Sign Language for Kids
For the deaf community, sign language is one of the greatest communication tools they have. Not only does it allow deaf people to communicate with one another, but it also allows them to reach outside of the deaf culture and communicate with hearing people in spite of their deafness. This is why sign language is a vital part of deaf education. Yet, sign language is not just for the deaf. By teaching kids sign language, even if they are hearing kids, educators can help bridge the gap between the deaf community and the hearing one.
Choosing the Right Language
Sign language has a few different forms, so before teaching any sign language to kids, educators must choose the best one for the individual being taught. The primary one taught in most deaf education programs is American Sign Language, or ASL. This language is very different from written English but is the main form of communication of the North American deaf community. Some may use signs in English word order, or signing what the speaker is saying word for word. This is sometimes called “Pidgin Sign English” or PSE. The signs often mirror ASL, but the grammar and syntax does not. Signing Exact English is one of the lesser used options among deaf people and tries to sign English using exact sentence structures and wording.
One of the best ways to start teaching sign language to kids is by giving them a basic vocabulary. A list of basic signs will help them have enough words to start a simple conversation. These signs should cover nouns and verbs used on a day-to-day basis, to make conversation with someone who is deaf easier. Also, teaching students the sign language alphabet gives them the ability to sign any word they do not know the actual sign for when speaking with deaf people. In this case, they can simply spell it.
When to Start
Sign language should be treated like any other second language, even though it is not written or spoken. The critical age for language acquisition is between the age of two and the onset of puberty. During this time, the brain has the right makeup for accepting and retaining a second language. While people can learn language outside of this window, it is going to be more difficult. Thus, deaf education and the introduction of sign language to hearing kids works best in the preschool and elementary years.
How to Start
Parents and teachers must teach sign language by teaching the individual signs to the child. For a hearing child, this is more simple than for a child who is part of the deaf culture. The hearing child can hear the word, see the sign, then repeat the sign. The child living with deafness must see the sign, then see the object, and repeat the sign.
Facial expressions, body language, and lip patterns can all help solidify what the teacher is saying with the hand, even when teaching deaf people. Saying the word while signing is helpful, even for the hearing impaired child. Most members of the deaf community become quite good at reading lips, and this can be taught even at an early age. The teacher needs to be as expressive as possible to get the point across about the meaning of the sign. Above all, teachers need to make learning sign language fun for all involved.
By giving kids the ability to talk with their hands, whether or not they are part of the deaf culture, educators open the door of communication between the deaf and the hearing to a new generation. This is why sign language and deaf education are so important. With the right tools, the bridge between the hearing world and the deaf community can be crossed. This will open the door to people living with deafness, allowing them to have more of a role in mainstream society.