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Teaching Your Baby American Sign Language

I learned ASL (American Sign Language) when I was in 4th grade. I befriended several deaf students and wished to be able to better communicate with them. I committed to arriving at school an hour before classes to learn ASL with the Special Education teacher. As a teenager, I taught myself more ASL through books. With this knowledge I have made several friends, helped pay for my college tuition by translating classes to deaf students, it has helped me to find employment, and I have been able to assist people with my ability (help translate in stores, on buses, etc.).

I start using ASL when my children are about 3 to 6 months old. I sign words as I say them in normal sentences. My children start using signs to 'talk' to me before they are a year old. I use ASL, a true language, instead of making up baby signs, and they are now able to communicate with deaf people. It is a second language.

I start with my babies by signing simple words that they will be able to use to "talk" to me easily. They first learn the following words and phrases:

Children pick up signing easily and quickly. As they grow they learn more signs. Do not expect them to be able to sign perfectly at any particular age. Continue signing the right way and they will sign that way when they are able to. When learning to speak a language, babies say words similar to a word, and we know what he is trying to say even if it is off a bit. When he has the ability to sign it correctly he will. Don't hold him back by signing "baby talk".

By being able to communicate their needs, my children do not go through that frustrating time when they know what they want to say, but are unable to say the words. And as they grow this knowledge helps me to give them quiet reminders or messages in public. It is our private language. And ASL seems to have helped with their dancing and acting abilities; my children are very expressive.

I started signing to my children when they were about 6 months old, and increased signing when they reached 12 months of age. I sign words as I speak them in normal everyday sentences, even when my children aren't really watching me. They pick it up quickly and are thrilled when they sign something and I speak the words back to them. I understood! It is exciting to see this unfold.

ASL is a jump-start to the language system. California researchers who have studied signing in hearing children for more than a decade have found that infants and toddlers who learn a simple sign language for common words learn to speak faster and do better on future intelligence tests than children who learn to speak the usual way. Children who learn ASL as babies speak more and understand more by age 15 months old and that difference remains in later years. By age 8, children who learn sign language have tested a year ahead of other children. The data suggest that baby signing may spark other critical thinking skills. It's exciting to interact with your child at such a young age!

Every parent teaches their baby to wave bye-bye. Why do we stop there?

Recommended resources:

Signing Savvy

Sign with your Baby DVD 

© 1999 Jennifer Van Laanen