For example, suppose we meet someone who says: Mera sur chucker ka raha ha! If the interpreter “transliterates” this sentence into English it will be: My head circles eating is. We would then look at each other in confusion! Instead the interpreter knows he must translate this sentence and give the correct idiomatic meaning by saying: “I am feeling dizzy”. This we understand!

 

Why spend time discussing the difference between translating and transliterating?  It is essential that parents understand the difference because the majority of children in signing programs are taught to transliterate or change each word to a “sign”. To review-this does not work! There is no one-to-one exact match
of sign and word.  It is one major reason D/HH children get easily confused when they are reading and why they often level off at third grade. Instead of developing reading skills it hinders the process! This also happens to many D/HH students in oral only or sign/speech programs. These students are taught to think about words as single meanings rather than reading the full sentence and thinking about how the words relate to each other in that particular sentence. Often these students maybe be able to "say" the words but there is no comprehension behind them. This is word production, whether in sign or speech-it is not comprehension.

 

English is full of words that have many different meanings. For example, some dictionaries show more than 50 different meanings for the word “run”. Let's consider one of the first words your child will learn to read: "GO". This Kindergarten word does not only mean to ‘leave-one-place-and-physically-move-to-another’. However this is precisely how D/HH children are taught to “read’. Think about your child as they are trying to use this approach while they read the following beginning level sentences:

 

    1.  Cam is going to have a birthday party.


    2.  What’s going on? 


    3.  Dad said I was going to have to wait for dinner. 

 

Each of these sentences uses beginning level vocabulary and a simple sentence structure. However not one of the “going” words means a ‘physical movement’. Can you see the confusion for your child? Imagine if we went back to our Pakistani example and had to endure our interpreter only transliterating (changing each Urdu word to a single English word) for us. It would probably be a short trip because our frustration would increase quickly!

 

So what is the answer? Your child needs to ultimately develop the concept that true reading comprehension requires the mediation of two separate languages and that no “mapping” of words and signs works. The teacher needs to be trained to guide students in this process. It takes a good deal of effort and reminders because it is a difficult process. However it is one that will instantiate the “how to read” part that your child must intrinsically develop.

 

What can you do at home? Support this process by giving your child lots of practice translating sentences that are of interest to him. When you write sentences make sure that 95% of the words are instantly known to him. Ask her to read the sentence to herself (no signing, voicing, fingerspelling, etc.) After she thinks about the full meaning, cover the sentence and ask her to tell you what it means by translating to ASL or restating in her own words in Spoken English. This can be done on a computer where you save the sentences and revisit them on different occasions. You are working on cognitive fluency or mental flexibility between the languages. This is what true reading is all about. Comprehension is the goal! 

 

 


This article appeared in The Endeavor, American Society for Deaf Children,  Spring 2010



Parents know that strong reading skills are absolutely essential for their deaf child. Parents also often hear one of the most staggering statistics: the average deaf senior graduates with a reading level somewhere between the 3rd-4th grade level. This is a frightening fact and many parents fear that this will be their child’s fate as well. This is categorically false. Just as with hearing children, Deaf children, who do not have other learning challenges, have the mental capabilities to become a grade–level reader. So then why does that intimidating statistic remain?

 

The first and most essential reason is that not all deaf children have full and natural language access from birth.  As a parent, you are inundated with so much information, at times conflicting: oral only, ASL, sign and speech simultaneously, etc. Regardless of the choices you face, the bottom line is that fluent reading skills depend on a firm foundation in language. By definition, a hearing loss does not allow total access to information through the ears. However, it is through her eyes that your child has everything she biologically requires to access language fully from birth (ASL). This strong beginning provides the language she will return to in order to understand English print.  Further, if your child also learns to use Spoken English, then the use of ASL will only strengthen rather than weaken understanding during reading. One of the most detrimental pieces of "advice" parents receive after implanting their child is to avoid ASL. Doctors are not linguists, nor are they educators. They do not see your child struggling to make sense of print.  ASL and Spoken English can thrive in your child---but clear strategies are important in learning to read for true meaning.


How DHH children learn to read is an extensive topic, one that depends on many factors and demands in-depth discussion. For this article, we will focus on two major factors that develop or limit your child’s reading progress and we will concentrate on the needs of the deaf child who uses sign language.  To do that, we’ll take a little trip… Suppose we travel to Pakistan. We are interested in learning about the people and 
culture but do not speak a word of their language-Urdu. We will need to bring an
interpreter with us. In order to give us the true meaning of what is being said the
interpreter will have to listen to the speaker, think about what the sentence means
and then give the appropriate translation in English. The interpreter won’t transliterate
​–or change each Urdu word into a single English word- ​because the meaning would
​generally not make sense. Information shared between languages never works that way.

My Head is Eating Circles!

Teaching Signing Children 

to Read



Kristin Di Perri, Ed.D.