Redefining Bilingual-Bicultural in the 21st Century
Our conversations across multiple years led us to develop these guidelines with the aim to redefine what bilingual Deaf education means in the 21st century. We recognize that the definition of bilingual Deaf education previously included the word “bicultural” as well (i.e., bilingual-bicultural). However, it is now recognized that culture is already embedded within the term “bilingual,” meaning that all cultures, including Deaf culture, are naturally part of bilingual education.
In considering today’s climate of multilingual learners and that culture is now recognized as a key component of multilingual education, we have chosen to use the term “Multilingual Deaf Education.” Some common terms related to Multilingual Deaf Education that we will use throughout the paper are as follows:
Deaf. We define the term “Deaf” to include all Deaf and hard of hearing people who use ASL (or other sign languages) and English (or other languages), including DeafBlind (Larsen & Damen, 2014), DeafDisabled (Burke, 2014), and late-deafened people, regardless of varying hearing levels, signing levels, cultures, identities, and home language usage.
Multilingual Deaf Education. We define “Multilingual Deaf Education” as the practice of using two or more languages for the teaching of academic content (Valdés et al., 2015), one of which is the sign language of the Deaf community. Increasingly, we see Deaf students from homes representing multiple ethnic and racial cultures (e.g., Black, Latinx, Indigenous, immigrant) and multiple spoken and signed languages (Cannon et al., 2016; Gallaudet Research Institute, 2013; Gárate-Estes et al., in press; Musyoka & Adeoye, 2020). We also recognize intersectionality and the multiple identities and abilities of Deaf students (Dunn & Anderson, 2019; Gárate-Estes et al., in press; García-Fernández, 2020; Leigh et al., 2020; Pichler et al., 2019). It is critical to consider these factors when redefining what Multilingual Deaf Education means in the 21st century.
In the United States and parts of Canada, Deaf students in Multilingual Deaf Education settings use both ASL and English as the primary languages of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Multilingual schools that serve Deaf children from homes using languages other than ASL and English (e.g., Deaf children from families who use Spanish, Lengua de Señas Mexicana [LSM], Navajo, Somali, or Arabic) should honor students’ use of their home languages (Musyoka & Adeoye, 2020). Deaf education teacher preparation programs should support their teacher candidates’ language fluency development, plus provide techniques and tools to tap the diverse languages, cultures, resources, and creativity of Deaf communities and Deaf students, in order to support learning in the classroom.
Multiculturalism. “Multiculturalism” is defined as the acknowledgement and respect of two or more cultures within the educational curriculum, one of which is Deaf culture (Leigh et al., 2020). This includes embedding and teaching aspects of Deaf culture throughout P–12 education (e.g., identity development, Deaf epistemologies, understanding and acceptance of self and others). We believe that within multicultural education we must also integrate antiaudist, antibias, antiracist, antisexist, and antiableist education. This includes addressing injustices throughout the P–12 curriculum related to race, sex/gender, disability, power and privilege, and other minority groups (Christensen, 2017; English et al., 2018).
Heritage language/heritage language learner. In a given social environment, any language, whether signed or spoken, other than the majority language (e.g., English) that is connected to a minority community is a “heritage language” (Ortega, 2020). Immigrant, Indigenous, and minority community speakers learn their heritage languages at home, in their communities, and at school (e.g., Deaf and hearing children of Deaf adults [Codas]; Compton & Compton, 2014; Pichler et al., 2019). Deaf children who have hearing parents can be heritage language learners only if they learn ASL at home with their older Deaf siblings, in the signing communities, and at school (Isakson, 2018).
Translanguaging. We define “translanguaging” as the methodology for which Deaf children utilize and access different linguistic features via sign and print, plus various languages and communication systems (e.g., Augmentative and Alternative Communication [AAC]), in order to optimize communication and learning (De Meulder et al., 2019; García & Lin, 2017; Swanwick, 2017). García (2009) defines translanguaging as a multilingual approach that is centered on the overt discourse practices of emergent multilinguals. Teachers and their Deaf students use all of the languages in their linguistic repertoire to advance or develop literacy (Kurz & Kurz, in press). For example, Black Deaf students in the United States may navigate among ASL, Black ASL, and English to communicate ideas; Hmong Deaf students may switch between the use of ASL and Ho Chi Minh Sign Language to explain their ideas.
Deaf culture. We define “Deaf culture” as the set of beliefs and behaviors that reinforce the shared core values of Deaf communities (Holcomb, 2013) (e.g., Black, Latinx, Indigenous Deaf communities). These core values include full access to communication, information sharing, healthy identity formation, and self-determination. In the United States and parts of Canada, Deaf communities are largely influenced by the use of ASL and the additional languages, and common and unique experiences among diverse Deaf people.
American Sign Language. ASL is a natural language used by Deaf and hearing people in Deaf communities located in the United States, parts of Canada, and in various other countries (Valli & Lucas, 2000). ASL users have diverse gender, racial, ethnic, disability, cultural, linguistic, geographical, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and many of them have experienced oppression and discrimination. They also vary in their access to language resources, language dialects, linguistic creativity (language play, such as poems, rhymes, and slang words), and cultural funds of knowledge and skills, all of which are important assets to the wealth of diversity, variation, and dialects of ASL (e.g., Black ASL). Deaf people, including children of all ages, contribute to the evolution of ASL and its dialects. Because moving into a classroom and moving outside of a classroom doesn’t change the kind of ASL used—or at least it should not—we choose not to use “social ASL” versus “academic ASL” to distinguish between ASL use in social or educational settings.
Multilingual strategies. We use the term “multilingual strategies” to expand on the previously used term “bilingual strategies,” taking into consideration the multiple languages and cultures students bring to the classroom. We define multilingual strategies as strategies that support Deaf children’s diverse linguistic repertoires of multiple languages (e.g., ASL, English, and other signed and written languages). However, we also recognize that teachers themselves are often not multilingual. While we encourage them to learn and use home and heritage languages (in addition to ASL and English) as much as possible, we also recognize that teachers are not typically fluent in all of the home languages used by their students. For example, a teacher can support vocabulary development for a Deaf student who moved to the United States from Colombia by incorporating Lengua de Señas Colombiana, or LSC (Colombian Sign Language) into lessons as a bridge to ASL and English (e.g., using pictures of her signing LSC words, ASL words, and printed English words). Further, research in Deaf education has been primarily based on bilingual strategies connecting ASL and English. There has been limited research related to multilingual teaching strategies in the United States and Canada. Therefore, we choose to use the term multilingual strategies here, with the understanding that the focus specifically emphasizes research-based best practices for connecting ASL and English in the classroom, but with encouragement to consider additional languages as well.
Multimodal strategies. Modalities are the channels by which communication happens. These channels can be visual/manual (signed languages), auditory/oral (spoken languages), print (written languages), tactile (Protactile sign languages), among others. Here, we support the concept of a semiotic repertoire as explained by Kusters et al. (2017), wherein people combine multiple modalities for the purpose of ensuring positive communication environments with a variety of language-support partners.
We want to emphasize that multimodal strategies should be tailored to Deaf students’ abilities to learn, not the teacher’s preferences or abilities. Deaf students who do not use auditory input for learning, for example, should be provided with multiple modalities that optimize their learning channels (e.g., visual/manual, tactile, and kinesthetic). Teachers need to advocate for their Deaf students, such as stating on a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) that the student’s instruction is carried out in the most accessible modality/modalities.