Baby Sign Language
According to some proponents, babies as young as 6 months old can be taught how to learn sign language. They say that by 8 months, toddlers can use sign language to tell their parents when they’re hungry, what they’re hungry for, and if they’re in pain even before they learn to speak. Researchers and psychologists claim that babies can learn to communicate their needs through American Sign Language, or ASL, simpler versions of ASL, or invented signs.
Deaf children have been using ASL and other forms of sign language for years, but non-deaf infant signing is a relatively new concept, and not without its skeptics. Some linguists have pointed out that parents may simply be reading their children’s body language and non-verbal cues to figure out what they want. They also point out that babies who don’t learn to sign are not developmentally delayed in any way. However, supporters of the concept claim that infants who are taught how to learn sign language learn to talk sooner than infants who don’t learn to sign.
How to Learn Sign Language
ASL is a visual language for the deaf that dates from the 1800s. It’s one of the most frequently-used languages in North America and employs hand motions and facial expressions to communicate. However, parents don’t necessarily need ASL, or a sign language dictionary, to teach their toddlers to sign. According to proponents, babies can be taught invented signs as long as the parents are clear and consistent. Experts say that toddlers can be taught simple signs such as “milk,” “hungry,” “more,” “sleepy” or “hurt.” For example, if a father says the word “milk” and makes the sign for milk every time he gives the toddler a bottle, the baby will come to understand what the sign means. However, signing teachers stress that it’s important to combine signs with words, rather than replace words with signs, to avoid any delays in a child’s language development.
Parents who want their children to learn ASL may go on to introduce them to the sign language alphabet. Many such resources are available online for those who want them. Videos show teachers demonstrating the signs in the sign language alphabet or offer a free sign language dictionary. Many websites offer free sign language alphabet flashcards, a video sign language dictionary, lessons and learning games.
The primary value of baby sign language is that, if valid, it empowers toddlers to make their wishes known before they can form the words for what they want. Some psychologists say this has value because the ability to communicate makes toddlers less frustrated and may even help parents detect a medical problem sooner than they otherwise would – such as if a toddler communicated feelings of sickness or pain.
The jury may still be out on the ultimate value of baby sign language, but it is often showcased in magazines for parents and has even been featured in recent movies. Absent any definitive proof that it doesn’t work, it seems that baby sign language will continue to be an interesting experiment for many decades to come.