Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Baby Signs

So my husband and I have been discussing off and on introducing a foreign language to our son. My husband's family is from German descent, but no one speaks German anymore. My family is mixed. My hubby is not good with languages (he's a scientist after all) and me being the musician have some knowledge of German, Italian, Spanish, French, and Latin. French is my strongest language since I started learning it about 16 years ago. I would not say that I was fluent. There are not many French speakers in the US, but I can handle the basics and can read it fairly well.

I also had some knowledge of baby sign from the day care I worked at and from church. The choir director was studying ASL (American Sign Language) and he used to to communicate with the choir during Mass. Mostly it was numbers and basic words involving music. The director also taught the children's choir to sign and sing. Since I filled in a few times, I learned words like "Lord" and "praise." At the day care we had a sheet with our lesson plan that gave some basic baby signs, and one of my co-workers also was learning ASL.

Okay, the point. So my hubby and I had been talking about foreign languages. My hubby is not comfortable with foreign languages so it would be me teaching our son. I think that would be okay, but it would leave my hubby out of conversations. My hubby became interested in the baby signs because he knew several people who used it and said that it helped to understand their child's frustrations as they were beginning or were not yet beginning to talk. He thought it would be a good idea to teach our child baby signs.

Baby signs is not exactly ASL. It's based on ASL but allowing the child to come up with signs for things on their own. For example, the ASL sign for fish is to make your hand swim, but some babies prefer to make fish faces instead. The concept is to teach children certain ASL signs for things they haven't picked up yet (like "hot" or "hurt"), but if they prefer to use the universal symbol for "pick me up" or blowing a kiss (which is "thank you" in ASL) that is fine.

Also baby sign is different than ASL because it uses Signed English. ASL is based on French (lol) so to sign in ASL you would sign phrases like "the woman old" because that is how French works. In Signed English you would sign as you do in spoken English ie "the old woman." Otherwise the child would not learn the correct sign with the correct spoken word.

It's helpful in communicating and helps the child feel less frustrated, which is why my hubby wants to use it. He'd like to know if the baby is crying because he's: hungry, hurt, dirty, or cold. And this makes sense to me. It also helps give the baby choices and understanding what they like. Maybe my son hates bananas. I'll ask him "do you like bananas." He can say no. Or maybe he just doesn't want a banana today so he can say yes. Then he can sign "want apples" instead.

It can also be taught gradually unlike common speech which children are immersed in. You start with one or two basic signs until the child gets the idea by signing back and add more. So you as the parent and the child can learn and develop signs together. Plus you use the signs with spoken speech. So even before the child can talk, you already know that they know words like "cat" and "dog" and you can teach them other animals like "rabbit" and "bird." That way by the time they do start to talk they already have an extensive vocabulary. You don't have to wait to hear them say the word in order to make sure that they know what it is.

Most instructors suggest beginning baby signs at 6 or 8 months when the child has better eye sight and is more alert. But you can begin baby signs at any age. It is even good for toddlers so they can learn more complex words without getting misunderstood. Baby sign is also great for children with speech or developmental delays such as Downs Syndrome and Autism.

I would like to try signing with my son once he's born. You can do that because it's similar to the language immersion that they learn when you talk. I think that I'll stick with basic words and not actual phrases until his vision improves and his dexterity develops. A lot of baby sign programs give you ten to twenty signs to start with. I figure the words I'll use the most will be "Mommy", "Daddy," "diaper", "eat," "bed," and "cat." I've picked these because in the first two months of life he literally will eat, sleep, and poop. The only significant live things will be Mommy, Daddy, and the two cats. After that we can add more words as he has more toys and books he's interested in, bath time fun, and starts to eat solid foods.

My hubby is actually really excited about the whole thing because of the ability to communicate and avoid tantrums. I'm really excited about it because my child will be learning a foreign language so to speak. He can develop real ASL as he gets older and he can learn to sing and sign which helps with memory. It's the best of both worlds. But we'll have to see how it goes in the months to come. Plus as hubby wonders, "what if whoever is watching him doesn't know baby signs and he's getting frustrated because they don't understand him?" My response was "well, they can call us or we can show them a few basic signs or hand them the book." We recently bought a book of baby signs, which is the reason why I'll blogging about the topic. But I'm not sure how well trying to aid the babysitters would go if say I was at my mom's group or at Mass. I guess we'll cross that bridge as we get to it.


  1. :-) We did not plan on doing that, but we ended up teaching Kalila a bit of it anyway & it was a huge help.. I may do a little more with this baby, at least start earlier.

    We are planning on foreign languages though... Just makes sense here and in our families. Our original goal was English, Arabic & Spanish. Somehow I keep catching myself teaching Kalila Kiswahili too... didn't mean too.. but I have. Thankfully Jas is ok with it lol. She's more focused on Spanish right now though because of Dora & Diego.

  2. I haven't given up French entirely. I just don't think it will be something to be bilingual in. I think learning music will also help develop language skills. Boys tend to have a difficult time with language in general. So the more we work on language skills, the easier it will be for him when he's in school.

    Plus I'm not into this whole "I'm American so why do I need to learn a foreign language" thing either. It's silly that our system doesn't introduce foreign languages until junior high or hs. It's so much harder to learn a language and retain it when you're older. It's also very ethnocentric of us. Our world is "shrinking" and we need to be able to communicate with people from other countries.

    So if ASL opens up doors for him and helps him learn French when he's older (because it's based on French), then I'm all for it.

  3. Agreed. I have a friend that says stuff like that a lot and it drives me batty. Thankfully we live in a place where even the public schools start teaching Spanish in Elementry... and we have places to send them for Arabic school as well. I do hope our kids become fluent in both of those... niether husband or I are at this point (working on it) and I can see how its limited us.


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!