Bilingual–bicultural or BiBi education programs use sign language as the native, or first, language of deaf children. In the United States, for example, American Sign Language (ASL) is the natural first language for deaf children. The spoken or written language used by the majority of the population is viewed as a secondary language to be acquired either after or at the same time as the native language. In BiBi education, sign language is the primary method of instruction. The bicultural aspect of BiBi education emphasizes the study of Deaf culture and strives to create confidence in deaf students by exposing them to the Deaf community.
Various studies have found a correlation between ASL skill level and English literacy or reading comprehension. The most plausible explanation for this is that ASL skill level predicts English literacy level. Having a basis of American Sign Language can benefit the acquisition of the English language. In fact, bilingual children show more development in cognitive, linguistic, and meta-linguistic processes than their monolingual peers.
36% to 40% of residential and day schools for deaf students in the US report using BiBi education programs.
Famous examples of schools utilizing the BiBi method in the US include, The Learning Center for the Deaf, Massachusetts; California School for the Deaf, Fremont; Maryland School for the Deaf; and Indiana School for the Deaf.
Bilingual–bicultural education is based on Cummins' Model of Linguistic Interdependence. In 1976, James Cummins predicted that proficiency in a first language would correlate to competence in a second language because a single cognitive process underlies language acquisition for both languages. After decades of using the oral method of education, some advocates sought a new method for teaching deaf students. Many schools then began to use systems of Manually Coded English (MCE) in an attempt to develop English in deaf students. After the perceived failure of Manually Coded English systems, some educators began using the bilingual–bicultural model.
International bilingual–bicultural education
Sweden and Denmark are two countries known for their bilingual–bicultural education of deaf children. Sweden passed a law in 1981 that mandated bilingualism as a goal of deaf education. Denmark recognized sign language as an equal language and espoused sign language as the primary method of instruction in schools for the deaf in 1991.
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- LaSasso, Carol; Jana Lollis (Winter 2003). "Survey of Residential and Day Schools for Deaf Students in the United States That Identify Themselves as Bilingual–Bicultural Programs". Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 8 (1): 79–88.
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