Bilingual Marriage: Hearing and Deaf!

Baby Signing Time dvds

When Big Boy was coming home from China, at 22 months old, I realized that he would be functionally without language in my household for a little while, as I speak English and French and he understood Mandarin. And I was also intrigued by the use of Sign Language (esp ASL) with babies and toddlers. So I bought the first volumes of Baby Signing Time dvds, and it was great. I had no idea at that time that he would be slow to actually articulate in English or French (or Chinese) and we’d both be frustrated with the communication walls created by his limited vocabulary of wawa, mama, ayi, mah, meh, nah. But the Signing Time helped both give him English vocabulary (all signs are accompanied by drawings and photos of the actual object or action of the word presented, AND by both repeated clearly spoken and written on screen English equivalents) and a way to clarify his utterances. I would get “nah” and instead of doing a guessing game: “Nuts?” “No, nah!” “Dog?” “No, NAH!” “tired?” “NOOO! NAAAAH!”, I would know right off what he meant: “nah” (accompanied by sign for “bus”): “Oh, BUS, Big Boy, BUS! See the Big BUS”) and we were both happy.

Signing Time dvd

We ended up accumulating the complete set of Series One of Signing Time as well as the first set and eventually second set of Baby Signing Time, and a few of the Volume Two Signing Time dvds (I like them less as they teach way fewer words per dvd. and have only ONE new song per dvd vs 4-6 songs per dvd for the first “volume” of dvds). And we both loved them. The Baby Signing Time and Signing Time theme songs were a part of our daily lives, and I used sign language to communicate with him often, both when trying to understand him, and when we were unable to hear each other (ie across the room, in a loud setting, someplace where speaking to a child would disrupt the adult conversation). And I also used the signs to introduce French vocabulary: ie signing “shoes” while saying “souliers” instead of using verbal English to introduce the French equivalents.

I had hoped that we would really keep this up, as of course the primary reason for the Signing Time dvds is the hope that hearing people would have at least the rudiments of ASL to be able to interact with deaf ASL children and adults and open up friendships. Unfortunately what with daily life, concentrating on English speech therapy, French in school, and Chinese acquisition, the ASL has fallen a bit by the wayside though it remains an interest.

And then today I read the blog of a family who is adopting two little deaf boys from Henan, the province my Jiaozuo-born son hails from. They have three children already, but they seem the ideal family for these little deaf kids as… the mother is hearing, but the father is deaf. So the family is functionally bilingual: English-ASL. I think this is fantastic. I am very excited for their new family additions (yay for more little boys coming “home” from China to their new family lives!!) and also for the idea of a bilingual deaf/hearing family.

The Brown Seven

Anyways, you can read about their bilingual marriage here: Deaf and Hearing Marriage Part One, here: Part Two, here: Part Three, and here: Part Four. It is fascinating to read, and they face a lot of issues of parents who don’t speak a common language, and more so (since even in a language I cannot understand, I can often hear the inflection of voice, ie when kids are backlipping or someone is angry, even if I am hearing and not seeing, unlike a deaf person who if they don’t SEE the interaction, will not necessarily know that extra information if someone just translates after the fact, or repeats in front of them.

Take a look and tell me what you think! Both about hearing people using ASL, deaf and hearing relations, and families where the parents don’t speak each other’s language (or one speaks the language of the second but not vice versa).

And I wish The Brown Seven a short wait and a quick and safe trip to China to meet their little boys!

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2 responses to “Bilingual Marriage: Hearing and Deaf!

  1. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this perspective on a different type of bilingual family. I also enjoyed reading your recap of using sign language with Big Boy–it makes so much sense to use signing as a bridge between the language he knew and the ones he was learning.

  2. Wow! Thanks for sharing our story! I look forward to reading more about your TRIlingual family. Fun that a couple of our boys are from the same province.

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