Frequently asked questions
'If you would like to know more about the Consortium's approach to Sign Bilingual education, then we hope you can find the information here. Please contact your nearest school or service for further information.
What does a Sign Bilingual approach look like in a school?
It will depend on if it is a school for the deaf or a mainstream setting and on the individual child’s language and communication needs (see for example the case studies in Sign Bilingual Education: Policy and Practice (Swanwick and Gregory 2007). There will always be an emphasis on the positive development of the child’s Deaf identity; an understanding of deaf culture and of the essential role of deaf adults in the education of deaf children. Any sign bilingual approach will involve the planned use of BSL and English (Speaking and Listening and Reading and Writing).
What are the advantages of using a Sign Bilingual approach with my child?
A sign bilingual approach ensures that your child has access to language from birth whether this is a signed or a spoken language. We know that deaf children who are educated in a sign bilingual approach are confident and positive about their deaf identity and self esteem. Many parents feedback how early sign language supports their child’s communication and improves quality of life at home.
If I sign to my child, won’t it stop him talking?
No, there is no research evidence at all which suggests that learning to use sign language impedes spoken language development. In fact, recent research does suggest that the use of sign language supports the development of spoken language and learning. There are good reasons for children to have access and to use sign alongside the development of listening skills through the use of their hearing aids or their cochlear implant regularly.
How can a child use two different modes? Surely it will overload him.
You cannot have too much language input. Most children in the world are bilingual. Children from a very young age are able to move between the two languages as and when they need to.
We use a different language at home…will my child be confused?
So that your child isn’t confused you will need to make sure you know what is happening at school and you should work closely to share the learning that your child is experiencing at school. It is important to make it clear to children when you are using different languages, eg say ‘ we’ll sign this’ or ‘let’s use best English’ ‘Mummy and I are talking French, Punjabi…’ ‘Granny is using her language’
Is it important for me to also learn sign language?
Yes, of course it will greatly help your child’s development and your ability to communicate with your child if you share the same language. Siblings will also enjoy and benefit from learning a new language with you.
How soon will he/she learn to communicate using BSL?
Given the right conditions, a deaf child can develop BSL at the same rate as a hearing child develops spoken language. Young deaf children can understand BSL easily as it is a visual language and is immediately accessible to them. So your child will learn BSL as soon as you start to use it with him / her
Is it OK to use Sign Supported English (SSE)? Not everyone can sign so well and I don’t want my child to be left out when people are talking and he/she can’t pick it all up.
It is OK to use SSE with your deaf child, especially if your child has access to other deaf adults or children at school. It does always help your child if you and your partner learn BSL. Most schools for the deaf and adult education centres run courses in BSL Level 1, 2 and 3. In many schools, BSL courses are free to parents. BSL is a very popular course and it is a great way to meet new friends and other parents.
How does a Sign Bilingual approach help with reading? Reading can only be done in English.
In order to be a successful reader a deaf child needs to develop a deep understanding of English. The complexities of English language can be explained in great detail through the use of BSL. It is also useful to provide models of English phrases and how they translate into BSL and vice versa. The teaching of phonics/graphemes can be done visually through programmes such as THRASS and signed phonics.
My child has a Cochlear Implant…won’t signing stop him listening? How can you ask a young child to do both things at once?
Using Sign language will not stop a child’s use of their cochlear implant or development of spoken language as long as the right listening opportunities are also provided. There are many successful CI users across the UK who are also Bilingual.
I want my child to share our spoken language, but I’m worried it’s developing too slowly. How long should we wait to see if speech comes? At what point should we start to sign?
It is never too early to start using sign language as this will not prevent the development of a spoken language. Effective early communication for young deaf children includes the use of both signs and spoken language. If parents encourage their child to wear their hearing aids and use both languages naturally in a fun and child centred way – their child will develop bilingually.
Does a sign bilingual approach focus only on BSL?
No, the aim of a bilingual approach is that your child will be confident in both languages and be able to make their own choices in their adult life. A successful bilingual deaf child will be able to move easily between both their spoken language and BSL according to who they are with and what they are talking about.
Will my deaf child be able to go to university and get a good job?
Deaf children have the same potential to achieve academically and later in the world of work, as successfully as hearing children do. There is no reason why you child should not go to university and get a job whether or not they use spoken or a sign language. In the working world there are services that support Deaf people’s access to work e.g. access to communication aids including BSL translators if required.
Why should my child who is from my culture have to have a Deaf culture too?
Your deaf child is very fortunate to belong to different communities. People are as adept at moving between different communities and cultures as they are different languages. It is important for children to have an understanding of Deaf culture because it will help them develop a sense of who they are in both the Deaf and hearing world.
Will my child make friends with hearing children?
There is no reason whey you child should not have deaf and hearing friends depending on their interests and the opportunities for developing friendships within and outside of school. Children are very adept at communicating with each other and hearing children seem to find learning to use sign language much easier than adults do!
Should I learn to use MAKATON?
If you are going to learn to use a sign language with your child then the best choice is British Sign Language (in the UK) as it has all the richness and complexities that a spoken language has, whereas MAKATON is a very limited system of signing and not a full language in itself.
Should I learn to use Cued Speech?
Cued speech is a very specific system of hand shapes and positions used to represent all the individual sounds of a language. You would not use it as a language in itself but you may find that the use of some visual cues, either from cued speech or another system of visual phonics see www..visualphonicsbyhand.com , might help your child to see the difference between certain speech sounds. Some families have found it helpful with reading, but it is a very individual choice.