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De-Sign (German/Sign) Bilingual: Development and documentation of sign-bilingual good practice in schools

Background and aims

In Europe, little has been done to pool knowledge of where and how the national sign language is used for bilingual teaching; there is also no overview of the formats applied in bilingual-bimodal education. There is therefore an urgent need to support educators in bilingual situations.


A strategic partnership was set up through Erasmus+, bringing together five specialised schools and four universities.

The aims and work packages are as follows:

  • To develop and apply bilingual series and materials for teaching purposes;
  • To facilitate and sustainably strengthen cross-regional and cross-border cooperation between key individuals in sign-bilingual education;
  • To make local knowledge and skills available nationally and internationally;
  • To map sign-bilingual models for sign language education across Europe;To discover and document the most innovative best practice models in Europe and make them accessible to educators;
  • To create tools for sustainably improving the quality of bilingual teaching;
  • To initiate systematic cross-border knowledge transfer in the field of European sign language education by means of the first-ever publication;
  • To organise a final conference open to the public on “Creating Sign Bilingual Best Practice in Schools”.

More details at


A quantitative survey of all European countries was coducted in order to generate the map. This survey was led by HfH.

To identify good practice models, a qualitative survey, based on interviews took place in selected schools already offering high-quality bilingual education. The surveys was used to derive factors that encourage and discourage the implementation of bilingual education.


A map to visualise the current status of bilingual education in Europe and a manual for schools to support the implementation of bilingual models were developed. Furthermore political recommendations were formulated.


Main results are:

  1. Sign bilingual education is alive! In this study, 39 European countries were examined. In all of them the national sign language plays a role in schools. In 80% of the countries children with hearing impairments have the option of learning a sign language in schools. However, access to such programmes is mostly limited to special schools and to a few regions.
  2. Legal basis is prerequisite to establishing and securing sign bilingual education. It entails the legal recognition of the national sign language(s), the right to bilingual education, bilingual curricula and sign language as a subject in schools. While there is a great diversity of such laws in place, but close to 60% of the 39 European countries do not yet have legal foundations for sign bilingual education that are available nationwide.
  3. Qualified educators and deaf teachers are key to a good implementation of sign bilingual education. But only 25% of the countries provide necessary initial and continuing teacher training programmes.
  4. Both languages (national sign language and spoken/written language) have to be set in the lesson plan, i.e. be taught as a school subject. Both languages must be present in school and used depending on topic, person, place and situation. In 60% of the countries examined there are individual schools that offer the subject “national sign language”. However, only 40% of the countries have a curriculum for this subject.
  5. Pupils with hearing impairments are a linguistically extremely diverse group. Sign bilingual education without individualisation is bound to miss part of the group. Linguistic education with two – equivalent and equally important – languages has to be personalized. Therefore, sufficient well-trained personnel with expert knowledge is needed.
  6. Inclusive and sign bilingual education are currently perceived as a contradiction. Yet bilingual teaching with a spoken and a signed language can and should take place in inclusive school settings. There are several successful models in Europe that show different ways how to achieve their goal. The examples prove that potent educational centres are an important structural prerequisite and can unite early education, schooling and counselling under one roof. They cooperate closely with other schools and educational centres where hearing and deaf pupils study together.
  7. Parents and teachers are the founders of sign bilingual educational locations. Bilingual education is mostly not initiated by policy makers (neither in the past in special schools nor today in inclusive schools). Education policy must assume a positive, guiding and supportive role.



Project Management

  • Dr. phil.  Audeoud


  • Universität Wien

  • Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

  • Universität Komenskeho v Bratislave

Project team

Financial support


Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

zfe[at] zfe