When I started in this field (in the age of the Dinosaur) the viewpoint was that we should tell bilingual parents that they needed to talk to their children with hearing loss in English because they would be going to schools which used English. In retrospect I cannot imagine what we were thinking.
Parents were being asked to speak to their children in a language in which they were not comfortable. How complex a language could they be expected to use? From my experiences trying to learn Italian I can say that unless they were significantly better language learners than I am, the language they were going to be speaking to their children would not be complex.
We want children with hearing loss, like all other children, to have to a rich, complex language exposure.
Somewhere in the 90’s the literature on language learning for bilingual children made it clear that families need to talk to their children in the language in which they are most comfortable. Eventually they would learn English but they would be learning it coming from a good language basis.
What about for children with hearing loss?
Until now, there has been no research on language learning for children with hearing loss coming from a non-English speaking home. A new study from Vanderbilt University let by Jena C. McDaniel, found that bilingual children with hearing loss learned new vocabulary better when taught using bilingual instruction. The researchers, Ana Soares, a teacher of the deaf and Andrea Vargas, a speech-language pathologist at Mama Lere Hearing School realized that children from bilingual families were having more difficulty learning new vocabulary than children from monolingual homes. The study evaluated teaching new vocabulary using monolingual and bilingual methods.
The study involved giving alternating bilingual and monolingual language instruction to 3 Spanish-English speaking children with hearing loss. They determined that the children sowed more effective word learning when they received instruction in both languages.
This confirms studies on children with typical hearing and language learning. In addition, it allows families who use Spanish (or any other language) at home to continue to be involved with culture and with family members who are primarily Spanish speaking. This also helps families learn new words and expand their use of English. Further research is planned.