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Teaching and Learning Sign Language as a “Foreign” Language

Timothy Reagan


In recent years, there has been a growing debate in the United States, Europe, and Australia about the nature of the Deaf community as a cultural community,1 and the recognition of signed languages as “real” or “legitimate” languages comparable in all meaningful ways to spoken languages. An important element of this debate has been the question of the status of signed languages as potential “foreign” languages in educational contexts and settings. In my presentation today, I would like to try to address a number of common confusions that characterise much of the debate about the status of sign language as a foreign language option. While, to the best of my knowledge, this is a debate that has not yet directly impacted foreign language educators in South Africa, it is one that is very likely to do so in the near future, and so my goal is really to provide a sort of advanced warning of an important educational controversy that is, or at the very least may be, just around the corner.

(Journal for Language Teaching: 2002 36(3-4): 175-205)