Trilingual Education

The paper was based on observations and research preformed by Barbara Gerner de Garcia while teaching a pull-out class for immigrant deaf children.1

The Problem

Imagine being a middle school children that has left your home country and school and being placed into a school where the language is different and the culture is different. The adjustment will be a difficult one. You may slowly pick up a language to use conversationally with your peers but the academic work is still very much a challenge. Now imagine the exact scenario except now you are a deaf child and the amount of challenges before you have grown.

More than language deaf students have to new cultures. Students must learn the culture of American, the culture of deaf American, the culture of their immigrant population in American and possible the culture of their immigrant deaf culture. Talk about culture shock. Simultaneously, learning several languages and cultures can be a monumental task for students new to an entire country.

“The fastest growing ethnic group among the deaf and hard of hearing students is Hispanic who now represent over 16% of the school age population.”2 Bilingual education is something that the deaf community does if you consider American Sign Language (ASL) and Standard English as two different languages. Spanish immigrant students however need trilingual education: Spanish, English and ASL.

Two Categories

There are two different categories of the Deaf Hispanic immigrant population: those with limited or no schooling and those with literacy skills in Spanish. Unfortunately, bilingual education in Spanish has not been fully accepted by the deaf community. Students move to the United States for access to education for the deaf.

Many students labeled “limited or no formal schooling” are often from countries with no deaf education programs, have been placed in special education classrooms with an instruction with the training in teaching the deaf or were previously placed in a regular education classroom with no specialized instruction. These students may or maybe have a way of communicating with friends and family but they are none the less labeled by the American deaf schools as having no language.

There is no standardized sign language and so many countries have developed their own forms of sign language such as Puerto Rican Sign Language or Dominican Sign Language. Most countries in Latin American however use sign language and still use the oral method. Some students have been taught the sign language of their country and /or have oral skills in Spanish. When these students come to America, they are often placed in classes that ignore their native languages and immerse them in English and ASL.

A New Appproach

Gerner de Garcia used thematic teaching to help her deaf English as Second Language students. Themes seemed help organize not only the teaching but the learning and make things easier for the students to understand. Another strategy that she used was the use of Children’s literature and picture books. These things helped students associate words with pictures and build their vocabulary. The most important technique the Gerner de Garcia used was to help students in their native language of Spanish. Gerner de Garcia calls this trilingual education.

The deaf community is having the deal with the same concerns that mainstream education is dealing with when it comes to the education of the immigrant Hispanic population. Questions such as immersion or bilingual education are being asked in the deaf community also and as the immigrant population continues to grow than the debate will continue.

“We live in a multicultural society and the Deaf is more multicultural than the general population.”3 The deafculture just like the mainstream culture must learn to embrace the many cultures that can make it better and help it grow. It seems that placing value in maintaining and developing the students’ native language would be beneficial for all parties. Students will feel more valued and lose the label of “no language” when they enter American schools. Latin American countries may gain teachers that help students in their home countries and the American deaf community would gain active citizen that considered themselves as valued part of the community.

1Gerner de Garcia, (1995) ESL applications for Hispanic deaf students. The Bilingual Research Journal (3 and 4) vol. 19 p. 453-467
2Gerner de Garcia, (1995) ESL applications for Hispanic deaf students. The Bilingual Research Journal (3 and 4) vol. 19 p.455
3Gerner de Garcia, (1995) ESL applications for Hispanic deaf students. The Bilingual Research Journal (3 and 4) vol. 19 p. 464
4 Page added by Angela Ramsey-Lockhart