University of Edinburgh

Subject Workshop for Teachers of Deaf Children - English Language

Presented in October 2005

Teaching English through BSL

Anne Bain, Donaldson's College for the Deaf

  • Recognition of diversity
  • Domination of hearing cultural and linguistic norms
  • Emotional safety
Note: My perspective : meeting the needs of my pupils, deafness is not a homogenous condition
  • Affirming existing language skills
  • English language from a deaf perspective
  • Demystification

Note: Not the same as EL2 but can borrow approach to grammar, vocabulary, idiom expression, etc, from perspective of students who have internalised and may be expert with a different set of norms - includes the use of spoken/ signed manually coded English

  • Students will have varying levels of language development in both languages
  • Switching and mixing is a normal part of language use

Rules or norms in English are often there to assist the spoken word

  • 'a' 'an'
  • 'heard' not 'heared'
  • Contractions
  • Some spelling rules

Single English spellings may have multiple meanings which are expressed in different ways in BSL.

  • Eg; 'sign'
  • Eats shoots and leaves

Tenses are expressed differently in BSL - eg; tense markers

Verbs in BSL take different forms but provide information other than tense - eg; directional verbs.

Teaching English as EL2 is not appropriate for many pupils who have not previously acquired a spoken language although EL2 approaches can be helpful.

English has 6 different forms for the past tense!

  • Direct teaching of grammar rules, eg; a, an, some, the
  • Direct teaching of the use of prefixes and suffixes (morphology)
  • Direct teaching of verb forms
  • Ellipsis (omissions)
  • Non sequential order
  • Embedded structures
  • Passive voice

English makes prevalent use of the verb 'to be' which is unnecessary in the visual spatial grammar of BSL.

BSL has characteristics and strengths which can be exploited in the teaching of English

It has visual spatial grammatical structures involving location, movement and the use of non-manual features, eg; non-manual features can carry adverbial information.

Matching single words to single signs fails to exploit the grammatical dimensions of BSL.

Manual movements are slower to produce than speech but contain greater amounts of information.

The existing language skills of pupils may be overlooked.