Areas of Study

Release of Bilingual Stories

“Gallaudet University’s National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) is pleased to announce the release of a collection of five bilingual storybook apps at a discount price.

The bundle is available on the Apple iTunes store and includes The Baobab, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Blue Lobster, The Solar System, and VL2’s newest app The Little Airplane That Could.

The Little Airplane That Could, released in November, is an adaptation of a classic children’s story told in American Sign Language (ASL) through richly detailed illustrations. The story follows two dogs who are scheduled to give a show on the other side of a mountain, reachable only by taking an airplane over the peak. However, the flight is cancelled, and the dogs must find a way to get to their show on time.

This app is set apart from the four earlier apps by its increased use of personification, a formal grammatical device common to all world languages but presented in uniquely and visually rich ways found only in a visual signed language.

In English, personification is a literary technique that gives characters, plants, animals, and inanimate objects humanlike characteristics. In ASL, personification also exists and is conveyed through person and object referencing with role shifting. The ASL storyteller uses linguistically governed eye, head, and body movements to adopt personas and to become various characters and objects, bringing them to life in exceptionally visually detailed ways. The inclusion of personification and role-shifting in ASL catapults young readers’ engagement with visual imagery, which in turn increases story encoding, memory and recall, story comprehension, and the ability to analyze relations among complex story elements and characters.

All VL2 storybook apps offer young visual learners unique and interactive reading experiences in which animated illustrations and English text complement videos of a storyteller using ASL. Interactive features bring children from individual English words to ASL videos of corresponding signs as well as spoken English glossaries. The apps are produced by the center’s award-winning team housed in the Motion Light Lab (ML2), led by Melissa Malzkuhn, ’04 G-’08, VL2’s Digital Innovation & Media Strategies Manager.

The other apps are offered as part of the bundle ($14.99, a 30% discount) or individually ($2.99-$4.99) on iTunes:

  • The Baobab is an original story about a curious little girl who embarks on an adventure. Features a rich ASL glossary with 170 English to ASL words. The Baobab ;received a Device 2014 award from the European Union’s Lifelong Learning Programme. (Ages 5 and older)
  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf adapts the classic Aesop’s fable and brings it to life in a wholly new medium. Accompanied by detailed paintings by a deaf Canadian artist that evoke an older historical period and more than 140 signed and English vocabulary words. (Ages 5 and older) ;
  • The Blue Lobster, which continues the adventures of the girl in The Baobab, is for emerging readers. It includes extra features that enhance parent-child interactions as well as stunning watercolor illustrations by VL2 artist-in-residence Yiqiao Wang. (Ages 3 and older)
  • The Solar System takes children on an educational journey of the sun, eight planets, and moons and is full of scientific facts, beautiful art by Wang, and a large ASL-English glossary that incorporates fingerspelling, signs, and expanded definitions in ASL. (Ages 7 and older)

All five apps are available individually for the Android platform through Google Play.

The storybook apps are built on findings from extensive scientific research on hearing and deaf bilinguals.

“Research has proven that early exposure to bilingualism enhances cognitive, linguistic, academic and psychosocial development, which leads to greater literacy skills in both languages,” said Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, co-principal investigator and science director of VL2. “Children who are bilingual have many cognitive and linguistic advantages over children who use one language, and these advantages exist whether the child is using a spoken or signed language.”  

“Children exposed early in life to bilingual texts become stronger readers than monolingual readers,” Dr. Petitto said. “Moreover, language and literacy are intertwined and stories need to be engaging. The rich bilingual storytelling, vivid illustrations, and the storylines will keep children entertained as they expand their reading skills.”

This material is based on research supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number SBE-1041725. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) is a Science of Learning Center in the United States, funded by the National Science Foundation and Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. VL2 comprises four resource hubs focusing on the optimal learning and neural foundations of the growing bilingual child, reading and literacy, two-way communication among science and public educators and policymakers, and the science-based creation of translational products for the betterment of young children’s learning and academic success. Each hub serves as a fundamental national and international knowledge resource. VL2 seeks to understand how learning through visual processes, visual language, and visually based social experience contributes to the development of language, reading, and literacy in ways that provide cognitive and linguistic advantages to all young children, especially young deaf visual learners. We seek this knowledge for the benefit of all humans.

Motion Light Lab (ML2) is one of VL2’s four resource hubs and is an interdisciplinary lab that brings together people from different disciplines, including motion capture and computer science, neuroscience, art, Deaf Culture, and multimedia design to create new knowledge and discoveries. ML2’s projects combine creative literature with digital technology and aim to explore bilingual interfaces through visual narratives for a learning experience.

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

Published on December 17, 2015

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