An ASL Dictionary

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Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 3

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 3

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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 BC" interpreter questions.

This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings.

Hello! Brenda Cartwright (BC) here. Let's continue on the fun topic of: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the difference. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter. Enjoy!

1. Nut vs. Not

NUT and NOT both have the thumb of the dominant 10-hand come out from the face. NUT comes from the mouth, like you are eating a nut or just cracked the shell of a nut with your teeth and then spit it out. NOT comes out from the chin and moves farther away from the body in refusal. The biggest difference (besides the context of what is being said) is the facial expression and shaking of the head when signing NOT.

Nut
Not

2. Paper vs. School

PAPER and SCHOOL bring both open hands together. When signing PAPER, only the heels of both palms brush against each other in a repeated motion - think of the pressing or smashing of pulp to make paper. Clap your hands together (without making any sound) in a repeated motion to sign SCHOOL. You can remember the sign for SCHOOL by thinking of a teacher clapping her hands together to get the students’ attention.

Paper
School

3. Name vs. Weigh

NAME and WEIGH both use H-hands. When signing NAME the two H-hands tap together twice to form an X representing a place where a name/signature would be placed on a piece of paper. When signing WEIGH both H-hands start together and the top, dominant hand tips downward representing scales tipping when weighing something.

Name
Weigh

4. Teach vs. None

Flattened O-hands moving out from the body are used when signing TEACH and NONE. For TEACH, the hands come out from the head, representing the person is taking knowledge from their head and passing it on to others. When signing NONE the hands move out from the chest and away from each other in a quick fluid motion indicating that there is zero (the use of the O-hands) or nothing there.

Teach
None

5. Roof vs. House

ROOF and HOUSE look similar but are easy to remember because both closed 5-hands form the outline of a ROOF or a HOUSE.

Roof
House

These examples are aligned with the Visual Discrimination section of Lesson 5 (page 60) from Lessons and Activities in American Sign Language by Brenda E. Cartwright and Suellen J. Bahleda. Check out the book for more ASL Activities and watch for more examples from this series: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

 

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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

The Importance of Early Exposure to American Sign Language with Deaf Children

Learning Tips   |  Thursday, November 3, 2016

By Jillian Winn

Around 8,000 children are born deaf or hard of hearing each year in the United States.1 95% of those children are born into hearing families.18 This means a few things – the majority of hard of hearing children are born into families that do not use sign language and their parents do not have previous experience with raising and educating a deaf child. The options and information may be overwhelming for parents, but just like raising any child, each child and family is different and there isn’t a “one size fits all” plan to execute. Luckily there is research to help serve as a guide.

The Gift of Language

The greatest gift you can give to a child is language. Children need language.1, 27 Babies are capable of learning any language, and multiple languages, from birth.6, 13

The key is early exposure and full access to a natural language.10 A natural language is a language that has developed naturally through use and includes all of the linguistic levels – phonology, morphology, lexicon, syntax, and discourse. English and American Sign Language (ASL) are both full, natural languages.

Our brains are built to process language the same, whether it is signed or spoken.1, 22 So it doesn’t matter if a child has access to early spoken language or early sign language, it matters more that they have full access to language (the ability to receive communication input). For some children, this will mean English, for some this will mean American Sign Language, and for others it may mean both.

Taking Advantage of the “Critical Period”

Some researchers believe a “critical period” exists for language acquisition. The hypothesis is that during this period, it is much easier to learn languages and if exposure to language begins after this period, then it may be impossible to become fluent in that language. At birth, babies have the ability to learn any language, but around 8-10 months, they lose their ability to discriminate sounds in other languages (sounds not relevant to the baby’s own language).13, 14 The critical period extends through infancy and different researchers believe this critical period ends at different points between 5 years old and puberty.15 Many professionals who work with deaf children assume that there is a critical period for spoken language, but not sign language, but research shows that is simply not true.8 The critical period extends to all language learning, including sign language.

There are many advantages to early language learning.

  • Early first language acquisition contributes to native-like fluency as an adult.16
  • Early first language acquisition supports more effective second language learning. 16

On the other hand, there are several negative effects to late language exposure.

  • A lack of early first language acquisition impairs the ability to learn language throughout life and decreases language proficiency for any language in adulthood. 16
  • Late exposure to language effects linguistic processing and cognitive development.19
  • Late language development can delay cognitive reasoning, such as the Theory of Mind, which allows children to distinguish between what they know and what others know, to understand others may think differently than themselves, and to have the ability to guess other’s actions.20, 34
  • If input is delayed by as little as 4-6 years, long-lasting effects can be observed in language production, comprehension, and processing.21

There are several reasons why early exposure is critical to language acquisition. Children simply have more time to learn language when they are exposed earlier in life, and have a less stressful learning environment with less distractions where they can practice.

  • Babies benefit from learning language through “motherese,” when learning either sign or speech. Motherese, also called child-directed signing or speech (CDS), is modified speaking or signing directed for the baby. In speech, motherese includes using a higher pitch and exaggerated stress and intonation patterns. When signing or speaking, motherese includes shorter statements, frequent repetitions, and frequent directives.19
  • Another important aspect of motherese in signing is the use of eye gaze and joint attention to make sure the baby understands what you are talking about (by looking at the subject) and that you are in their line of sight and they can see you when you are signing. These techniques help children learn language and also important attention and turn-based lessons. When children are in school, the classroom can be a distracting environment and a teacher or interpreter is often signing to many children and cannot provide one-on-one attention to help with language acquisition.19
  • Babies are able to “practice” language in the form of babbling. At first English babbling is just playing with making sounds and over time those sounds become more English-like and eventually they begin to say their first words. ASL babbling lets babies practice playing with handshapes, location, and movement until they begin to produce their first signs.19
  • Babies have the time to leisurely learn language before having additional pressures, such as needing to produce language on demand, or the expectation that they are learning new content and curriculum, not just language acquisition.19

The important take away to learn from the “critical period” hypothesis, is that early access to language is important. However, other researchers prefer to call this period the “optimal period” or “sensitive period”8 because, although perhaps less efficiently, language learning still occurs after this period.16 If you have already missed this period, you should not be discouraged to start language acquisition. Late detection of hearing loss is one of the biggest barriers to early language acquisition. Late language exposed signers can still become strong signers with great signing skills. Where researchers find the biggest difference between early and late learners is when they are under stress, like when they have to recall information quickly and when taking a test. Now is always a good time to start learning language.

Advantages of Sign Language Use

Babies and young children don’t learn language by simply copying adults, explicit instruction, or training. They learn language by building a system of grammar based on the input they receive, which is why it is critical they have full access to communication input.

In order to have full access to a language, the child must have the ability to receive the communication input. Since children who are hard of hearing have trouble hearing spoken language, they are often not able to fully access it as a communication input. American Sign Language is the language of the deaf and is a fully accessible language that does not require hearing for input.

Babies are born interested in and looking for language, and not just speech, but spoken or signed language. This indicates babies are equally interested and able to learn either spoken or signed language. They are able to detect patterns in visual language, even with no previous language exposure. They also seem to recognize the same kind of structured patterns found in spoken language in ASL and prefer ASL (a full, natural language) over non-linguistic pantomime gesturing.13

Research has found many advantages to learning sign language, including:

  • Early first language learning helps facilitate, and may even be necessary, for learning a second language later in life.19
  • Early exposed signers have better academic performance compared to late exposed deaf in a variety of areas,33 including better performance on:
    • tests of English syntax25, 33
    • reading tasks5, 32
    • written language tasks31
    • vocabulary26
    • overall academic achievement17, 29
  • Even moderate fluency in ASL benefits English literacy for Deaf children.30
  • Kids who understand more sign language, understand more English.35
  • Kids who produce more sign language, produce more English.35
  • Strong adult signers have better ASL narrative comprehension, and also higher English reading scores.7
  • The experience of “speaking” two languages (like ASL and English) on a regular basis has broad implications for cognitive ability, enhancing executive control functions and protecting the brain across the life span.2, 9, 11
  • Bilingualism may protect against age-related cognitive decline.4 With all else being equal, one study found the age of dementia onset for bilinguals was 4 years later than it was for monolinguals.3

Common Concerns – As hearing parents, we don’t know ASL well.

Some hearing parents may be concerned their own signing skills are not good enough to model as a communication input for their children. Learning ASL and using it with your child is a great way to communicate with them, increase bonding, and help them learn ASL, but there are several factors involved.

  • The deaf students who perform best academically usually are the ones whose parents have effectively communicated with them from an early age.12
  • It was found children are able to surpass the level of their input - so parents’ ASL may be grammatically inconsistent, but the child is still able to regularize inconsistent input and produce ASL that is more native-like than their parents’ signing.28
  • Children are shaped by more than just their parents. The culture and peer groups children are exposed to play an important role.24 So finding playgroups or preschools where they can interact with other hard of hearing peers is helpful.
  • Being exposed to a diverse set of signers, of different ages and abilities, is also helpful. Anyone from siblings, extended family members, friends, peers, and community members help shape the child’s learning environment and language acquisition, and help them to practice both receptive and expressive signing skills.

Common Concerns – Is it too difficult for young children to learn two languages (English and ASL) at once? Maybe we should just focus on one language to start.

There is a misconceived fear that teaching babies more than one language too early may cause language delays or language confusion or that the child may never be as competent in either of the languages as a monolingual child is in one. In fact, research shows babies know that they are acquiring two distinct languages and are able to learn them without language delay or language confusion. Bilingual babies are able to reach the classic language milestones on a similar timetable as monolingual babies, such as when they say their first word, when they can say their first fifty words, and when they say their first two-word combinations. There are a few differences though. For example, when counting the child’s first fifty words, the tally would come from a total of words produced in both languages. Young children may also show a language preference and use one of their languages more, however, this is not a delay in language learning, it simply shows a preference, which could change over time, and is often related to the child’s primary sociolinguistic group (for example, the language used by peer groups in school, or if one parent is home all day using one language with a baby, it will often be preferred over a second language that is used when the rest of the family is home only at night). It doesn’t make sense to take away any language to focus on just one. Early exposure of both languages is what is best for the child and will help the child to reach fullest mastery in each of the languages.23

Conclusion

The key to learning language and becoming fluent is early exposure and full access to a natural language.10 Babies are capable of learning any language, and multiple languages, from birth.6, 13 Research shows there are many benefits to learning ASL, and the sooner you can start, the better. There are both linguistic and cognitive advantages to being bilingual. Learning both ASL and English from an early age will help the child to reach fluency in both languages. The best time to start learning language is now.

Sources:

  1. Bavelier, D., Newport, E.L., & Supalla, T. (2003, January 01). Children Need Natural Languages, Signed or Spoken. The Dana Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.dana.org/Cerebrum/Default.aspx?id=39306
  2. Bialystok, E., & Craik, F.I.M. (2010). Cognitive and Linguistic Processing in the Bilingual Mind. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 19-23.
  3. Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., & Freedman, M. (2007). Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia, 45, 459-464.
  4. Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: Evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and Aging, 19, 290-303.
  5. Brasel, K. & Quigley, S. (1977, March). Influence of Certain Language and Communication Environments in Early Childhood on the Development of Language in Deaf Individuals. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 20, 95-107.
  6. Brentari, D. (Ed.). (2010). Sign languages. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Chamberlain, C., & Mayberry, R. (2008, July 1). American Sign Language syntactic and narrative comprehension in skilled and less skilled readers: Bilingual and bimodal evidence for the linguistic basis of reading. Applied Psycholinguistics, 29(3), 367-388.
  8. Chen Pichler, D. (2016, Fall). Why sign with deaf babies?  [Video Lecture]. Gallaudet University: PST 375 Language Learning by Eye or by Ear.
  9. Chen Pichler, D. (2016, Fall). Bilingualism: Unimodal and Bimodal [Video Lecture]. Gallaudet University: PST 375 Language Learning by Eye or by Ear.
  10. Davidson, L.S., Geers, A.E., & Nicholas, J.G. (2014, July). The effects of audibility and novel word learning ability on vocabulary level in children with cochlear implants. Cochlear Implants Int., 15(4), 211-221.
  11. De Houwer, A. (2009). An introduction to bilingual development. Tonawanda, New York: Multilingual Matters.
  12. Deaf Education: A new philosophy. Research findings at NTID. Retrieved 10-10-2016 from https://www.rit.edu/showcase/index.php?id=86
  13. Krentz, U.C., & Corina, D.P. (2008, January). Preference for language in early infancy: the human language bias is not speech specific. Developmental Science, 11(1), 1-9.
  14. Kuhl, P. (2010, October). Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies [Video file]. TED. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius_of_babies
  15. Lenneberg, E.H. (1967). Biological Foundations of Language. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  16. Mayberry, R.I. (2010). Early language acquisition and adult language ability: What sign language reveals about the critical period for language. In Marschark, M. & P.E. Spencer (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education Volume 2 (pp. 281-291). New York: Oxford University Press.
  17. Meadow, K. (1966). The effects of early manual communication and family climate on the deaf child’s early development. Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.
  18. Mitchell, R.E., & Karchmer, M.A. (2004, Winter). Chasing the Mythical Ten Percent: Parental Hearing Status of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in the United States. Sign Language Studies, 4(2), 138-163.
  19. Morford, J.P., & Mayberry, R.I. (2000). A reexamination of “Early Exposure” and its implications for language acquisition by eye. In Chamberlain, C., Morford, J.P., & R.I. Mayberry (Eds.), Language acquisition by eye (pp. 110-127). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
  20. Morgan, G. & Kegl, J. (2006, August). Nicaraguan Sign Language and Theory of Mind: the issue of critical periods and abilities. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(8), 811-819.
  21. Newport, E. L., & Supalla, T. (1980). The structuring of language: Clues from the acquisition of signed and spoken language. Signed and spoken language: Biological constraints on linguistic form. Weinheim/Deerfield Beach, FL/Basel: Dahlem Konferenzen. Verlag Chemie.
  22. Orfanidou, E., Adam, R., Morgan, G., & McQueen, J. M. (2010). Recognition of signed and spoken language: Different sensory inputs, the same segmentation procedure. Journal of Memory and Language, 62(3), 272-283.
  23. Petitto, L. A., & Holowka, S. (2002). Evaluating attributions of delay and confusion in young bilinguals: Special insights from infants acquiring a signed and a spoken language. Sign Language Studies, 3(1), 4-33.
  24. Pinker, S. (2003, February). Steven Pinker: Human Nature and the blank slate [Video file]. TED. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_chalks_it_up_to_the_blank_slate
  25. Quigley, S. P., Montanelli, D. S., & Wilbur, R. B. (1976). Some aspects of the verb system in the language of deaf students. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 19 (3), 536-550.
  26. Quigley, S. P., & Frisina, D. R. (1961). Institutionalization and psycho-educational development of deaf children. Council for Exceptional Children.
  27. Schick, B., de Villiers, J., de Villiers, P., & Hoffmeister, B. (2002). Theory of mind: Language and cognition in deaf children. The ASHA Leader, 22, 6-7.
  28. Singleton, J. L., & Newport, E. L. (2004). When learners surpass their models: The acquisition of American Sign Language from inconsistent input. Cognitive psychology, 49(4), 370-407.
  29. Stevenson, E. (1964). A study of the educational achievement of deaf children of deaf parents. California News, 80(14.3).
  30. Strong, M., & Prinz, P. M. (1997). A study of the relationship between American Sign Language and English literacy. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 2(1), 37-46.
  31. Stuckless, E. R., & Birch, J. W. (1966). The influence of early manual communication on the linguistic development of deaf children: I. American Annals of the Deaf.
  32. Vernon, M., & Koh, S. (1970). Early manual communication and deaf children's achievement. American Annals of the Deaf, 115(5), 527-36.
  33. Wilbur, R. B. (2000). The use of ASL to support the development of English and literacy. Journal of deaf studies and deaf education, 5(1), 81-104.
  34. Woolfe, T., Want, S. C., & Siegal, M. (2002). Signposts to development: Theory of mind in deaf children. Child development, 73(3), 768-778.
  35. Woolfe, T., Herman, R., Roy, P., & Woll, B. (2010). Early vocabulary development in deaf native signers: A British Sign Language adaptation of the communicative development inventories. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(3), 322-331.

 

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Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 2

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 2

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, September 13, 2016

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 BC" interpreter questions.

This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings.

Hello! Brenda Cartwright (BC) here. Let's continue on the fun topic of: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the difference. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter. Enjoy!

1. Please vs. Enjoy

Both PLEASE and ENJOY have the dominate open flat hand make a circle over the chest, ENJOY also has the non-dominate hand circling over the stomach at the same time. To remember PLEASE, think of when something is pleasing it warms your heart. Think of all the different kinds of food you enjoy to remember ENJOY also circles over the stomach.

Please
Enjoy

2. Hot vs. Yell

HOT and YELL look similar, but HOT moves down from the mouth like you are forcefully pushing something hot away from your mouth and dropping it, while the gesture made when signing YELL indicates something loud is coming out of your mouth and going up into the air for everyone to hear.

Hot
Yell

3. Brown vs. Beer

BROWN and BEER both use the B-hand moving downward on the face. You can remember BEER slides down the side of the mouth with a repeated motion by thinking of spilling a little bit as you drink and wiping it with your hand (and wiping again to make sure you got it all).

Brown
Beer

4. Food vs. Eat a lot

FOOD and EAT use the same sign - the dominant modified O-hand (also called AND-hand) make repeated movements to the mouth, symbolizing bringing food to the mouth as you eat it. EAT A LOT uses an exaggerated repeated motion because when you EAT A LOT you eat and eat (and eat!). EAT A LOT can also be signed with two hands.

Food
Eat a lot

5. Read vs. Dance

READ and DANCE both use dominant V-hands and non-dominant open palms. However, they are easy to remember because the gestures represent reading and dancing. When signing READ the V-hand represents eyes moving down the page (the open palm) while reading. When signing DANCE the V-hand represents legs dancing on a dance floor (the open palm).

Read
Dance

These examples are aligned with the Visual Discrimination section of Lesson 5 (page 60) from Lessons and Activities in American Sign Language by Brenda E. Cartwright and Suellen J. Bahleda. Check out the book for more ASL Activities and watch for more examples from this series: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave
 

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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

Guide to Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby: Signing With Food - Starting at 4 to 6 Months (whenever they start eating)

Guide to Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby: Signing With Food - Starting at 4 to 6 Months (whenever they start eating)

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, June 14, 2016

By Jillian Winn

It’s easy to start signing with your baby and it’s amazing to be able to communicate with them through sign before they are able to talk. To get started, simply use signs when communicating with your child. There isn’t a “right” way or specific order to learning or teaching signs, just start by picking signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life. There is no limit to how many signs you should introduce at a time, so sign as much as you are comfortable with. In particular, fluent signers and parents with deaf children should sign as much as possible.

This is just one example of how you could introduce signs to a baby that is 4 to 6 months old and comes from the prospective of hearing parents with hearing children.

What’s for dinner?

Doctors recommend first introducing food to babies around the age of 4 to 6 months (check with your doctor to see what they recommend for your baby). Because of this, it is a great time to introduce food signs. You can simply introduce the sign for each new food as they try it. Remember that repetition is important in learning language, so sign the food each time you give it to your child.

In addition to specific food signs, you may also want to use EAT (Let’s EAT; Do you want to EAT?), DRINK (Take a DRINK; Do you want a DRINK?), HUNGRY, and THIRSTY (Are you HUNGRY/THIRSTY? I am HUNGRY/THIRSTY.). The sign for EAT is a common sign that can also be used to mean food, meal, snack, and dine.

Some basic signs for describing food at this age/stage are HOT, COLD, MORE (“Do you want MORE?”) and ALL DONE (“Are you ALL DONE?”).

 Describing Mealtime in American Sign Language (ASL)

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

Don’t play with your food? Describing food, including the color.

As soon as your child is born, they are developing their senses. Even introducing food to your little one is a great sensory activity. Children love to look, taste, and feel the world around them, including food. It’s actually great for them to play with their food; they learn a lot through play! As they try new foods, encourage them to check it out, pick it up, and feel it in the process of tasting it. One of my favorite and most used items is a good plastic bib with a pocket – it makes cleanup easier when your bib catches fallen food and you can just rinse the bib off in the sink or throw it in the dishwasher (and when cleanup is easier, you’re not as worried about your little one making a mess).

Ask them if they like how the food tastes, how it feels and describe it to them – what texture is it, what temperature is it, what color is it? Remember that although your child can’t answer your questions, they are learning through play and from your actions, how you describe the food items, and what you sign. This is a great opportunity to introduce color signs (and other descriptive signs) as you talk about the food you give your child.

 Colors of the Food Rainbow in American Sign Language (ASL)

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

Reading Time

In addition to signing food and color signs while you are eating, you can sign while reading books that talk about food, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, where you learn about all the things the very hungry caterpillar ate throughout the week. Reading books that incorporate the same vocabulary/signs that you use throughout the day will increase exposure, reinforce the use of them, and help your little one learn them.

More Resources to Help You Get Started

Signing Savvy Wordlists:   

Baby Signs - Starting Around 4 to 6 MonthsBaby Signs - Getting Started with FoodDescribing Mealtime in American Sign LanguageColors in American Sign Language

Printable Posters

 Colors in American Sign Language (ASL) Colors of the Food Rainbow in American Sign Language (ASL)

 Describing Mealtime in American Sign Language (ASL) Fruit in American Sign Language (ASL) Vegetables in American Sign Language (ASL)

Book: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Bib: Plastic bib with a pocket to catch food

BABYBJORN Soft Bib, Green/Yellow, 2 Pack

 

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Guide to Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby: 0 to 6 Months

Guide to Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby: 0 to 6 Months

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, April 26, 2016

By Jillian Winn

It’s easy to start signing with your baby and it’s amazing to be able to communicate with them through sign before they are able to talk. To get started, simply use signs when communicating with your child. There isn’t a "right" way or specific order to learning or teaching signs, just start by picking signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life. There is no limit to how many signs you should introduce at a time, so sign as much as you are comfortable with. In particular, fluent signers and parents with deaf children should sign as much as possible.

This is just one example of how you could introduce signs to a baby that is 0 to 6 months old and comes from the prospective of hearing parents with hearing children.

Who lives in the household and who do they interact with the most?

When we had our first son, our household included my husband and I and our new son, so we signed MOM and DAD to him. Now we have a new baby boy, so we also sign BABY and BROTHER.

If you have others that interact with your baby on a regular basis, you can also sign their names, such as GRANDPA, GRANDMA, AUNT, UNCLE, etc. Our family doesn’t live in the same city as us, so we mostly stuck to signing just MOM and DAD. We would sign in context to when we were talking about that person or when they were in the room. For example, "DAD is on his way home." "Look, DAD is home!"

When we would call family, we would use the sign then as well. For example, we would say, "We’re going to call GRANDPA and GRANDMA now," and sign GRANDPA and GRANDMA. We would sign GRANDPA and GRANDMA again when we were on the phone with them. We would often do video calls (FaceTime or Skype) and point to them and say and sign, "That’s GRANDPA. That’s GRANDMA."

Don’t forget about your pets, they’re a part of your household too! We have a cat, so we would sign CAT when he came in the room with us. 

Think about anyone that your baby interacts with on a regular or daily basis. Who watches them during the day? A parent? A family member? A BABYSITTER?

What activities do they do the most?

Think about what your baby does the most throughout the day – these are the things that are most common to your baby’s world and the best signs to start with.

Newborns do very little – mostly they eat/drink milk, sleep, and go to the bathroom.

The most common sign we would use is MILK.  Every time our son would have a feeding or bottle we would sign MILK. We would say, "Are you hungry, do you want some MILK?" While feeding him, we would say and sign, "Here’s your MILK."

We would also sign SLEEP. "Are you ready to go to SLEEP?" "Have a good night SLEEP." "SLEEP tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite." "How did you SLEEP?"

Newborns also go to the bathroom… a lot! When we would change our son’s diaper, we would sign POTTY / BATHROOM. You could sign DIAPER, but I found signing DIAPER to be a little impractical because it is signed at the waist and either I was holding him or he was on the changing table, my waist would typically be below my son’s eye level and I wanted him to be able to see when I signed, so using the sign POTTY just worked better for us.

We would sign BATH – "Are you ready for your BATH?" "Time for your BATH!" "You’re taking a BATH" "Isn’t it fun to take a BATH?"

As the baby grows and does more things during the day, you can incorporate more signs into your daily usage, like the sign PLAY

Introduce new signs contextually, when something is happening or about to happen. For example, if you are taking your baby to daycare, start signing SCHOOL the week before daycare starts (lots of people call daycare "school," but use whatever terminology you prefer to call it). Say, "Next week you’re going to SCHOOL." "Today you’re going to SCHOOL." "This is your SCHOOL."

Fingerspelling and the Alphabet

Fingerspelling is an important part of American Sign Language. Fingerspelling is signing the individual letters of the alphabet to spell out words. If you’re not sure what the sign is for an individual English word, you should think about the meaning of the word because that may help you think of a sign has that same meaning, however, there are many English words that do not have an ASL sign and should be fingerspelled. Names are often fingerspelled, such as the name of a company or of a person that does not have a sign name.

There are a number of ways you can introduce the alphabet and fingerspelling to your child.

  • Sign the Alphabet song
  • Read the book Chika Chika Boom Boom and sign the letters as they are mentioned throughout the book
  • Sign names – say, "Your name is ________" and fingerspell their name. You can also say, "Your name is spelled _______." You can tell them other people’s names and spell them, like siblings’ names, etc. Don't forget about your pet's names too!

While spelling is likely beyond the cognitive abilities of this age range, it never hurts to start to lay the foundation earlier and I like the excuse to practice my fingerspelling! Children do recognize the shapes that you are making and will learn what a name looks like over time and will eventually realize the sign is made up of individual letters. It’s not expected, or is it the point, that they understand individual letters at this young age, but what’s important is that introducing fingerspelling continues to enhance communication and language skills.

Again, remember these are just suggestions. There isn’t a "right" way or specific order to learning or teaching signs, just start by picking signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life. And keep doing it!

More Resources to Help You Get Started

Signing Savvy Wordlist:

Baby Signs - 0 to 6 months old Wordlist

Printable Poster:

Alphabet Letters in American Sign Language (ASL)

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

 

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