The Benefits of Bilingualism: Impacts on Language and Cognitive Development:
Bilingualism can be briefly defined as someone who regularly uses two languages. According to researcher Franḉois Grosjean (who studies American Sign Language cognitive processing), bilingualism is the norm throughout most of the world. The proficiency levels between the two languages can vary throughout someone’s lifetime based on how much they use the language.
Many Deaf people are fluent in a signed language as well as a spoken or written form of a spoken language; because of this, it is probable that bilingualism is more common with Deaf individuals than hearing individuals. Proficiency in the two languages depends on the level of proficiency needed for the context (for example, is the language used solely at home or solely at school? This will result in different vocabulary). Proficiency will also depend on when the language was acquired.
Learning two languages is a very natural process for children, and it does not result in or cause cognitive or linguistic delays. A child learning two languages is able to achieve all the same milestones as a child who is learning only one language – everything from babbling to acquiring grammatical structures. This includes children who are learning American Sign Language (ASL) and English.
The most obvious benefit of being bilingual is the ability to communicate in two languages. It is beneficial to learn these two languages as early as possible in your life. Vocabulary is acquired easier and more quickly in both languages for people who are bilingual. In addition, managing two languages has cognitive benefits such as a better ability to pay attention, better control of impulses, better conflict resolution skills, and increased working memory.
Deaf children can greatly benefit from going to a bilingual school because if they have high proficiency in ASL, they may also have high proficiency in English and improved academic achievement. By exposing Deaf children to ASL, they are able to develop skills such as critical thinking and complex reasoning which can help their second language literacy development.
It is beneficial to use ASL when your Deaf child is present, not only when you are directly communicating with them. This means exposure to different types of conversations such as arguments, small talk, and communication between different age groups. Using English with your Deaf child by reading books and translating them into ASL shows that communication can be in both languages and helps them to understand how both languages work.