ASL-speaking kinder reading English

The native ASL-speaking bilingual preschooler (age 4;3) surprised me by her knowledge of written English words and her ability of translating between written English and ASL.

bilingual literacy
Image description: a bilingual-bimodal five-year-old kindergarten girl writes down the title of a book in her record book. Context: In kindergarten, she picks a different book everyday and brings it home to read with her ASL-speaking mother.

Reading English in a book and reading aloud in ASL is an interesting budding process to watch my bilingual child, Juli. ASL and English are two entirely independent languages each with their own grammar and all.

Juli recognized English words on her own that I never taught her and she translated them into ASL when I inquired "what does it mean". In a sentence, "Yoshi's dress was so long that she could hardly walk." Juli read English words "dress" and "long" and interpreted into ASL signs herself. I pointed to the unfamiliar English word "walk" and uttered the ASL word "walk" that she long knew.

Another sentence, "It's so steamy that I can't see myself in the mirror!" Juli knew "see", "myself", and "mirror". So, it tells me that she can read most of the sentence, if not all. It was exciting to imagine that very soon she would begin reading a book by herself. Sigh, my baby.

In addition to the English vocabulary above, I pointed to other written English words and asked Juli: "before", "rain", and "ring". Juli replied in ASL translation correctly. I pointed to "only" and she didn't know. I signed only in ASL that she already knew.

This is an example of how deaf children acquires full-fledged language and literacy in ASL and then learns another language (e.g. English) as a second language through the first language. This process works the same process with bilingual Spanish-speaking children, French-speaking children, and so on.

Video: The bilingual Kinder (age 4;11) tells a story in ASL while reading the book, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" by Bill Martin Jr / Eric Carle. This shows an early literacy development both in ASL and English.

Reading and storytelling

Nightly, Juli picked a book or two and we sat together on the bed. I read the story to her (of course, in ASL) and she listened out of her periperal vision. I pointed to an English word on the page and/or sometimes fingerspelled the word. E.g. fs-CANDY THAT-IX MEAN CANDY.

The day Juli is able to read English by herself, she will have her bilingual skill of interpretation or translation between ASL and English with their own grammatical rules and semantics.

In the beginning of her K school, Juli picked a thick book of short stories with no pictures, just one drawing/picture per story. She listened to my storytelling in ASL and sometimes I'd point to the English word here and there.

In the second semester, her kindergarten class teacher gives everyone a book ("A" level) per day. Juli brings a book of the day to read at home, usually with me. Most of the time, she understood or figured out the words and eventually all words in context. At the same time, she continued to love listening to me reading two books in ASL nightly at bedtime.

In the spring time (5;3), I noticed that she began bringing a B-level book daily. She reads and understands almost every word and new word in context. She reads aloud in ASL glosses to me.

She speaks ASL normally (with ASL grammar and all) but when reading aloud, she uses ASL glosses that represent English words (transliteration). It's interesting how she evolves because I never told her to read aloud in ASL glosses and I never told her that she'd have to do in ASL. Why wouldn't she read and speak English to me or by herself. It just occurred naturally. Probably because she has been watching me translating into ASL for her while reading a book. But, interpreting from English to ASL requires a developed skill so she starts with ASL glosses.

At this point, my first thought was that this is the very beginning of a future interpreting development skill from English to ASL. At this point, my question is at what age does she develops an interpreting skill from English to ASL without using ASL glosses.

How about some English words that require a different grammatical structure in ASL, such as determiners, articles ('a' and 'the'), prepositions, and such? Juli would commonly fingerspell the English words, such as "is", "at", and "the". For the rest of English words, she uses ASL glosses.

But, it's a different for two-word English meanings. At this stage, I would introduce some ASL concepts. For example, when she signs LOOK fs-AT, I point to the "look at" with one ASL sign. In ASL conversation, she correctly uses LOOK-AT (one single ASL sign with inflections such as LOOK-AT-ME, LOOK-AT-HIM/HER, etc.) naturally. Likewise, she speaks "look at" in English correctly. But, she hasn't connected these two in the art of interpretation or translation of concepts or phrases between two languages.

Same for 'come across' and 'run away'. It's about reading and understanding the concepts.

At age 5;5, Juli suggested a different method for each page. First, she reads aloud in English instead of signing ASL glosses. Then I read aloud in ASL via translation. We turn-took for each page. Truly a bilingual approach! But, very short-lived.

age 5 reading
Image: bilingual girl (age 5;9) reading a book (not from school) at home.

In no time, she eventually read on her own. All by herself. Asked no helpd despite my offers to help whenever needed. Occasionally, she'd ask me to read to her in ASL at bedtime, for the sake of old time.

Related posts

Also see Preschooler writing and typing

Also see Reading (Grade 1).

This documentation project follows a baby's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, week by week from gazing at birth to manual babbling, to first words just before the first birthday in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.

The second-year and third-year documentation continues to follow the same child's language and phonological acquisition and literacy development in ASL on a weekly basis from the one-word stage to two-word and multiple utterances.

The documentary continues to follow the same child's ASL language and literacy development on a regular basis from age three to four. It surveys ASL phonological acquisition and more complex utterances.

These posts on ASL-English bilingualism, language acquisition, and bilingual education may be of an interest for parents who raise a bilingual-bimodal child in ASL (or another signed language) and English (or another written and/or spoken language of its respective) as well as informative and educational for ASL specialists, educators, and professionals.