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How Do Profoundly Deaf Children Learn to Read?


Susan Goldin-Meadow University of Chicago, 5730 South Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL 60637.


Reading requires two related, but separable, capabilities: (1) familiarity with a language, and (2) understanding the mapping between that language and the printed word (Chamberlain & Mayberry, 2000; Hoover & Gough, 1990). Children who are profoundly deaf are disadvantaged on both counts. Not surprisingly, then, reading is difficult for profoundly deaf children. But some deaf children do manage to read fluently. How? Are they simply the smartest of the crop, or do they have some strategy, or circumstance, that facilitates linking the written code with language? A priori one might guess that knowing American Sign Language (ASL) would interfere with learning to read English simply because ASL does not map in any systematic way onto English. However, recent research has suggested that individuals with good signing skills are not worse, and may even be better, readers than individuals with poor signing skills (Chamberlain & Mayberry, 2000). Thus, knowing a language (even if it is not the language captured in print) appears to facilitate learning to read. Nonetheless, skill in signing does not guarantee skill in reading—reading must be taught. The next frontier for reading research in deaf education is to understand how deaf readers map their knowledge of sign language onto print, and how instruction can best be used to turn signers into readers.