Monday, 8 April 2013

Bilingualism


Focus questions: to get you thinking. I wrote these 9 months ago before the proposal was written and accepted. What questions do you want to highlight or comment on as away forward for doing research? Or have I left something out that you want to add?

Why is it important in SA in Deaf Education? Why is SA Deaf Education not picking up the reins of Bilingualism at schools? Is bilingualism just another method that will soon die out, a trend? Why is DoE not aware and building bilingualism into curriculum and as a national deaf ed policy? What has happened to Deafsa policy statement from last year? What needs to be done and who should do what? What is our role at the centre in Sign Bilingualism? What are the trends now in deaf education? And in terms of bilingualism?  How do we as educators make/build deaf learners to be ‘deaf in their own way? What resources and paradigm needs to be in place for bilingualism to work? What are the barriers on the ground to why teachers are not using bilingual in class? What support is needed in in-service training to nurture teachers? Is bilingual only applicable to first world economies, how can the diversity of SA deaf be served?  What are the other voices of DeaF that have not been heard? How well is bilingualism working and capable of working at the cognitive level? Why do teachers still try to sabotage bilingualism? What is needed in the teacher training programs for the next cohort of bilingual teachers? How has the mainstream and inclusion of deaf learners impacted on bilingualism as a policy and as a teaching method? What is the future of schools for the deaf in terms of bilingualism? Although we talk about bilingualism, South Africa is a country with 11 languages, and English, the most commonly used LOLT, is not the only way to learn, what about the other languages used at home? Is bilingualism too narrow a term and policy for SA? If SASL is accepted as 12 official language, how will this affect bilingualism as a policy and in the classroom, in mainstream schools and in schools for the deaf? Who should have power in over sign bilingualism programs and education? What kind of conversations are needed with parents, educators , learners and DoE to assist this transition to sign bilingualism as a national deaf education policy? What can be expected from oral and signing education communities as a responses to bilingualism? What strategies have been effective, and what should not be done, from lessons learned? How do we get tertiary education and workplaces/employers/DoL to partner with education in building an educated and bilingual workforce?   

What do I think about bilingualism?
Taking the research and paper just done, I can see that bilingual is a key concept in terms of identity, and that this is something worth fighting for in deaf learners who should be as bilingual as possible. For example, I found that teaching the Bed Sign Language class without my hearing-aids means that I am really, deeply deaf and solely a Sign Language user. Actually, this is a significant step forward. A moment of epiphany, as I am fully deaf and not using my voice and hearing aids to assist me with teaching, which I could do, but it is more authentic to switch off and be deaf than try to be both simultaneously, actually that is worth thinking about for a moment. That is just what hearing teachers try to do with deaf learners and end up fluffing both languages.  Thus, it is more effective for me to sign only and rely on signing to communicate so that Sign Language structure can be seen, sic. Then I use English, which they also know, to explain SASL. By doing this I am respecting SL and expecting the same level of dignity that I have to be given to SL, while they begin to see SL for themselves in real time for what it is, a real language to me and other deaf, albeit that I am a second language user of SASL, but ahead of them for two reasons/grounds:   I know the rules of SASL as a second language user, and sign frequently with deaf friends, and obviously, I am deaf, so I am claiming it as my language. Having said that, I know that it is not always easy to match my level with their level, and I am acutely aware of this and have to prepare intensely before class the kind of descriptions/explanations required to instruct a concept that I would otherwise have spoken to class as instructional aside.
The opposite happens in the ACE first year class where I speak and rely on the interpreter to sign for me to help me fill in the gaps that I would otherwise have missed by relying on my hearing-aids and hearing power, which is incomplete. For me, it is easier to talk here because this is in my first language, but the listening part is my weakness. So there are two sides to this situation that I find myself in, on the one hand I am taking on the challenge of signing, and on the other hand I have to relinquish the instinct to be hearing when I am not really able to do that.
I am reminded of someone else who has made this transition from hearing culture into Deaf culture, but is unable to pass as a fluent signer, although her attitude has shifted to becoming deeply compassionate towards deaf culture and sign language. But the skills of signing are not sufficient to allow this transition to be completed, hence the metamorphosis if the beautiful sign language butterfly is incompleted and a stunted butterfly has emerged. I have wondered what is needed to be a bilingual DeaF person, as she undoubtably is well formed in some of the areas, but restricted in other areas, yet she sees herself as a bicultural more than a bilingual deaf person. Her experiences of and in both worlds have nurtured her bicultural philosophy of respecting both cultures, and ontologies. Is she deaf in her own way? Is she happy?
I noticed that there is another way to enter bilingual identity, through Deaf becoming DeaF by accepting and negotiating their way through both languages and cultures without denigrating either. This is a process, and a long process. I cannot say/claim that I have arrived, but being on this journey and recognising where I am is important for charting this journey of self-discovery and ones interactions across a vastly wider net of interactions is the key to this process of identity development. Surely this is what teachers of today want and need to be doing. It is time to let go of the old ways of being deaf or Deaf. 
   
 From here, I will pick up on the ideas and thoughts and build on this in the next blog next week.


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