It seems to me that “baby sign language” (as it is often called) has been popping up everywhere I go. Being a Deaf, ASL teacher, I get asked a lot of questions about this topic. One of the most frequently asked is whether baby sign language actually works. My short answer is: Yes, it definitely works if you do it correctly. My long version would more like the following…
Just like American Sign Language, the first thing you need to take into consideration is that not all baby sign language classes are created equally. Who’s teaching it? Are they fluent in ASL? Do they use it on a daily basis? The teacher needs to have some experience on the topic. Unlike learning true ASL, it isn’t imperative that the teacher is a native signer, but they must have rudimentary ideas of what you need to equip yourself for this experience.
Another very important question, and arguably the most important question of all, is whether the class is teaching ASL signs or not. There are several classes out there that do not use actual ASL signs. They have their own system of signs, use “home signs,” or just flap their hands around and hope something impressive comes out of them. It is vital that your class teach ASL signs. Now, don’t worry about the word order if all you’re wanting is to communicate in sign with your hearing baby. Grammatical structure of ASL isn’t necessary in this situation, but all situations are different.
Of course, I do have an opinion on this matter (who, me???). I personally feel the use of ASL conceptualization is the way to go as opposed to Signing English. I’m not talking word order here. You should be able to sign and speak at the same time, but you can’t do that if you’re using ASL. (This is only in regard to a hearing parent wanting to sign a few words with their hearing kids.) Anyway, there are several books and DVDs out there to show you how to work with your children, but some of them do not use ASL.
As a teacher, when I teach Sign With Your Baby or Toddler classes, I am certified through Northlight Communications. Sounds fancy, eh? All that means is that I use the Sign With Your Baby method of teaching. And all that means is I teach ASL signs and conceptualization. It’s what’s right. You must do what’s right in this world…OK, I got off on a tangent.
Introducing sign language to your baby can be a lot of fun, but so many people take it so darn seriously that it loses the very essence that makes it something useful. People become frustrated that they think their baby’s not picking it up fast enough or that all their hard work is for nothing. Don’t despair! It’s not all in vain. You must remember that baby’s will generally start signing around the 7th month. Seven. Not two weeks, not two months, but seven months.
Also, if a parent is teaching their child a sign and the child starts moving his hands in an odd way whenever the subject comes up, this doesn’t mean he’s signing it wrong. They’re babies. They’re not going to sign fluently and clearly at first. Just hang on, have some persistence and know that, eventually, if you continue to sign it correctly, he will pick it up. Just be patient!
Another thing I’ve found in teaching is that most parents are so eager to start using the sign language that they want to know all of the signs now. No, not now…yesterday. They want to immediately be able to pick it up and be fluent. Come on, guys, this is just totally illogical. You don’t pick up German quickly and easily (unless you live with Helga the former barbarian), and you won’t pick up ASL that way either.
So pick out three words (MILK, MORE, EAT), and begin to sign these three words any time it is appropriate. Sign and say it clearly and try to keep it near your face. You can use these three in many situations: the baby’s hungry and wants to EAT; The baby’s drinking milk or breast feeding; The baby’s finished his food and wants MORE, etc. Just use those three. After you’re comfortable, you can start using three more. Just don’t try to cram too many signs down your baby’s mouth.
Again, I say this to all hearing parents of hearing babies. If you have a deaf child, you will want to use ASL – not baby sign language.
If you start signing as soon as your child is born, there will be no problems getting them to copy you. Just be patient and do not, under any circumstance, get frustrated with them. Another good tip is to make sure that the baby knows what you’re signing about. If you’re looking across a field at the sunset and there’s a cow grazing, you sign SUNSET and the baby sees the cow and thinks that’s what you’re signing. You have to make sure you’re clear as to what you are expressing.
Another great way to teach sign to your baby would be through music. If you go to the Sign2Me/Northlight Communications site, they sell a CD called “Pick Me Up” that has the signs and the songs together. No, this isn’t a commercial. I personally think it’s a little expensive, but it’s one of the best ones out there.
Know your baby or toddler. Know their personality. Know how they learn. Experiment. Play. And just, generally, have fun. This is supposed to be a fun experience for everyone. And, believe me, the day your baby signs MORE to you after finishing his mashed carrots will be one of the most memorable ones in your life!