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Deaf Education Options Guide

Bilingual-Bicultural Educational Approach


The traditional approach to bilingual-bicultural education is founded on the premise that “Auditory/Oral and Total Communication approaches do not meet the linguistic and cultural needs of deaf children; [that] natural sign language, such as American Sign Language (ASL) is the “biologically preferred” mode of communication for deaf individuals and [that] deaf children can acquire verbal language in the written form through the language base of natural sign language.”107 Hence ASL is taught to the child first and then English is taught as a second language.


The benefits of such a program are that deaf children receive a language that is highly accessible to them. In the Bi-Bi approach, teachers that are native in the language model ASL for the child. In addition, parents who are hearing may engage a deaf adult who will model ASL in the home environment until the parents’ language skills are adequate. If the child attends a residential school, he also has the opportunity to learn from his peers. Since everyone signs ASL, the feeling of isolation often found among signing children placed in the mainstream is ameliorated. Since ASL is strongly connected with Deaf Culture, children in Bi-Bi programs have the opportunity to learn about, and participate in, Deaf Culture. This method is particularly useful for deaf children of parents fluent in ASL since the parents already know the target language and can model it correctly.


There are several disadvantages to this approach. The first is availability. Outside of the residential schools for the deaf, the Bi-Bi approach is not common. “There may be an insufficient number of deaf teachers and ‘role models’ to serve the population in question.”108 Signing is a difficult skill for hearing parents to master and they may resent having a stranger in their home, should they decide to engage a language model for their child. Bi-Bi does not spend time working on audition or speech. In fact, “it is felt to be morally wrong to impose on deaf children a language they cannot acquire, this, spoken language.”109 This policy can limit participation in hearing culture.


Bilingual-Bicultural Deaf Education Resources

Resource list from the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet Universit

Learning Center for Deaf Children

Throughout its history, The Learning Center for Deaf Children has been a leader in Deaf education. It was the first school in Massachusetts to depart from the "oral" method of education and to advocate the use of sign language in addition to spoken English. In 1988, TLC made a commitment to become a bilingual and bicultural school, placing it among the first in the nation. Visitors to The Learning Center, from the USA and abroad, have without exception commented on our stimulating faculty, our warm and language-rich environment, and our happy, expressive children.

This document was posted with permission from the author, based on the posting at http://www.listen-up.org/edu/options1.htm. Although this 1998 article remains informative, it is vital that readers do current research.

The original deaflinx.com site was written and authored by Amy Frasu. Deaf Linx is now run by Ericka Wiggins. Here are the Facebook and Twitter pages for Deaf Linx.