Monday, December 27, 2010

Sign Language as a Second Language

Emily Patterson is a communications coordinator for Primrose Schools.  She recently contacted Mommy about the possibility of contributing an article to my blog.  Mommy thought her article on teaching young children American Sign Language was something many of my mommy readers would enjoy:

Sign Language and Your Baby

The ability to communicate in a variety of ways to the widest possible audience and the skill of versatility are two things that are vital in a economic time like the one we are facing now. Along with the rising need for people with bilingual ability is the need for those with the ability to communicate non-verbally, with benefit of the disabled- primarily the deaf.

The growing shortage of qualified interpreters fluent in American Sign Language has led to more career opportunities – and if current trends continue, it's likely that skilled ASL interpreters will have little problem securing lucrative employment in a society where such a commodity is destined to be in short supply.

Signing Before They Can Speak

The best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language has proven to be the early ages of 2 to 5. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well. This can be taught at home or some child care programs incorporate it into their curriculum.

Many indigenous peoples around the world, including American Indian nations, have used sign language for centuries to facilitate communication with other tribes whom don't share their language. Some paleontologists and anthropologists theorize that Neanderthals – who apparently lacked the vocal mechanism to produce many spoken words – depended a great deal upon hand gestures to communicate. So it may not be as odd as you think.

Research shows that sign language is actually innate. An article from the Boulder Daily Camera presented strong evidence that babies as young as six months old communicate with their hands:

" 6 to 7 months, babies can remember a sign. At eight months, children
can begin to imitate gestures and sign single words. By 24 months, children
can sign compound words and full sentences. They say sign language reduces
frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves
before they know how to talk." (Glarion, 2003)

The author also cites study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which proved that young children who are taught sign language at an early age develop better verbal skills as they get older. The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that "using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration...[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music" (Glarion, 2003).

The Best Time To Start

Not only does early childhood education in signing give pre-verbal youngsters a way to communicate, it can also strengthen the parent-child bond – in addition to giving children a solid foundation for learning a skill that will serve them well in the future. The evidence suggests that the best time to start learning ASL is before a child can even walk – and the implications for facilitating the parent-child relationship are amazing.

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Austin child care facility, a member of the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose Schools (located in 16 states throughout the U.S.) and part of the network of child care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.