The benefits of sign language for deaf learners with language challenges
The original publication is available at http://perlinguam.journals.ac.za
This article argues the importance of allowing deaf children to acquire sign language from an early age. It demonstrates firstly that the critical/sensitive period hypothesis for language acquisition can be applied to specific language aspects of spoken language as well as sign languages (i.e. phonology, grammatical processing and syntax). This makes early diagnosis and early intervention of crucial importance. Moreover, research findings presented in this article demonstrate the advantage that sign language offers in the early years of a deaf child’s life by comparing the language development milestones of deaf learners exposed to sign language from birth to those of late-signers, orally trained deaf learners and hearing learners exposed to spoken language. The controversy over the best medium of instruction for deaf learners is briefly discussed, with emphasis placed on the possible value of bilingual-bicultural programmes to facilitate the development of deaf learners’ literacy skills. Finally, this paper concludes with a discussion of the implications/recommendations of sign language teaching and Deaf education in South Africa.