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In an article published by the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, a research study that investigated phonological activation during visual word recognition was presented. The study looked at both Deaf and hearing children to determine whether there was a significant difference between the two groups of students. The Deaf students that were recruited as participants were all bilingually educated in sign language and an oral/written language. The majority of the students that participated were fifth graders from several deaf education schools in the Netherlands; 30 deaf children, 25 hearing children in fifth grade, and 12 hearing children in third grade.
The study used a word-picture paradigm using pseudohomophones which indicated phonological activation for visual word recognition. The researchers who conducted this study ran two different experiments to examine phonological activation. In the first experiment, children were shown an image that either had a correct word that corresponded to the picture, a pseudohomophone of a word that corresponded to the picture, and a nonword that did not match the picture.
The children were asked to identify which images were accompanied by a corresponding word and were measured on reaction time and accuracy. Results of this initial experiment showed that hearing children had a significantly slower reaction time and less accuracy which demonstrated that phonology activation hindered performance on this task. This was different among the deaf students, who did not demonstrate significant differences in reaction time or accuracy. The deaf students were not affected by the need for ponological activation to complete the task.
In the second experiment, students were told what a pseudohomophone is and were told that they had to identify whether the sound of the word shown and the picture presented referred to the same thing. The children were once again measured on reaction time and accuracy. Results of this experiment showed that hearing children had a quick reaction time and were able to accurately respond because of phonologically coding the information as instructed. On the contrary, deaf children often rely more on the spelling of the word, not the sound, to make the connection and therefore had more difficulty and slower reaction times. General conclusions from the study showed that hearing students rely heavily on phonological activation to process words whereas deaf students do not. Since phonological coding is very important to word recognition, researchers concluded that deaf students are at a disadvantage for visual word recognition.
This article outlined an important aspect of language acquisition and understanding and illustrated the disparities between hearing and deaf children. The research conducted offered a new perspective to an area that has been researched before by adding dimensions of pseudohomophones and an image to determine the level of phonological activation used to correctly identify word/image matches and mismatches. It was interesting that the deaf students were bilingual, however, since the tasks were both associated with phonology, it seems that the task automatically put deaf students at a disadvantage.
In a different article about phonological awareness in the Sign Language Studies journal, researchers evaluated bilingual deaf students’ phonological awareness of structures in American Sign Language (ASL), the relationship between American Sign Language Phonological Awareness (ASL-PA) and written English/reading comprehension, and whether age and reading ability would affect performance on an ASL-PA task. For this study, background measures were collected by the researchers for each of the fifty participants. The background measures collected included an ASL proficiency test and a background questionnaire, The Reading Comprehension Subtest of the Revised/Normative Update of the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT-R/NU), and Word Identification test from the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test-Revised/Normative Update (WRMT-R/NU. The measure that was being focused on during the study was the ASL-PA assessment. Each student completed the measures individually in a private room free from distractions. The study aimed to look at ASL-PA in deaf students who were bilingual with ASL as their first language and written English as their second. Results from the study showed that there were significant relationships in phonological awareness in deaf students for both their first and second languages. The study demonstrated that students who had better phonological awareness in ASL performed better on word recognition and reading comprehension tasks in their second language. Additionally, the research noted that there were effects that came from both age and reading level. Overall, the study concluded that there is evidence to show that phonological awareness in ASL could be integral in language development and education for deaf children.
This article illustrated that deaf students can still perform well on tasks in their second language. The research conducted offered a good starting point for further research in how phonological awareness and understanding of ASL can further improve a deaf child’s language development and performance.
Both articles looked at bilingual deaf children, which was interesting since the studies took place in different countries. However, there was a noticeable difference between the articles. The article published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research focused more heavily on the aspects of phonology that deaf children lacked in whereas in the study published in the Sign Language Studies journal focused on all that a deaf student could do and how phonological awareness and understanding can help them grow in a second language. It was interesting that there is a disparity between the way different journals address similar topics. It was interesting that phonological awareness and activation plays such a critical role in language acquisition, word recognition, and reading comprehension. It seems to be an aspect of language that is often taken for granted, specifically by hearing people. The ability to hear and sound out words allows hearing people to identify differences in words more quickly at times. However, the role of phonological understanding of a signed language is extremely important, especially for deaf students who are being educated bilingually. In conclusion, both journals addressed a prevalent aspect of language that may have disparities between deaf and hearing students, but ultimately revealed the importance of phonology in any language.
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