Becoming a bilingual and bimodal: top brain-booster benefits for using signed language

A child growing up being a bilingual is a blessed kid. A child with bilingual brain has cognitive benefits over monolingual children. We all know bilingualism benefits greatly.

But, what about bilingual and bimodal? Dodas and codas (deaf and hearing children of Deaf parents plus Deaf community) are more blessed kids. It's not uncommon to find codas having greater academic (bilingualism and cognitive benefits) and social (biculturalism and cultural relativism) achievements.

Why should every child become a bilingual-bimodal from birth or childhood in an ASL-speaking environment?

1. Bilingualism boosts brain

Bilingualism of any languages (whether signed or spoken) is a great booster for brains, according to a number of studies. It enriches and enhances one's cognitive processes: higher abstract and creative thinking, better problem-solving, greater cognitive flexibility, better listening skills, greater academic achievement, and more! It also promotes cultural awareness, literacy, and other intellectual benefits.

Not just bilingualism, but also why not bimodalism too? Bimodal, that is using visual-spatial medium, expands your visual-perceptual skills: spatial awareness, mental rotation skill, visual sensitivity, and more! Remember speech is not a language but a medium. Language is amodal.

2. Sharper spatial-visual perception

"Visual-spatial perception, memory, and mental transformations are prerequisites to grammatical processing in ASL (Emmorey and Corina, 1990...).

Deaf children dicriminating faces

Experiments on the relation of the use of ASL to spatial abilities, according to the illustration above, show that "deaf signing children can discriminate faces under different conditions of spatial orientation and lighting better than hearing children."

Because, ASL speakers and listeners also use faces as one of the articulators to convey linguistic information, such as topicalization, adverbial forms, conditionals, relative clauses, sentence types, and so on. They are sensitive to subtle facial differences.

3. Sharper kinesthetic perception

In another experiment, children were asked to write a Chinese pseudo-character each time they observed a lightpoint motion of the written Chinese pseudo-character in the air.

Deaf children recognizing characters

The result in the illustration above shows a remarkable difference between hearing and Deaf children that deaf signers can detect and interpret moving light characters better than hearing non-signers.

"In this experiment, Chinese pseudo-characters were written in the air with a light-emitting diode, which created a continuous stream of movement. Deaf signers (both Chinese and American) were significantly better than their hearing counterparts at perceiving the underlying segments of these pseudo-characters. Figure 2b [above] shows the contrast between first-grade Chinese hearing and deaf children on this task. Furthermore, Neville has shown that deaf signers have a heightened ability to detect the direction of movement in the periphery of vision (Neville, 1988)." (p 141)

4. The critical window of time for right angular gyrus

A study (Newmann, et al) shows that there is a critical period of time for the right angular gyrus (AG) in signed language acquisition. Both native deaf and hearing signers show activation of the right angular gyrus when listening ASL.

The brain in native Deaf signers

These same hearing bilingual subjects don't show activation of the right AG when listening or speaking English, but only in ASL. Late signers show little or no activation in the right AG.

The right angular gyrus is associated with spatio-visual attention toward salient features and orientation in three dimensional space.

References

Emmorey, Karen; Kosslyn, Stephen; and Bellugi Ursual. "Visual imagery and visual-spatial language: Enhanced imagery abilities in deaf and hearing ASL signers." Cognition, 46 (1993), pp 139-181. http://lcn.salk.edu/publications/1993/ Emmorey%20-%20Enhanced%20Imagery%20ASL%20signers%201993.pdf

Newman, A.J., Bavelier, D., Corina, D., Jezzard, P. and Neville, H.J. (2002) "A critical period for right hemisphere recruitment in American Sign Language processing." Nature Neuroscience, 5:76-80.

"The Angular Gyrus... " http://nro.sagepub.com/content/19/1/43.full

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