Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Teaching Sign Language to a Hearing Child

I won't claim that we are at the "language explosion" point yet (a term that sounds somewhat disturbing to me, actually), but Peter is definitely learning signs more quickly! His vocabulary at this point is hi/bye, more, fan, light, eat/food, book, and nurse. I will admit that it is difficult to distinguish among some of these, but if we guess wrong he usually repeats it more emphatically. :-)

Demonstrating the sign for eat/food

I am using ASL (American Sign Language) paired with both spoken English and German. I think this helps him make connections between the languages ("Oh, essen and food both have that sign!"), but this is personal opinion, not research. I am definitely more fluent and confident using ASL than German. The biggest challenge is placing myself where my hands are free and he can see me when I use it. If he can't see me (e.g. sitting on my lap), sometimes I'll use his hand to make the motion.

I must admit that I am not being particularly scientific or consistent about his language exposure. However, I am using the rule of maintaining a balance of high-use and high-interest signs. While I occasionally throw in signs that are neither (bird), I generally try to use a mix of signs that are used many times throughout the day (eat) or are words he wants to use (fan). This seems to be working well for us.

Since I want Peter to become somewhat proficient in ASL and use it in the future, I am also trying to use more than my hands to communicate. Body language, particularly eye contact and facial expression, is very important in ASL. Clear enunciation (without exaggerated lip movement) is helpful to people who can lip-read, as is keeping hands away from your mouth and not talking with your mouth full! I hope Peter will learn to truly communicate with those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, rather than "only" knowing how to sign.

A couple good websites:
http://www.aslpro.com/cgi-bin/aslpro/aslpro.cgi -- video clips for basically any sign you need!
http://www.csun.edu/~sp20558/dis/deaf.html -- some typos, but a good primer on deaf communication.


  1. I love that you are teaching both ASL and German, with my oldest I did Baby Signs and some French. I would have to say that from my experience teaching sign language did facilitate language acquisition, even in my youngest who was delayed in verbal expression. Even though he was delayed in expressive speech his receptive vocabulary was off the charts. I can only attribute this to his having signs for most of what he wanted to say. And maybe to a mom who spent a lot of one on one time with him talking. Now he is such the chatterbox and he will talk to anyone who listens. Keep up the sign language.

  2. i've been trying to work on please with david and i thought for a while that he was getting it, but he doesn't do it on his own anymore - we have to assist him. he's been doing a lot of physical development lately, so i know that that can cause a pause in verbal development, but do you have any advice. he says (with "words") mama/more and dada/nanany but i really would like him to learn to sign please and thank you at the very least.

  3. @Lisa: Thanks for the encouragement!

    @Donna: I'd like to say there is a magic key that will help him learn, but I think it's just consistent repetition. Make sure you and Ryan use the sign when talking to each other as well as talking to David. To teach Peter "more" we would assist him each time before we gave him more, which you could try for "please" as well. "Say please! Use your hand like Mommy! (demonstrate, then help him do it) Thank you for using good manners!" Let me know how it goes!

  4. Thank you for the video link - that is awesome! I love the idea of teaching baby signing but haven't really looked into it a lot. Is 9 months a good time to start?

  5. Nine months is a great time to start, as Bean is old enough to have the motor control to copy you (sort of). I would recommend "The Parents' Guide to Baby Signs" by Leann Sebrey if you can find it. We have it in our public library. For starters, pick just a handful of words to introduce to her. Makes it easier for you and Bean! :-)

  6. Thank you so much - I will look for that! :)