TODDLERS AND SIGN LANGUAGE

Signed language was something I wanted to introduce to the girls rather early because we have a Deaf family member and friend. There’s mixed information on exposing young children to a second language, when and how to go about doing it. (I’ll be talking about signed language in our region in particular. These may not be the same signs that are used where you reside.)  

All signed language is not the same, although some signs may translate the same. Two common forms of signed language are American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed Exact English (SEE). ASL signs the overall notion, while SEE signs just as one would speak, signing every word. 

Example-

ASL: Two pets, me.

SEE: I have two pets.

I have experience with both forms.  Years ago, when homeschooled, my family took a class in SEE, at the time, but we believed we were taking ASL.  My Deaf cousin and his immediate family mostly use ASL. Our family currently practices a combination of SEE and ASL, but leans towards SEE. This is often considered Pidgin Signed English (PSE). I prefer this method with the girls as it allows us to sign the words as we say them (our favourite book) making it easier to learn.  

Why Signed English?  I have heard some parents say that their child refuses to talk, choosing rather to sign. Apparently, at times, it has required professional assistance. I, honestly, don’t see this as a problem, but I understand that others, including many medical professionals, do.  With this being a potential dilemma, it was clear that my preferred method, Signed English, would work best for our family. Now, full discloser, there are times I will just sign “eat” out the window to Hubby when he is in the garage and he’ll either nod or shake his head.  But, when signing to the girls it’s, “Are you ready to eat?”   

They are picking up many signs up rather quickly and starting to sign back, “star, more, milk,” being the most recognizable. While they know a few single signs well, just as they do a few spoken words, it’s not baby sign! The Deaf community finds baby sign language offensive. To clarify, I’m not teaching the girls signed language so that I may understand them before they are more verbal. They are learning so that they may communicate with the Deaf community. V will often move her hands and fingers like she is signing, but they aren’t very distinguishable signs, kind of like when she talks and there’s some babble. She’s learning. The first time my cousin could communicate with the girls he was so excited! Not many family members have taken the time to learn and he was thrilled he and the girls could understand each other a bit in his language, while most others just write or type.

The most common signs and sentences we use regularly:

Are you dirty/clean?

Are you ready to go to grandma’s/sleep…?

Are you hungry?

Are you feeling frustrated/happy?

We are all done.

Want more eggs/milk?

And, of course, the most important sign and the first we taught: “I love you”.

Does your family practice sign language? What is your preferred method?

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