The importance of language.

Language is a crucial part of my life, like everyone else especially those who are Deaf and hard of hearing.

I’m bilingual. I am fluent in both Auslan and written English.

Auslan and English are two COMPLETELY different languages. They have their own set of rules, grammar and syntax.

Auslan is short for Australian Sign Language, and is the language of the Deaf community in Australia. It’s a part of the BANZSL (British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language) family, and was born out of British Sign Language. However, there is some influence from Irish Sign Language which was used in Catholic schools for Deaf children waaaaay back in the 19th and 20th century. There’s some signs borrowed from American Sign Language (ASL).

However, being a ’85 baby, I started out by using Signed English. It’s not a sign language per se, but was created in the late 1970s so teachers could teach English to deaf students. Signed English is an artificial sign system, where manual signs are created for each word in English, so in this case, it follows simultaneously with spoken & written English. Signed English has been largely rejected by the Deaf community.

The difference between Signed English and Auslan is as follows:

Signed English: I AM GO-I-N-G TO THE SHOPS.

Auslan: I GO SHOP. 

In Auslan, ‘ing’, plurals, suffixes, etc are not generally used but it is possible if you use Auslan in an English structure. It’s essentially all about the content and context in the message you are conveying whilst using Auslan.

I might have had some exposure to Auslan as a baby/toddler, but I have no memory of it. Although, I do remember meeting Deaf adults who used Auslan throughout my childhood, and I was able to understand them. Growing up, I thought Signed English was great…until I started high school and realised the impact it had on my ability to learn and to express myself freely with confidence.

During my first two years of high school, I refused to present in front of my class for English assessments. I was not confident, and I had to persuade my English teacher to allow me to present during lunch break in front of her and a trusted classmate/friend, with a teacher aide/interpreter speaking for me. I hated it with a passion. I felt like I was a robot, and it would take too long for me to convey my message – having to sign word for word.

That said, I wasn’t an active participant in most of my classes. The teacher aides/interpreters allocated to all of my classes often said that I was too fast for them to be able to interpret properly, and that often frustrated me. I was grateful I was able to get all information, but I still wasn’t satisfied.

It also had an impact on my ability to understand mathematics concepts. I’m still terrible at maths!

My family uprooted and made the big and life-changing move to Sydney halfway through my second year of high school. Upon enrolling at a new high school, I was exposed to Auslan, and I found myself becoming more confident. I found myself being able to express my thoughts more freely. I found the confidence to stand up in front of the class for oral presentations for English and other subjects. I found I could actually understand mathematics better than before.

Being exposed to Auslan has had a huge yet positive impact on my academic results. As mentioned earlier, I may have been exposed to Auslan as a kid, but I did not actually start using it myself until I was 14.

Signed English was great for me during my childhood, but it certainly had its limits. I don’t remember being imaginative before I started using Auslan. Although, I loved writing (and still do…obviously!), so that was pretty much my only imaginative & creative outlet, apart from art and craft. I was a creative child, though! I think. I’m pretty sure my mother and teachers could vouch for that 😉 Creative fiction still isn’t my forte – I sucked at that, and I loved (and still do) non-fiction writing.

A couple of years ago I met with some Deaf children who were still using Signed English, and I was astounded to find that it took me a while to fully understand them! I was also asking them to clarify themselves, as I had forgotten most of Signed English.

However, I am incredibly grateful for my mother who worked hard to make sure I had access to language, be it both signed and written. She wanted to make sure I was able to strive and succeed, especially as an independent person I am today. It’s incredible for her to achieve this because she has grown up bilingual with English as her second language, and most importantly, becoming a single mother at the age of 22 and raising 4 kids on her own. I don’t resent her for starting me with Signed English, and because of her, I have been able to communicate with others whilst growing up.

Mum said this to me a while ago:

Communication is about all our senses and everything around us..and i just wanted you to use what YOU were meant to utilize, whether it be signing or banging two sticks..it didnt matter..it has always been about me guiding you to your destiny. I’m so so proud of you, cuz you took the possibilities/daydreams in my mind when i was a young mum..and made it into realities..<3

She has always taught me why it’s important to have language in order to be able to communicate, whether it be signed, spoken or written.

I strongly believe that Deaf and HoH children should have the opportunity to become bilingual because it will allow them to flourish through their lives and to learn more about the world around them. It doesn’t matter if they’re fitted with hearing aids or cochlear implants; they should be given an opportunity access to BOTH sign language and English because language is the crucial stage of a child’s development and will allow them to succeed.

I’ll be posting two videos below so you can see why it’s essential for your deaf child to have access to both sign language and English, and to grow up bilingual.

This video is about early intervention for deaf children. It’s in ASL, but has English captions. Worth watching.

This video delivers a profound message.

ASL Rose: Two Deaf Babies from ASL Rose on Vimeo.

I would like to let parents know that their deaf child should have access to ALL options available, and that it is highly encouraged by academic professionals within the field of Deaf education to ensure the deaf child is given the opportunity to become bilingual in sign language and English (spoken and/or written).

If you have any questions about this post, feel free to comment or contact me via email

Yours in language,

S xo

3 comments on “The importance of language.”

  1. James says:

    Kudos to you Sherrie! I resonate with just about all what you wrote. I too, believe in being bilingual, both Auslan and written English.

    James

    1. admin says:

      Thanks James!

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