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The Case For Bilingual Deaf Children - UConn

Deaf News: UConn researchers want to understand the science behind how early access to language affects learning in Deaf and Hearing children.

MANSFIELD, CT -- UConn Today: Marie Coppola and a number of other researchers at UConn want to understand the science behind how early access to language affects learning in Deaf and Hearing children. Deaf children are just as intellectually capable as hearing children – but if they do not have early access to language and communication, that intellectual capacity can quickly erode.

Eight-year-old Marie Coppola could hear the dial tone on the other end of the phone. Second ring … third ring. She was a little clammy, but not as nervous as the first few times she’d picked up and dialed on this sunny Philadelphia afternoon.

A middle-aged woman’s voice answered. “Hello?”

“Hello,” Coppola said, affecting what she thought was a deep, confident tone. “I’m calling about your ad in the Inquirer for cleaning services.”

The woman was not fooled. “Excuse me?” she began testily.

“It’s for my mother,” Coppola rushed on. “She’s deaf, but she is highly qualified and can provide references. If you’d like to meet her, I can arrange it. She’s available any afternoon this week …”

Amy Coppola, standing with a hand on her daughter’s shoulder, looked on. Her daughter trailed off, eyebrows furrowed. She tried a few more cajoling words, but finally mumbled, “Okay, thank you,” and hung up.

Her mother didn’t need to ask. “Better luck next time?” she signed.

“Yes,” signed Marie. She trudged across the room, disgruntled.

“I’m going to my room. I’ll be back for dinner,” she signed – in the Deaf custom of telling people where you’re going when you leave, and when you’ll be back – before disappearing down the hall.

Forty years later, Marie Coppola, now assistant professor of psychological sciences and linguistics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is still disgruntled. Even today, amid a surge of technology that promises to give Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people access to sound, Coppola says Deaf people, along with their language and their culture, are not being heard.

Coppola was recently awarded a $1.2 million National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, one of the largest in the program’s history, to study the impact of early language experiences – whether spoken or signed – on how children learn. She hopes her work will help people better understand that sign language is just as worthy as spoken language... Read Full Article.
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