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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:

American Sign Language Alphabet

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


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Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 1

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 1

Learning Tips   |  Friday, April 8, 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 Brenda" 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. This is the first article of this series, but watch for more to come!

Hello! I’m Brenda Cartwright (BC) and today’s fun topic is: “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. Sick vs. Disease

You can remember the signs for SICK and DISEASE because your extended middle fingers point at the areas where we often feel sick - at your forehead and stomach. For SICK, touch your forehead and stomach at the same time. DISEASE is similar, but you make small circles in and out from the body.


2. Ask vs. Question

The signs for ASK and QUESTION can look similar, but for ASK you make a bent motion with your index finger as it moves in the direction of who you are asking the question of, while when you sign QUESTION you make the outline of a question mark in the air.


3. Senate vs. Committee

SENATE and COMMITTEE look similar because they are both ASL initialized signs of the sign for MEMBER. The S-hand is used when signing SENATE and the C-hand is used when signing COMMITTEE.


4. Science vs. Experiment

To remember these signs, think of combining the contents of two beakers or test tubes by pouring them into a single container. SCIENCE uses A-hands and EXPERIMENT is an ASL initialized sign of SCIENCE that uses E-hands. CHEMISTRY (C-hands) and BIOLOGY (B-hands) are also ASL initialized signs of SCIENCE.


5. Convince me vs. Convince you

Convince is a directional sign. To sign CONVINCE ME, your B-hands make a chopping motion at the same time towards your neck and to sign CONVINCE YOU the motion is done outward, towards the person you are trying to convince.

Convince me
Convince you

6. Pray vs. Request

PRAY and REQUEST are similar, but for PRAY your hands are together and make a downward motion in front of your chest, while REQUEST starts with your hands away from your body and then they move in to come together and make the PRAY sign.


7. Attention vs. Focus

ATTENTION has both open flat hands start by the eyes and make small forward movements, while your hands when signing FOCUS move forward and down as they focus in on a point.


8. Russia vs. Brag

RUSSIA and BRAG are both signed at the waist, but RUSSIA uses 5-hands (think of placing the hands at the waist during a Russian dance), while BRAG alternates Y-hands (think of strutting around).


9. Drink (as in "drink something non-alcoholic") vs. Drink (as in "drink liquor")

It’s easy to get the different signs for DRINK confused, but signing you need a drink can have two very different meanings depending on what sign you use. The two signs use the same movement and placement, but DRINK (as in "drink something non-alcoholic") uses a C-hand, while DRINK (as in "drink liquor") uses a modified C-hand with three fingers.

Drink (water)
Drink (alcohol)

10. Don't mind vs. Don't care

DON’T MIND and DON’T CARE both start at the nose and move away from the face, but DON’T MIND uses the index finger, while DON’T CARE starts as a flat O-hand and opens up.

Don't mind
Don't care

11. Glasses vs. Gallaudet

This example shows that small differences in movement matter. For both signs, the G-hand starts open and closes as it pulls back - there is one movement for GALLAUDET and two movements for GLASSES. You can remember that the sign for GALLAUDET is like the sign for GLASSES because Thomas Gallaudet wore glasses.


12. Empty vs. Available

This is another example of how small differences in movement matter. For both signs the middle finger slides out along the back of the non-dominant hand - there is one movement for EMPTY and two movements for AVAILABLE.


13. Sad vs. Friendly

Facial expressions are important when conveying meaning in sign language, but especially when it comes to signing emotions. When signing SAD, the open 5 hands slowly slide down the face, while for FRIENDLY they make a fluttering motion while moving up and away from the face.


14. March vs. Funeral

A similar movement is made when signing MARCH and FUNERAL, but MARCH uses 4-hands with the palms down marching out (think of the fingers as people moving in sync together in a parade), while FUNERAL uses upright V-hands (think of people following each other in a funeral procession).


These examples are aligned with the Visual Discrimination section of Lesson 8 (page 98) from Activities in American Sign Language by Brenda Cartwright and Sue 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

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