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Effects of differing sign languages and communication modes on the comprehension of stories by deaf students Stewart, David Alan


The purpose of this study was to examine comprehension by deaf students of stories presented in Signed English (SE) and American Sign Language (ASL), under three modal conditions manual-only, manual plus oral, and manual plus oral plus aural. It was predicted that: (1) an increase in comprehension would correspond to an increase in the number of modes used in presenting the stories; (2) ASL would be a more efficient method of communication than SE; (3) there would be an interaction effect between language and mode of presentation; and (4) in unbalanced bilinguals a translation to the dominant language would occur when a story was presented in the subordinate language. Thirty-six deaf subjects from the British Columbia provincial School for the Deaf participated in the study; their mean age was 16 years 7 months, and their average hearing threshold level in the better ear was 99.8 decibels with a range of 83 decibels to 113 decibels. All subjects had a minimum of five years. experience as students in total communication programs using SE. Three ghost stories (mean readability level = Grade 2.7) were videotaped under all modal conditions for each of the languages. In the experimental task, subjects were shown a different story under each of the three modal conditions; but each subject was given stories in only one language. After each viewing the subject's retelling was videotaped. Data analyses showed that: there was no significant treatment effect for mode of presentation; subjects reproduced stories presented in ASL better than SE stories; there was an interaction between language and modes, where adding speechreading to the manual-only modality led to higher comprehension scores in the SE presentations; and a majority of subjects retold ASL and SE stories in ASL. The results support ASL as being the more effective method of communication for signing deaf students who have extensive training in total communication and Signed English. It is suggested that total communication classes adopt an ASL-English bilingual program to enhance classroom communication and assist in the development of oral and aural skills, and that speech always accompany the use of SE. Suggestions were made for future research activities.

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