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Signed English is a tool:

The goal is communication not placating the insecurities of others.

On Wednesday, July 5, 2023 at 11:52:19 AM PDT, █████ ██████ <█████████> wrote:

Hello Dr. Vicars, my name is █████ and my grandson █████ was born with Down Syndrome. He struggles to talk. He tries but if you don't know him most of it is not understandable. He has used sign language since birth. (I try teaching him ASL but it's slow. I'm the only signer in the family since his mom passed 10 years ago)

Right now he is almost 15 and I am teaching him to read since he's not been taught in school. For reading purposes so he can show me and mostly teachers that he knows the words he's reading, I am using the English signs for example "am" "is" " T-H-E" etc (I myself grew up using SEE sign. Not proud of it but that's what I was taught at the age of seven years old).

I really don't like doing this and would prefer using strictly ASL, but feel it's almost necessary to know if he's actually reading and understanding the words or not. What are your thoughts on this?

Thank you,
█████ ██████



I'm a "total communication" sort of fellow.

Educators should know and use a wide, effective range of communication tools.

If you are discussing the weekend's activities then ASL is almost assuredly the most effective (for in-person visual-based communication).

When discussing English then a combination of ASL and occasional Signed English signs (tools really) can be effective in mapping to or clarifying specific English concepts.

I know ASL.  I also know quite a bit of Signed English.  I'm not embarrassed by knowing signed English any more than a master mechanic would be embarrassed by having a substantial toolbox that happens to include some tools that are only used for specific situations.

However it is problematic (or at least less effective) when someone tries to use the wrong tool (or the wrong communication approach) at the wrong time.

Also problematic is when the same tool is used for everything (particularly when a different tool is available and would be more effective for a specific situation).

Perhaps the worst problem though is when someone thinks that any particular tool is bad or wrong.

Tools aren't bad or wrong -- they are just (sometimes) misused.

I'm using written English right now. Not ASL. Oh NOOOOOOO!!!!  (LOL).

The reality is emails generally work well with typed English.

The reality is I'm bilingual.  (So are to some extent the vast majority of Deaf American adults.  It is a fact that the "written" language of the American Deaf community is "written or typed English" -- let's not pretend otherwise.)

The reality is I don't feel like switching to my work clothes, turning on my webcam, doing several recordings until I get a good one, compressing the file, trying to email it to you as an attachment and having it get dropped or blocked due to being over 25MB in size, blah, blah, blah.

In other words I'm using the right tool for the situation (typed English as an email response to someone who emailed me using typed English).

Children will be much better off if the adults in their lives focus on the goal of providing a language rich environment and using every tool possible to avoid language deprivation -- without throwing out any of the tools.  The goal of a language rich environment is best achieved by having access to a wide variety of tools and using the best tool for the each communication need. 

Yes, sure, focus on ASL for the vast majority of communication -- not because someone will criticize you if you don't but rather because it is the right tool for most everyday visual-based in-person communication. 

If some other tool is the most effective for some specific communication task then use the most effective tool!  Pointing, showing a picture on your phone, using Signed English, typing it out -- whatever is most effective.   That however is not an excuse for parents of Deaf children (and other visual communicators) to not learn ASL.  It rather is a call to learn ASL as a foundation and then expand one's communication toolbox from there. 

As far as inspiring your grandson to read -- find out what topic (or topics) HE is fascinated about -- then provide him with all types of literature related to that subject and chances are like magic he will spend gobs of time and effort reading and thus improve at it.

For me it was super heroes and comic books. I don't think it is an exaggeration to state that I graduated college thanks to Spider-Man.

What it will be for your grandson -- who knows?!? Maybe it is monster trucks?  Fishing?  Bugs?  Even if he doesn't get much past the basics there are endless possibilities with the potential for joy and bonding in the discovery process.

Warm regards,


William G. Vicars, EdD





Also see: Signed English is not the enemy...


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