Filipino Sign Language in classroom, anyone?

Recently, there has been some commotion surrounding the Department of Education’s so called ruling in using Signing Exact English as medium of instruction in classrooms for the deaf. It’s a good thing my highly respected mentor from way back early nineties at CAP College, Ma’am Rosalie Macaraig-Ricasa, a professor of Gallaudet University made a Facebook wall post at Deaf Open Line – PweDEAF last August 6. She stated that:

FSL can be used as a medium of instruction and communication in the classroom. It can be used, like all other natural sign languages, to teach another language.

Well, a week passed with ten likes and 26 responses later, the discussions were very informative. I’ll post some significant replies from her and some other responders including mine.

Jojo Esposa Jr.: Good day Ma’am Rosalie. Is there a standard ASL that is being recognized by the US government and used as a medium of instruction in classrooms?

Tekla Ricasa: None that I know of… there are ASL sign variations in different states but on the grammatical level they have similar structures… there are schools for the deaf that are using ASL and written/printed English as media of instruction and communication in the classroom and the results are promising… what we need to learn are effective teaching methods that deaf teachers have used to teach another language (like English) using their own natural sign language not the artificially invented SEE or Signed English, which is not a language but a manual system of representing English.

Jojo Esposa Jr.: Thanks for the reply. With promising results, can we say that using ASL/FSL and written/printed English is an effective way of teaching the deaf? Also, if we encourage the use of FSL in teaching, the Department of Education will definitely request for a standard system incorporating FSL which can be used for all deaf schools.

Tekla Ricasa: I believe so. I studied a deaf child of deaf parents who went to classrooms that used ASL and printed English. The child is in college now and performing at par with her hearing peers. You can google ASL/English bilingual programs (not SEE1, SEE2 or MCE) in the United States. There is already an FSL dictionary that PFD with Dr. Martinez has published. You can start with that. And the thing is even SEE1 (Seeing Essential Englis), SEE2 (Signing Exact English), Signed English or any other manually coded English is not standardized. And the problem is there is careless invention of signs in the name of SEE1, SEE2 and all other manually coded English. This does not only happen in the United States but even the Philippines or other countries who believe that SEE2 is good for learning English. Everyone is developing their own kind of Signed English. But the thing is you can learn English directly from print through mediation in ASL. Using a natural sign language like ASL or FSL to mediate printed English or another written language helps deaf children learn how to negotiate the reading process in those languages. To tell you the truth, I don’t know of any study that has researched the efficacy of SEE2 in learning English. Let me know if you have ready any. In fact the studies I have read shows that the more skilled a deaf child is in ASL, the better skill he or she has in English.

Jan Jan Lintag: In fact the studies I have read shows that the more skilled a deaf child is in ASL, the better skill he or she has in English.—i have observed that Deaf children of Deaf parents if not fluent in English they are generally better than their peers..because their basic language is ASL/FSL..Deaf children of hearing parents who does have not have any sign language communication with their parents are less skilled in English..does this indicate that having a basic language make us learn a 2nd and/or 3rd language easily?

Jojo Esposa Jr.: Can we also say that the more skilled a deaf child in FSL, the better they are in English? How is that so when a deaf child will only be exposed in FSL once he starts his schooling? I remember once I attended a forum with DepED and another one with NCDA under sub-committed on education, the DepEd people are leaning towards SEE because they often cite the success of SAID. They also point out that if we use sign language, we should adapt ASL due to globalization. Is there a counter-argument on this?

Tekla Ricasa: Yes that’s right, the more skilled a deaf child or any child for that matter is in his own natural language, the better he is able to learn a second language. It is one of the theories in second language learning. That is why deaf children need to be exposed to FSL even before schooling to deaf adults who have strong first language background. They are exposed to spoken Tagalog or English at home but do they really develop the language without intervention? The schools should hire deaf adults in the early years of schooling so a natural sign language of the deaf is established. I’m not sure what success DepEd is talking about because no study has been done about SEE and SAID students. Do you know of any well-established study about it? I know of one masteral paper done by Techie Dela Torre and Gina Resuello that compared FSL, SEE and gestures related to reading I think. You and I know that at the collegiate level, deaf students even those from SAID who we think are “successful” still greatly lag behind their hearing counterparts.

Tekla Ricasa: It’s sad to say that DepEd is still in that era where they think in terms of how hearing people learn a language. Even UN has recognized the right of deaf children to be educated in their own natural sign language, SEE is not a language. It is a secondary form of communication system. You need to be already well-versed in the spoken form of the English language to be able to successfully comprehend this system and express yourself in it. You only need to look at the majority of the written works of deaf students. There are deaf students who seem to be able to write “well” in English even then the kind of writing is idiosyncratic. With regards to adopting ASL in the Philippines, although it is the 4th most used language in the United States, I don’t know if it has been given a global language status. Where did they get that information? ASL and FSL are both natural languages. One is NOT better than the other. If you are going to train Filipino teachers in a natural language, why not FSL. Then you can teach written English through FSL. There is your global language, printed English. Here’s one article that explains the importance of ASL (again this is for the American Deaf community; you can replace ASL with other natural sign languages such as FSL).​ocuments/cummins_asl-eng.p​df

Jan Jan Lintag: sir Jojo what success are they talking about? i know majority of said graduate have the same English level as from other schools in manila..only a handful few can write passable English that i know of..globalization though asl? when i meet Deaf people abroad even through asl is our common language nobody wants to adapt it as their own unless they are Americans..SAID is just a dot in the Deaf population equation, how about those 3000 Deaf regional signs users in palawan who can only understand fsl, thousands of Deaf in bohol who uses regional signs again and understands only FSL etal..

Jan Jan Lintag: yes for it is their basic language..if a Deaf child learned and developed FSL early it would be easier for him to learn a 2nd language..for the basic grammatical structure is already there

Jojo Esposa Jr.: Thanks for the very informative responses. There’s another observation I want to share. It’s abt perceived FSL variations. I am more comfortable reverse interpreting FSL of deaf students from other schools except for one. However it might probably be due to contact signing. But this is also confirmed by my other colleagues. So if we present FSL to DepEd, should we first develop a standard unified one?

Weng Rivera: ‎Tekla Ricasa thank you maam for the comments, I also notify deaf child had own natural the language that how I realized…FSL we definitely to support PFD and Deaf community to advocate which we had recognized the right of deaf children to be educated in their own natural sign language.

Tekla Ricasa: There will always be variations in sign language just as there are variations in spoken languages, perceived or real. I don’t know that DepEd requires a standard version of anything because as I can remember when I was still there, each school uses their own version of SEE or Total Communication. On thing I remember, they made us do a book of supposedly Philippines signs but the thing is we were all hearing educators and NOT ONE deaf Filipino is present in that group so that book leaves very much to be desired. I was so ignorant at that time so we bought into this project. Developing a standard FSL will take a lot of time and resources and needs input from majority of Deaf Filipino adults because afterall it is their language. It should come a little bit later. There is a Filipino Sign Language dictionary that has been published by PFD through the leadership of Dr. Martinez. This has been researched and done by Deaf Filipinos themselves. Have you seen that? You can probably start with that. Why don’t educators of the deaf in the Philippines communicate with PFD and include them in this discussion?
Tekla Ricasa: the thing is FSL has never been used in the classroom… in the education of deaf filipinos but it has always been blamed for the failure of deaf children in school… come to think of it… deaf children who go to school spend almost their entire day in school and not even meet the deaf community till they all grow up


  1. I removed some posts that are only exchanges of pleasantries. 🙂
  2. Ma’am Rosalie’s FB name is Tekla Ricasa. I encourage you to add her as a friend. She’s very much well respected in this field and is truly awe inspiring!
  3. Mr. Jan Jan Lintag studied at DLS-College of St. Benilde. I believe he is deaf.
  4. Ms. Weng Rivera is deaf and a strong women’s rights advocate being the current president of Filipino Deaf Women’s Health and Crisis Center.
  5. SEE stands for Signing Exact English.
  6. SAID is Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf.
  7. DepED stands for Department of Education.

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