Archive for September, 2016

  • CSD Creative
    Russian team visits CSD office in Austin

    Russia Team Visits CSD: Days Two and Three (Sept. 28 – 29, 2016)

    - by Bobby Siebert

    By Bobby Siebert

    We began day two with a video call to Alexei Svetlov, the Russian-born deaf artist responsible for creating original artwork for our storybook, ‘The Giant Turnip,’ based on original Russian folklore. Alexei remembers reading ‘The Giant Turnip’ as a child, and it holds a special place in his heart. He is an accomplished artist, and we are honored to have him contributing his art to our project.

    Next, we wrapped up the workshops and presentations by our VL2 partners, Dr. Melissa Herzig and Melissa Malzkuhn. Yesterday, the VL2 Storybook Creator looked daunting—a wall of code can do that to you. Fortunately, we had the talented and steady hand of Melissa Malzkuhn to guide us through, and the program proved to be much simpler than it looks. The majority of the Storybook app is ‘pre-coded,’ with most of the essential structure of the app—the framework—already built, leaving us to fill in preset gaps with new text and files of our videos and images. In a way, the Creator program is essentially a more modern, technological version of ‘paint-by-numbers.’ Before we knew it, we were adding new pages, putting in our own text, inserting sentence videos and glossary word videos.

    Russian Actress practicing her lines in front of Camera

    Russian signer Vera Shamaeva practices her lines for ‘The Giant Turnip’ as videographer Toj Mora looks on

    We bid our VL2 partners farewell after lunch, and then dove into the actual filming of the storybook! For the last half of day two and most of day three, we worked in the studio, filming the RSL/Russian version of the original Russian folklore story, ‘The Giant Turnip.’ Considering that we were working off a Russian/English script and conversing in a mish-mash of Russian Sign Language, American Sign Language, and International Sign, the effectiveness of our communication was remarkable. In one and a half days, we completed filming the Watch and Read modes of the storybook, all 18 pages of it.

    Tomorrow, we’ll work on the ‘Learn’ mode of the storybook—we have over 75 Russian vocabulary words to film. We can’t wait to share the storybooks with you!

  • CSD Neighborhood
    A group of people meet in a conference room

    Russia Team Visits CSD: Day One (Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016)

    - by Bobby Siebert

    By Bobby Siebert

    The RAP4CL team looks on as Dr. Herzig presents on the cognitive benefits of bilingual education.

    For the first day of our Russian partners’ U.S. visit, we took a tour of the CSD headquarters where they got the chance to meet our majority-deaf admin staff, and then settled in the Benjamin J. Soukup conference room to begin a workshop by our Visual Language and Visual Learning Center (VL2) partners from Gallaudet University, Dr. Melissa Herzig and Melissa Malzkuhn. With the support of enthusiastic interpreters, we proceeded for a full day of information and knowledge exchange via four languages—American Sign Language (ASL), Russian Sign Language (RSL), English, and Russian.

    The RAP4CL team engages in a discussion during the tour of CSD office.

    The RAP4CL team engages in a discussion during the tour of CSD office.

    Citing research from Dr. Laura Ann Petitto, neuroscientist and scientific director of VL2, Dr. Herzig explained that visual phonology (ASL) and sound phonology (spoken English) activate the identical brain tissue, meaning that the brain acquires language through patterns, which can be found in both signed and spoken languages.

    For deaf and hearing children alike, early language exposure plays a crucial role in language development, leading to better eye gaze and joint attention, stronger vocabulary, and literacy development. Milestones for a child to acquire language, marking the appropriate age for children to begin babbling and express certain amounts of words, were found to be the same for ASL and spoken English. Contrary to popular belief, early bilingual exposure does not hinder the development of speech, and Dr. Herzig emphasized the importance of exposure to sign language at an early age. In one study, deaf signers who acquired ASL early were able to read complex English sentences more quickly and respond to associated questions more accurately than those who acquired ASL later in life.

    Dr. Herzig also presented various approaches in using sign language to improve literacy skills and bridging both languages, ASL and English. Studies show fingerspelling skills positively correlate with stronger reading skills. Fingerspelling, reading, and writing are interrelated, and early exposure to fingerspelling helps children become better readers. To help build the connections between signed words and fingerspelled words, one can point at an object, a person and printed words and then fingerspelling its name. This will support a child’s literacy development.

    Dr. Herzig leading her presentation on bilingual education. In the foreground, interpreter Inna Giterman translates into RSL.

    Dr. Herzig leading her presentation on bilingual education. In the foreground, interpreter Inna Giterman translates into RSL.

    The VL2 Storybook App was built on this wealth of research knowledge. It has three modes: Watch, Read, and Learn. In the Watch mode, the entire story is presented via ASL. In Read mode children can watch ASL videos and read English, for a self-directed reading experience supplemented by visuals—if a child does not know a certain word, they can touch that word and a video in a box pops up, signing and fingerspelling that word. And then in the Learn mode, children build up their vocabulary through a glossary of words that are presented via chaining method, in which the word is signed, fingerspelled, and then signed again.

    To wrap up the day, we began learning how to use VL2’s Creator program, which provides a convenient platform to create new bilingual and visual storybooks. VL2’s Storybook library currently includes Norwegian and Japanese books in addition to ASL books, and we can’t wait to add Russian books to their virtual shelf. The Creator program looked complicated with its lines of code, but Melissa Malzkuhn showed us how we could alter it to create a customized book of our own.

    “Combining visual stories and the touch screen tablet—a revolutionary learning tool— we can make magic,” Malzkuhn said.

    With day one wrapped up, we look forward to learning more about the Creator app and start filming our Russian signer in the studio in day two!

    Melissa Malzkuhn explains the VL2 Storybook Apps.

    Melissa Malzkuhn explains the VL2 Storybook Apps.

  • CSD Neighborhood
    VL2 Storybook Apps

    CSD Proudly Announces the Russian-American Project for Children’s Literacy

    - by Alex Karamanova

    By Alex Karamanova

    Communication Service for the Deaf is pleased to announce our newest international partnership initiative, the Russian-American Partnership for Children’s Literacy (RAP4CL). A CSD Neighborhood Project, RAP4CL will highlight the importance of language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing children in the United States and Russia through the collaborative development and deployment of innovative educational resources in both countries. We’re excited to welcome our Russian partners, Ya Tebya Slyshu, a St. Petersburg-based non-profit organization that provide resources, support and advocacy for deaf and hard of hearing children and their families to kick-off the partnership this week. We’re also proud to partner with Melissa Malzkuhn and Dr. Melissa Herzig of the Visual Language and Visual Learning Center (VL2), an NSF-funded Science of Learning center on this initiative.

    Phase one of RAP4CL will focus on the development of four visual storybooks created with VL2’s Storybook Creator program (learn more about these storybooks at The project will create an all new original storybook after a popular Russian children’s story ‘The Giant Turnip,’ with two versions planned: Russian Sign Language (RSL)/written Russian and American Sign Language (ASL)/written English. Deaf Russian artist Alexei Svetlov is creating original artwork for the Giant Turnip storybook. The remaining two storybooks will be RSL/written Russian translations of existing VL2 Storybooks ‘Baobab’ and ‘Blue Lobster.’

    During Ya Tebya Slyshu’s visit to Austin, they will participate in presentations and workshops conducted by Ms. Malzkuhn and Dr. Herzig on early language exposure and its impact on the development of brain, language and cognitive development, and training on the use of the VL2 Storybook Creator program to develop visual storybooks. Together, our team will shoot film for the first storybook, the RSL/Russian version of The Giant Turnip. This November, our U.S. team will travel to St. Petersburg and Moscow for a second site visit to participate in presentations and roundtable discussions on the state of bilingual education in the United States and Russia. At the Russian team’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, a videographer from CSD’s Creative team will lead a hands-on training that will establish a Russian-based creative studio focused on the continued development of bilingual education resources to encourage language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing children throughout Russia. Our long term vision for this initiative is to empower the broad development of high quality bilingual education resources and spark interest and recognition of the critical importance of early language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing children in both the U.S. and Russia.

    You can follow RAP4CL project activities on CSD’s social media and on our RAP4CL blog.

    This project is funded by the US-Russian Social Expertise Exchange program under the Eurasia Foundation.