Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When can I start signing with my child?
A. Anytime is a good time! There are many benefits to signing with children of all ages, from birth through adulthood. There are some prerequisite skills however, that must be present in order for sign to be introduced in a meaningful way. Typically developing children become intentional around 6 months. This means that they demonstrate deliberate eye contact, use of gestures, persistence in trying to communicate, sustained joint attention, etc. You as a parent can reinforce these skills by introducing signs during your daily routines (e.g., Sign “milk” while nursing or when it’s time for a bottle. Sign “sleep” when it’s time for a nap or at bedtime.) If your child needs help forming the signs take their little hands and help them make the sign.
Q. Will learning signs delay my child’s speech?
A. Many parents as well as some professionals fear that signing will delay a child’s speech. Although this concern is very common it is also unfounded. In fact, using sign to help your child learn to communicate is one of the best, and fastest ways to teach your child oral language! As a speech and language pathologist it is my first go to strategy when trying to elicit verbal communication in young children. Teaching sign language at an early age not only enhances but accelerates your child’s ability to acquire verbal language. When you sign with young children you enhance their understanding of vocabulary and concepts. This in turn accelerates the learning process because you are also using signs as a strategy that enhances memory and retrieval.
Q. My child can hear and is already talking. Why should they learn ASL?
A. Learning a second language such as sign language is loads of fun but also offers numerous linguistic and cognitive benefits. ASL can help every child because it creates a multisensory learning experience (Visual by watching it, Auditory by saying the word, and Physical by making the sign). The more multisensory a learning experience is, the more pathways our brain creates to store and later recall new information.
Q. Why do you use ASL and not made up signs?
A. Consistency is the key. If you are going to make the effort to teach and reinforce signs for communication purposes, let those signs come from an existing, living language rather than using “made up” signs. At the youngest stage, when introducing signs to infants they will approximate to the best of their ability. With maturation and continued exposure your child will learn to make the signs correctly. It is more likely that continued exposure remains consistent from your child’s caregivers, teachers, doctors, if you use a legitimate language such as ASL. These young signers can then easily transition into communication with deaf children and adults or can partake in ASL playgroups, etc. if provided with the foundational ASL signs from the very beginning.
Q. My child does not make the signs correctly. Is that okay?
A. Most children adapt signs to whatever they are physically able to do. As their fine motor skills develop further, their signs will also develop. This is very similar to the approximations they make when developing speech; “na-na” suddenly becomes “banana.”
Q. How soon will my child start to sign?
A. There are several factors to consider; your child’s chronological age as well as developmental age and the consistency with which you sign. At a very young age, your child may not reciprocate until 8-14 months. Start with a few basic signs and demonstrate those at opportune times throughout the day. With a toddler they may respond immediately or it could take a few months. If your child has cognitive, physical, or developmental delays, you need to consider your child’s abilities. If you’re introducing signs at the preschool or early elementary grades, they most likely will sign immediately. You’ll marvel at how quickly they learn the signs and how easily you can enhance their literacy and vocabulary skills.
Q. Do I have to become fluent in ASL?
A. No, this is not necessary unless you want to. In order to benefit from using signs with your child it is actually better to start with just a few signs. As you become proficient and consistent with those, you slowly add more signs to your repertoire. You will be surprised at how useful the first five signs can be. With time, you’ll see that expanding that vocabulary to 100 is actually quite simple. If your goal is to become proficient, ASL is just like any other language. Learning takes time, practice, and dedication. Participating and getting involved the resources in your local community such Community College programs, functions for the deaf, university courses, are just some of the immediate resources available to assist you with your endeavors to increase ASL proficiency.
Q. What research exists about the benefits of using sign language with hearing children?
A. Numerous studies have been conducted on this topic for several decades. A simple web search yields many results. Check our links section for the major research efforts and findings.
Q. What are the benefits of growing up bilingual?
A. We all know that in today’s globalized world, those who speak more than one language fluently automatically have an advantage over those who just speak one language. With English and Spanish being two of the three most widely spoken languages worldwide, there is no debate that this is one of the most popular language combinations to teach. Learning a foreign language helps students in their overall cognitive development, as well as broadens their opportunities in higher education and the global workforce. Research increasingly shows that most young children are not only capable of learning two languages, but studies also support the belief that bilingualism helps students improve academic success, creative thinking, and confers cognitive, cultural, and economic advantages.
Some Benefits of Foreign Language for Young Children
- By Learning a Language at a Young Age -this opens a window of opportunity, it is an investment that will last a lifetime, linguistic, cognitive, and will benefit them throughout their entire life.
- Infancy and early childhood is the ideal time for foreign language immersion.
- Babies and young children can differentiate between the sounds of any language in the world.
- Bilingualism offers cognitive flexibility; English Language Learners are flexible and may acquire two languages in the time in which monolinguals acquire one.
- Early language learning window begins to close around age five.
- Early foreign language exposure enhances a child’s primary language development, and his or her brain power. Early brain stimulation.
“Manitas” in Motion and The SIMPLE Solution methods are modeled on how we naturally acquire language with an added emphasis on building vocabulary.
Q. What’s the best strategy for helping my children to become bilingual?
A. There is not one “absolute best” way to raise multilingual children, so each family must decide which multilingual family model works best for them. Whether you choose to use the One Person, One Language (OPOL) which is the most common family language system in use, or a slightly less common but tremendously successful option, Minority Language at Home (ML@H) is not that critical. No matter which model you choose, consistency is the key to providing a stable language learning environment for your child. As a bilingual speech pathologist I’m interested in seeing children develop solid foundational skills in their native language. With a strong core foundation in one language, learning multiple languages is simple. One of the best strategies to enhance that process is the use of ASL.