SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 102

Unlocking the Curriculum Johnson et al. press) document the existence and some of the dynamics of peer socialization to norms of language use among four-year-old deaf children. Because children in such settings develop competence in American Sign Language, their social environment is much superior to that found in oral schools, in mainstream classrooms, or in Total Communication schools where children have not had substantial contact with ASL. It stands to reason that situations which permit the development of natural language more adequately provide contexts for both linguistic socialization and socio-emotional development. There is substantial evidence that the capacity to learn a first language is most readily available during the first few years of a child's life (Lenneberg, 1967). That such an effect is also, present in the acquisition of sign language has been demonstrated by Newport and T. Supalla (1987), who have identified markers of late sign language acquisition that remain even among signers who have been signing for several decades. Those who acquired ASL during early childhood showed much more consistent grammars and a richer command of the complex structures of the language than did those who acquired it later. Thus, the sooner that contact between deaf children and competent adult and child signers can begin, the more complete and competent those children's ultimate command of the language will be. Early acquisition of ASL may also be important to our goal of teaching English to deaf children. Research on bilingualism suggests that children and second language learners need a foundation in one natural language before attempting to learn a second language (Cummins, 1979). Paulston summarizes data on age of acquisition and concludes (1977, p. 93): The evidence is perfectly clear that mother tongue development facilitates the learning of the second language, and there are serious implications that without such development neither language may be learned well, resulting in semilingualism. These findings combine to provide an additional argument for establishing a natural sign language as a first language as early as possible. However, as reported by the Commission on Education of the Deaf, there has been little recognition of the value of establishing school environments that purposely take advantage of this sort of natural language acquisition process. Little weight [in education of deaf people] is given to the value of using the method of communication the child has been accustomed to as part of his or her total program. (In fact, almost unrecognized is the legitimate status of American Sign Language (ASL) as a full-fledged native minority language to which all of the provisions of the Bilingual Education Act should apply.) Also too seldom recognized is the need for a deaf child to have other deaf children as part of his or her peer group, and to be exposed to deaf adults. (Commission on Education of the Deaf, 1988, p. 9) English-speaking parents of hearing children in the United States can assume that their children will be instructed in a language to which they have access. Similarly, children who do not know English have a right to be instructed in their own language until they know English. Current SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 102