first month of life. Very early discovery of a child's hearing loss or deafness provides parents with an opportunity to learn about communication options. Parents can then start their child's language learning process during this important stage of development.

What Does Recent Research Say About American Sign Language and Other Sign Languages?

Some studies focus on the age of ASL acquisition. Age is a critical issue for people who acquire ASL, whether it is a first or second language. For a person to become fully competent in any language, exposure must begin as early as possible, preferably before school age. Other studies compare the skills of native signers and non-native signers to determine differences in language processing ability. Native signers of ASL consistently display more accomplished sign language ability than non-native signers, again emphasizing the importance of early exposure and acquisition.

Other studies focus on different ASL processing skills. Users of ASL have shown ability to process visual mental images differently than hearing users of English. Though English speakers possess the skills needed to process visual imagery, ASL users demonstrate faster processing ability--suggesting that sign language enhances certain processing functions of the human brain.

SOURCE:

National Institutes of Health. American Sign Language


Last Editorial Review: 6/7/2010


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