Teaching English for the Deaf from the Eyes of a Hearing Priest

I got hold of this highly informative and easy-to-understand explanation about teaching English to the Deaf from one of our respected authorities in the Filino Deaf world, Father Peter Miles, who is incidentally one of the founders and core group members of the recently established Philippine National Sign Language Interpreters Association of the Philippines (PNASLI).

He posted this the Yahoo Groups Forum for Filipino Persons With Disabilities when he replied to one of the queries about deaf education. He also included some suggestions on how we can use Bi-lingual and Bi-cultural Approach in teaching the deaf. He allowed me to post it here (bolds and italics are mine). Thanks Fr. Peter! To all those FSL skeptics out there, please read this and enjoy! 🙂

Filipino Sign Language Font
Filipino Sign Language Font


Sorry for the lateness of this response. I was trying to figure out how to answer you as clearly as possible with this issue at hand. Alnoe already gave plenty of points and insights that are very much helpful as well as to consider. Anyway, for those who have been in Deaf Education for quite some time, one would know that the issue of teaching and learning of English for Deaf students has been a perennial problem. Teaching English to deaf and hard of hearing students can be very challenging and sometimes frustrating. Professionals in the field understand that English is a very difficult language to learn, even for those of us that receive it auditorily as our first language (which come to think of it, English is even not our first language, since we ourselves have to struggle learning English together with Filipino and other local language and dialect). Anyway, here are some consideration and some basic premises concerning the Deaf, their language and education.

1. 1. Deaf People are “EYE” People. It is a fact that Sign Language is the language of the Deaf people and in our context it is called Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Sign language as a true language is entirely separate from spoken languages with its own grammar, syntax and so on and is considered as a Visual-Gestural Language. Sign Language is not English and nor it is a visual form of English. Therefore English (or any spoken language for that matter) is not a Deaf person’s mother tongue/native language.

2. 2. We have to accept that literacy is altered by deafness and the variables therein include: level of deafness, diagnosis, intervention, use of aided hearing, lip-reading, educational experience and family language. Here I suggest we can separate Speech and Language acquisition – for me speech is not language in the sense that speech can be repeated without language being established. Oral and Aural habilitation is another topic which we don’t want to enter into and don’t really concern us.

3. 3. The method in teaching the Deaf in the Philippines according to DepEd policy is Total Communication. Total Com is a variety of sign systems which may used – Signed English, FSL, PSL, PSE (Pidgin Signed English), ASL (American Sign Language), a combination of signed communication modes, speech and sign language used simultaneously, cued speech, etc. English is learned through auditory and visual exposure.

4. 4. However, the reality in our SpEd Center is that they only use Signing Exact English (SEE) almost all throughout the archipelago in the modified Basic Education Curriculum for the Deaf.

5. 5. Do take note: SEE is NOT A LANGUAGE, rather it is English (whether spoken or written) being sign according to the English grammar and syntax. SEE is an artificial language, manually. It is a code for the English language. It was developed in the 70s with the intention to help strengthen English language skills. The usefulness of SEE and its interaction with ASL (or FSL) was discussed already by Alnoe.

One of the issues presented in teaching English with the Deaf is that in using SEE, the teacher already assumes that the Deaf knows English and this becomes the problem since in the first place SEE is English in SIGNS. Moreover, SEE as manually coded English is very hard to understand by the Deaf who are in the first place are “eye” people.

Deaf people in S.E.E. cannot “see” English. English is alien to the development of a profoundly deaf person’s cognitive processes as it’s based upon auditory and oral elements. English which we were taught and learned orally is alien and is slow in the learning process for the Deaf and therefore for a Deaf to learn it; there should be a visual modality that matches perfectly the absence of hearing. In the Philippines where English is a Lingua Franca, English is an associate language, which surrounds the Deaf but in reality is not always accessible to them. Deaf Adults often ask why English was not explained to them via sign.

With the Bilingual-Bicultural methodology in teaching the Deaf, it emphasizes the use of FSL (Filipino Sign Language) as the language of instruction alongside with using English as a second language (print).

As Alnoe wrote “This is how it is signed (ASL), and this is how it is written (SEE).” However, in the Philippine set-up there is little or no recognition at all of Deaf people’s bilingual status. They are still seen as monolingual in the majority language. Given that many deaf people develop their bilingual competence despite, rather than because of, the monolingual attitudes of the educators, we need also to recognize that some Deaf people will struggle with the lack of fully developed linguistic skills in both majority and minority languages.

Many Deaf in the community themselves cannot distinguish FSL from English as well as SEE to English (monolingual attitude). They thought that FSL and English are structurally alike making them write what they sign.

I’ll give you an example of a Deaf writing me a note that says:

Jeanette and Robert for win pop for gum!” in English, it really doesn’t make sense, but if you sign it, it says: “Jeanette and Robert won in the blowing of gum.” which in plain English would be: J and R won the bubble gum blowing contest.”

Another important issue you should know is that though FSL is widely used by the Deaf community all throughout the country; FSL is not recognized still by the government as the official language of the Deaf therefore having no legal basis to use it in formal education. This is our advocacy that FSL should be recognized officially as the Language of the Filipino Deaf. Without this we can’t change policy in formal education as well as other areas where FSL is needed (e.g. news interpreting). Moreover many teachers in our SpEd Centers are not aware of FSL nor are they trained of it. The Philippine Deaf Resource Center (PDRC) is working on the linguistic research of FSL but the whole linguistic research thing is not yet finished.

So granting the Bi-Bi method may be an effective tool in teaching English with the deaf with S.E.E. as support; here are some possible ventures we would like to go into:

1 – The “pilot” class of the Deaf with bi-bi method as suggested by Alnoe is a great idea. But there are things to consider and questions to be asked: Do you have Bi-Bi modules in teaching basic education for the Deaf? Do you have teachers competent in FSL and know the Bi-Bi method? If this “pilot” class be done in a private school, then DepEd policy and curriculum may not pose a problem but with our public schools, I don’t think you can convince even the Regional Director on this because of the non existence of the legal basis for using FSL.

Most of the SpEd Division Superintendent and Supervisors are sell out to total communication and S.E.E. and don’t even have the faintest idea what FSL is (this is monolingual view of DepEd).

2. Another possible thing you do is create a modular course English like a “Remedial English Course” or Standard English Proficiency Course with the Bilingual-Bicultural methodology in teaching the Deaf, emphasizing the use of FSL (Filipino Sign Language) as the language of instruction alongside with using English as a target language (print) and S.E.E. as support tool to strengthen it. It would be the same way how we are teaching English to Koreans and Japanese here in Cebu, which is English as a foreign language. That way, you can make a module and hire English teachers and train them in FSL so as they can teach and explain English in signs with emphasis on comprehension, grammar and writing. The target Deaf would be high school and college graduates. There are plenty of available Standardize English Proficiency Test than can be use as test measurements like TOEFL, the University of Cambridge ESOL Exam or the Michigan Exam. In this way the Deaf may have a certificated of English proficiency Certificate like other foreign students have. I think TESDA have plenty of English Approved modules for teaching English to foreign student, we can have that and modify the method to Bi-Bi….

So far that’s what I can think of now from all the discussions from all the input. I thing certain, unless legal basis for FSL is established it would be hard to change DepEd policy concerning Deaf Education.

Let me know what you think!


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