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Signing Savvy is an ideal resource to use while you learn sign language. It includes the ability to view large sign videos, build your own word lists and share them with others, create virtual flash cards and quizzes, print signs, build sign phrases, ...and more

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When and How to Start Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby

When and How to Start Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby

Learning Tips   |  Thursday, February 4, 2016

By Jillian Winn

When to start signing with your hearing baby?

Experts recommend to start talking to your child at birth – even newborns benefit from hearing speech and talking to your child is an important part of how they learn language and to speak. You can talk to them, describe what you are doing as you’re doing it, describe what’s going on around you, tell stories, sing songs, and read books.

Because we would talk to our son when he was born, it just seemed natural to also start signing right away as well.  Plus, research has shown signing activates the area of the brain that makes learning a new word easier,1 2 so why not! It’s never too early (or late) to start signing with children. Babies as young as 4 months old can start using signs (signing them) if they have been introduced to the signs for at least a month.3 The wait for the first sign is usually the longest, but often there will be an increase of signs used.4 Don’t be discouraged if your child is older, it is never too late to start learning sign language and there are benefits to learning sign language at any age.

How many signs should we start with?

There isn’t an ideal number of signs to start with.  Many children grow up in bilingual households and are able to learn multiple languages.  How many signs you start using with your baby really depends on what works for you and your family.

  • If you are a fluent or native signer, use sign language all of the time.
  • If you are not a fluent signer, but have a deaf infant, try to learn ASL yourself and use it as much as you can.
  • If you are excited about learning sign language, learn as much as you can and incorporate as much as you can into your daily language.
  • If you’re new to sign language and want to start signing with your hearing baby, the key is to do what you’re comfortable with and don’t get overwhelmed.  Start with a few signs and go from there.  Add more signs as it makes sense to do so, just keep with it!  Being able to communicate with your baby using sign before they can talk is rewarding for both you and your child.

We are hearing parents of hearing children. When we started signing with our first son, we wouldn’t sign everything we said, just the words that were most common to his world. For example, when saying, “Do you want milk?” We would just sign MILK (with the appropriate facial expression for asking a question).  Eventually we would add more signs, such as MILK + WANT.

Repetition is also an important part to learning new things, so we tried to be consistent in the signs that we used and picked signs that would occur naturally during a typical day. Now, with our second son, in addition to signing signs, I like to fingerspell words to him, like his name, his brother’s name, etc. (I like to have the excuse to practice my fingerspelling!). The “right” way to introduce signs to your baby is whatever works for you and your family, just keep at it and keep adding more signs!

What signs should we start with?

There has been an increasing trend for hearing parents to teach their hearing babies sign language, because of that, there are a number of baby signing resources available and varying opinions on how to do it and how to get started.

The most common recommendations of signs to start with are:

But I wouldn’t recommend starting with the most “common” baby signs or sticking to any get-started list. After all, you’re not creating lesson plans and teaching class, you’re just living life and incorporating signing into your everyday activities. The best strategy is to pick signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life.  For example, if your baby doesn’t use a PACIFIER or have a TEDDY BEAR, then there is no reason to have those included in the signs you start with.

You will also want to think about timing – when you start signing with your baby and what they do on a regular basis should have a big influence on the signs you start with.  For example, if you start signing right away with your baby, the first signs you choose may be MILK, SLEEP, and POTTY because all they do is eat, sleep and go to the bathroom.  You wouldn’t want COOKIE to be one of the first signs at that age because you don’t give a newborn a cookie and it wouldn’t be a regular part of their world yet.

Read our other articles on suggestions of what to sign at different baby ages.  These include examples of what I signed with my son and are meant to be a rough guide, but make sure that you only use suggestions as a guide and pick signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s world.

You can easily use Signing Savvy to create your own custom word list of signs for each stage or age of your baby’s life. Sharing the word lists you have created is a great way to get other people, like grandparents and babysitters, in the loop on what signs your baby is learning or knows.


  1. Kelly, S., McDevitt, T., and Esch, M. (2009). Brief training with co-speech gesture lends a hand to word learning in a foreign language. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24(2), 313-334.
  2. Xu, J., Gannon, P., Emmorey, K., Smith, J., & Braun, A. (2009). Symbolic gestures and spoken language are processed by a common neural system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(49), 20664-20669.
  3. Thorne, B. (2011, August 20). More day care centers, parents using sign language to communicate with babies. MLive. Retrieved 10/29/2014 from
  4. Berg, L. (2012). The Baby Signing Bible. New York: Penguin Group.


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Ways Interpreters Can Stay Passionate

Ways Interpreters Can Stay Passionate

Interpreter Tips   |  Tuesday, December 15, 2015

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the "Dear Abby" for the interpreting world - author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear Brenda" interpreter questions.

You will meet interpreters who are burnt out and no longer care about doing their best. Perhaps they are satisfied with their entry level certification. Or they only go to workshops to get their required CEUs.

Here are some suggestions to keep that spark that drew you into the Interpreter profession in the first place:

  • Plan to go to a workshop with interpreter friends.
  • Mentor an eager Interpreter Training Program student.
  • Go to deaf social events.
  • Seek opportunities to team interpret.
  • Network with other interpreters.
  • Do pro bono interpreting work.
  • Sign up with an agency to try new areas of interpreting.
  • Seek out more deaf friends.
  • Stay in touch with interpreter friends outside of just interpreting work.
  • Look at workshops outside of your local geographic area.
  • Share your experiences with others (ie. write a blog).

There are lots of ways to challenge yourself and keep your interpreting skills sharp. These tips will help you stay passionate and engaged in the community.

How do you stay passionate and engaged as an interpreter? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about Brenda  |  Articles by Brenda

America’s Next Top Model Winner “Just Happens To Be Deaf”

Deaf Culture   |  Tuesday, December 8, 2015

By Jillian Winn

There are multiple reasons why 26-year-old Nyle DiMarco’s crown as the winner of American’s Next Top Model (ANTM) is significant (besides his good looks!) - he is the last winner of ANTM because this was the last season, he is only the second male winner out of 22 cycles, and he is Deaf.

Initially Nyle thought being Deaf would be an advantage in the modeling competition because American Sign Language (ASL) uses movement and facial expressions to convey meaning, which could help him to naturally be more expressive with his body when modeling. However, Nyle called the competition “tough fun” and said it took resilience to make it through the season and succeed. He said he felt isolated, experienced “language deprivation” during his two months competing on ANTM, and that the biggest challenge was not being able to use ASL, his native language. It was hard for him to communicate with the other models in the house and to keep up on what was going on. He said fellow model Lacey was almost the only person in the house that learned ASL (there were 14 contestants).

He especially felt at a disadvantage during a night shoot when they were camping. The shoot was in the woods in the complete dark and while the other models could hear cues, Nyle was unable to hear or see cues. Although it was a tough challenge for him, he survived elimination and went on to win the ANTM title.

Nyles is proud his ANTM journey is proof deaf people can do anything. One of his deaf friends was upset at the beginning of an episode where the contestants had to make a music video, “What the hell! That's not fair. The show is setting Nyle as a deaf contestant to fail!” But as the episode played out, he corrected himself, “Whoa! Nyle killed the music video! He proved them wrong!" Nyle’s reaction was: “Yeah! Deaf people can sing!”

Nyle hopes his exposure on ANTM will educate people on deafness, “Being deaf is not a disability, but a culture.” He explained that deaf people don’t need to be fixed. “We do have a culture. We have a beautiful language. We are achieving so much and society keeps missing these achievements and keeps thinking we still need to be fixed. This needs to stop and they need to shift their energy to something else.” He hopes the world will see his ANTM win and take notice - “deaf people are talented and capable of anything.”

As Tyra Banks said at the end of the show, “Nyle won America's Next Top Model and he just happens to be deaf.”



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Short Film from CNN Highlights a Deaf All-American Family

Deaf Culture   |  Monday, November 23, 2015

By Jillian Winn

With Thanksgiving this week, this short film from CNN does a nice job of highlighting what many of us are most thankful for - family. The short film, called “All-American Family” shares the story of the Pedersen family, a deaf family with deaf parents, two deaf sons, and one hearing son. It gives a glimpse into Deaf culture and what living in a Deaf family and Deaf community is like. If you’re a football fan, you will also like seeing the boys’ passion for football. If you have 15 minutes, watch this short film.

Watch the short film All-American Family on CNN

Link to video: Watch the video on CNN's website.


Unfortunately, the film does not currently include captions. We’ve typed up a transcript for you below:

Captions for CNN’s short film “All-American Family”

0:12 - 0:22 [Cheering]

0:27 - 0:56 Singing: And the rockets red glare,
the bombs bursting in air,
gave proof through the night
that our flag was still there
oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

1:06 [Cheering]

1:08 That’s a tails and that’s a heads. What’s your call?
The call is tails.
Ok. It is a tails.
You won the toss.
You want to differ.
So they want the ball?
They want the ball.
Ok, they want the ball.

1:24 [Cheering]

4:36 I don’t think I’ve ever wished that they could hear.
I think more, I’d wish that I could be deaf.
It’s like I feel like the odd one out.
I just didn’t get why I wasn’t like them.
It’s all they’ve ever known,
and they’re such like a community here.
And they like, they have a lot of pride.


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Cooking Up Language with Signs: Frozen Fruit Popsicles Recipe

Cooking Up Language with Signs: Frozen Fruit Popsicles Recipe

Teaching Tips   |  Wednesday, November 18, 2015

By John Miller

This article is part of our “Cooking Up Language With Signs” series, which features a recipe and accompanying sign language wordlist to get you started on an interactive cooking activity that is great for spicing up language learning at home or in the classroom.

Why is cooking a good language learning activity?

Children find creating things with their own two hands very motivating. They get excited to see how they can be directly involved in the whole process. There is so much that can be taught through cooking activities in your classroom or home - from the choosing of the recipe, the shopping for the products at the grocery store (or a pretend grocery store), the prepping of the food, the actual cooking/baking, the sharing of the creation with others, and the debriefing (talking about what and how they made something).

You don’t have to make anything fancy or complex. In fact, using very simple recipes allows the focus of your cooking activity to be on language learning - sequencing and following directions, learning new vocabulary, describing and recalling information, and asking questions. Cooking activities are great one-on-one or as a group activity where everyone takes turns.

"Cooking Up Language with Signs” activities provides teachers and parents with amazing language opportunities through teachable moments. Teachable moments are everyday moments that happen throughout the day that open up prime opportunities for you to teach your students/children valuable language lessons. Hearing people learn so much through incidental learning (just overhearing conversations or discussions), but deaf children don’t have these opportunities because of the lack of hearing so we need to use teachable moments to directly teach these types of things.

What’s cookin’?

Today I’m cooking up Frozen Fruit Popsicles. These are so healthy AND tasty, kids will LOVE them! The recipe is simple to make and very easy to adjust to your personal preference and allergy/diet needs - just choose any fruit you like, add coconut water, and freeze. Viola! SO sweet, yet SO healthy!

If you want to make these for a baby or young children, but are concerned about the chunks of fruit in the popsicles, you can use the same recipe, but just toss the fruit and coconut water mixture in a blender to create a puree before freezing. You can use mini popsicle molds to make small popsicles that are great for snacks or desserts for little kids or relief for teething babies.

Cooking Up Language With Signs Recipe: Frozen Fruit Popsicles

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.

Teachable Moments

Using Sign Language

Sign throughout the cooking activity. Sign the steps and pick up and sign the ingredients and tools. Because the recipe allows you to pick your fruit, the signs you will use will vary.  See the Frozen Fruit Popsicles Recipe Wordlist for the list of signs highlighted from this recipe. Use the wordlist to review the signs and steps of the recipe. You can also use the wordlist to print out the signs as a reference, or have your computer up with the wordlist while you are cooking. After the cooking activity, you can also have the children use the digital flash cards or quizzing option to review the signs from the wordlist. Additionally, you can create your own wordlist if you want to customize the signs for the recipe based on the types of fruit you choose to use.

Health Benefits

Why make your own popsicles? Talk about how regular store bought popsicles have added artificial flavors, coloring, and excess sugar and discuss what that means. Here are a few talking points:

  • Many store bought popsicles have little or no nutritional value because they contain artificial flavoring instead of real fruit. Making popsicles using real fruit is better because fruit contains essential vitamins and minerals that are good for you.
  • Many store bought popsicles have lots of added sugar in them to make them extra sweet. Excess sugar isn’t good for you and also increases the amount of calories in the popsicles.
  • Sugar-free store bought popsicles are often sweetened with artificial sweetener instead of fruit juice.
  • Many store bought popsicles have artificial dye in them to make them bright, bold colors. Artificial dyes can be unhealthy and may also stain your teeth (or clothing).
  • Many store bought popsicles contain many ingredients that you may not even recognize - Sorbitol, Maltodextrin, Glycerin, Polydextrose, Sucralose, “gums” like Carob Bean Gum and Guar Gum - what are all these things? By making your own popsicles, you can make your favorite flavor and you know exactly what’s in it.

Making your own popsicles is a healthy treat. Fruits contain healthy vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. Talk about the health benefits of the fruits you choose to include in your popsicles. Here is an infographic on the health benefits of common fruits to use as a reference.


Enjoy making these healthy and tasty frozen fruit popsicles!

Frozen Fruit Popsicles




  1. Choose any type of fruit you like and prepare it by washing, peeling, or cutting it into bitable chunks, as needed.
  2. Add the prepared fruit of your choice to a bowl.
  3. Add the coconut water.
  4. Using a ladle, scoop out some fruit and coconut water from the bowl and place in popsicle trays. Freeze overnight for best results.

Quicklink to the wordlist: Frozen Fruit Popsicles Recipe Wordlist

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