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Leveraging the bilingual advantage

January 21, 2010
Arrow Buff


Since 1864, Gallaudet has operated as a bilingual university by default. A mission adopted in 2007, and a vision statement approved by the trustees last year, has made bilingualism intentional. From that intention grew the theme of the January 12 Faculty Development Day, “From Mission to Method: The Bilingual Advantage.”

The day kicked off in the Kellogg Conference Hotel with a speaker from a linguistically rich academic environment. Dr. Ronice Müller de Quadros, a professor at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Brazil (UFSC) and a child of deaf parents, teaches and conducts research on a campus where ideas find expression in multiple modes, including Portuguese, Brazilian Sign Language, and English.

The first debate brought up in the keynote address was the myths surrounding bilingualism. About this, Brazilians rarely disagree because multilingualism is a way of life. However, in other areas, misconceptions persist.

Rather than inhibit individuals’ development, de Quadros explained, research shows that bilingualism packs many rewards. Multilingual people, including the children of deaf adults who use both spoken and signed languages, exhibit improved alacrity in certain skills, like the ability to focus on tasks.

This, said Gallaudet’s Coordinator of Bilingual Teaching and Learning, Dr. Dirksen Bauman, was the raison d’être of the pre-semester gathering.

“Bilingual individuals enjoy a greater ‘metalinguistic awareness’ than monolinguals,” Bauman acknowledged. “By being able to compare and contrast their two languages, they are well equipped to understand the ways that languages work–from their grammatical structure to their usage in a variety of situations.  In this regard, de Quadros pointed out, bilingualism is a value added dimension to education.”

At USFC, all applicants must show familiarity with a second language, no matter whether they are deaf or hearing. Students may request signed versions of application materials and exams, and Müller de Quadros has assisted with efforts to improve both content translation and academic sign language. The resulting environment is integrated and inclusive, and poised to reap the benefits of bilingualism.

Bringing multiple linguistic backgrounds into the mix has not always proven easy, de Quadros admitted, but her program has benefitted from the challenges. “It’s through negotiation and intention that we begin to understand the positive attributes of both languages,” she said.  “…It’s important for all of these people to come together to a single environment to learn, and important that this discussion continues through time.”

De Quadros’ address segued into a presentation by two of Gallaudet’s own. In “From Mission to Method: Supporting ASL/English Teaching and Learning,” Dr. Laurene Simms, a professor in the Department of Education, and Dr. Stephen Nover, director of the Language Planning Institute and the Center for ASL/English Bilingual Education and Research, discussed specific strategies for leveraging the bilingual advantage in the classroom. 

That afternoon, participants left the auditorium for the more casual atmosphere of “Ole Jim.” In that historic alumni house environment, they discussed the meaning and implementation of Gallaudet’s ASL/English legacy in the classroom. That opportunity for dialogue and discourse was the first of several discussions.

“Faculty must engage in consistent training, education, and critical discourse about the theory and the methods of education in a classroom where two languages are used,” Bauman said. To this end, the Office of Bilingual Teaching and Learning has planned discussions on alternating Friday afternoons through February, March, and April, to be held on the second floor of the James Lee Sorenson Language and Communication Center.

 In between, the campus community can access the office’s newly-launched website, The site contains information and resources for faculty and staff, as well as for undergraduate and graduate students. They can also be on the lookout for ongoing workshops, dialogues, and discussions on realizing Gallaudet’s bilingual mission, and forming a center for bilingual teaching and learning.

21 January 2010


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