allow them to communicate with you long before they can verbally
make for happier infants who communicate instead of having terrible-twos tantrums
increase the child’s IQ
accelerate verbal speech – they will speak verbally sooner
lasting literacy benefits – reading and writing significantly above average
Watching sign language videos with your baby and children will teach you enough sign language to start communicating with each other in sign language. Read the reviews of these various videos, so you can choose which ones are for you.
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Notes About Sign Language
Sign language is traditionally associated with deaf children. Parents and caregivers have been very grateful to find that sign language allows them to communicate with Down Syndrome children and other children with verbal communication challenges. However, ever since the recent publication of research into the benefits of communicating in sign language with hearing babies and children (by Linda Acredolo, Susan Goodwyn, Joseph Garcia and Marilyn Daniels), signing has moved into the mainstream.
A great way for children and their caregivers to pick up sign language vocabulary without any effort at all, is by watching fun, engaging, videos. After enjoying watching them, young children and adults find that they can remember and use the signs shown in the video to communicate with each other. Which videos do you think you and your children would enjoy? Presented above are reviews of these signing videos and DVDs. The reviews are carried out by hearing parents of hearing children.
These videos are all appropriate and effective for showing sign language to young hearing children, uniting repetition, music, footage of cute kids doing signs, and colorful images, presented in a simple way. Music, repetition, fun, play, and the role-models of seeing other kids do things, are the well-respected techniques employed by these educational videos to teach sign language. The vocabulary taught is that which is most useful and interesting for communication with infants and young children, from expressing needs to chatting about animals and everyday objects. The advantage of owning these videos is that your children can watch them again and again, thus firmly anchoring sign language vocabulary in their memories and copying-mechanisms.
Some parents of deaf children that are learning ASL as a first language from Deaf language models at school, report that they use these videos at home to reinforce sign language with the hearing siblings of their deaf child. Other parents of children with speech problems and other special conditions such as Down Syndrome, report that such videos are a God-send in enabling communication with their children.
The videos presented above have been produced for infants and young children. The first reaction of older kids and adults is “This is so simple”. However, after a relaxing time watching the video, they find that they too have learned and retained new sign vocabulary. These videos do not get into natural sign language grammar, and instead stay on the simpler level of acquiring vocabulary, permitting watchers to engage in what is referred to in linguistic studies as “contact signing”. As a parent or caregiver who wants their children to reap the benefits of signing, it’s best if you also learn the sign language vocabulary from watching these videos. This will allow you to respond to your child’s communication with you when they come away from the TV screen proudly showing you a sign that they just learned. It will also enable you to initiate signed communication with your kids. After all, your kids are programmed by biology to copy you, and learn the most from you!
The benefits of sign language for hearing children extend way beyond early childhood. Marilyn Daniels carried out more than a decade of research into the superiority of even a simple level of sign language in the teaching of reading and writing literacy for hearing children. She started this research after learning of the consistently higher scores that hearing children of deaf parents were getting in school, even though these children’s native language is not English, the language of the school. Their native language is sign language. In 'The Mask of Benevolence', Harlan Lane reports the experience of some Swedish educators - that a deaf teacher’s spatial approach to teaching algebra in Swedish Sign Language is a more successful method than their own verbal language’s usual method that uses written notation with verbal explanations.
It is estimated that ASL - American Sign Language - is the language of 500 million people in North America, and that it is the third most popular language in USA, after English and Spanish. A person who knows sign language is more capable of communicating with Deaf people.
ASL is a language that is accepted in many educational institutions for foreign language credits. Knowing ASL provides you with more possibilities for employment and business.
The above videos all show American Sign Language, or ASL. This is the sign language of English-speaking North America - USA and Canada.
Due to the fact that sign languages are natural languages, each country has its own sign language - in fact, each region has its own variations. However, ASL is familiar to many people outside of North America. This is surely due to the strong American Deaf Culture and the volumes of advanced sign language, cultural and educational studies and aid that stream out of North America. USA is the only country to have an entire University where everything is taught in sign language – the famous Gallaudet University. The writer Harlan Lane reports his astonishment at finding American Sign Language accompanying spoken French in a class for deaf children in the African country of Burundi. The teacher had studied deaf education in Nigeria under Dr Andrew Foster, the first African-American graduate of Gallaudet University.
Recently, Dr Bill Vicars of ASL University published a letter he received in French from a person in Ivory Coast - an African country that speaks French and whose Deaf community use ASL.
Due to historical developments, many countries with different verbal languages have similar sign language alphabets. For example, the alphabets for American and French Sign Language are almost the same, and there are many words that actually are the same.
Actually, knowing one sign language means you are in a great position to be able to quickly start understanding sign languages of other countries.
Paddy Ladd explains why in Rachel Sutton-Spence's book 'Analysing Sign Language Poetry' : 'Unlike spoken-language grammars, which vary widely, sign-language grammars seem to be remarkable similar. In a very deep sense, their visual logic seems incapable of being adequately expressed except within certain parameters.'
He goes on to explain how the pioneering sign language poet, Dorothy Miles, saw the potential of sign language to become a uniting world language : 'She saw how Deaf peoples could communicate across international borders, and indeed engaged in that process herself. In so doing, she gained a glimpse of something greater..., that Deaf peoples could serve as models of global communication and world citizenship, and thus of a step towards what she believed could bring world peace....
Non-deaf people could benefit from learning sign languages,... so that they too could not only communicate with Deaf people in their native countries, but utilise these skills for international communication.'
Paddy Ladd also nicely summarises one attraction that sign language has for all people : 'Signing [is] as much an art as a science. Somehow even the most mundane daily conversations [are] more vivid, more dynamic, more interesting, funnier, when rendered visually....
As [Dorothy Miles] loved to point out, one could create new signs, whose forms had never been seen before, which would never be found in any dictionary, and yet everyone understood what they meant because of the power of visual logic combined with the rhetorical skill of the individual signer. These signs might last only for an instant, would not be remembered the next day, and yet somehow they spoke to the essential genius of visual languages.'
Paddy Ladd goes on to explain that 'sign languages contain several features which actually appear to predispose them towards storytelling. The first [is] role-shift... This is such a fundamental syntactic device, that virtually any narrative sentence will display examples.
This is augmented by the visual, linguistic necessity of placement in sign languages, and the emotive power this syntactic device contains. Something held above can be quite threatening, especially if we factor-in the simultaneous facial reaction of the signer to that sign and its placement. By contrast, a child placed below oneself can be the object of reactions of care and tenderness, and those emotions conveyed swiftly and intensely to the watcher. Facial expression... and the visual representation of size, substance and texture... are immediately absorbed by the senses when watching sign languages, and both these lend themselves to sign-language storytelling. The visual rendering of verbs in sign languages is often more emotionally vivid than speech, again due to a reduced use of onomatopoeia [words that sound or look like what they mean] in the latter.'
An example is a skit by Dorothy Miles (and quoted from Deaf in America : Voices from a Culture by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries).
The English translation is: "the lighthouse flashes in the night". It is a narration, twice-removed; the speaker narrates to us what has happened. The actual signed performance is: LIGHTHOUSE-ON-HILL FLASH-AND-TURN FLASH-AND-TURN. The signer is the "experiencer", and we watch the events actually unfold.
Compare the unfolding of Dorothy Miles' signed BUG FLASH-HERE FLASH-THERE FLASH-THERE CATCH-OBJECT to the summarized English translation "I kept seeing a firefly out of the corner of my eye and finally caught it".
Freda Norman's skit (again quoted from Deaf in America) PHOTOGRAPH CAMERA-CLICK FLASH unfolds, whereas the English translation "a flashbulb on a camera went off" has the words in the opposite order to how the events unfold.
Maybe this immediate visual grammar tense makes ASL storytelling more powerful than its English counterpart.
In The Signs of Language, one of the original works that turbo-charged sign language linguistic studies, Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima noted that hearing people (or rather, people who don't know sign language) find sign languages to be beautiful and mysterious. Beautiful for the expressive qualities cited above. Mysterious because of the interplay of the iconic and linguistic properties The iconic signs seem to suggest a meaning. However, those seemingly iconic signs conform to sophisticated linguistic rules. If you don't know the language, then the meaning will remain elusively and mysteriously out of reach.
The english version of the bilingual poem (sign language / english) 'Language for the Eye' by Dorothy Miles, one of the poems studied in Rachel Sutton-Spence's Analysing Sign Language Poetry eloquently explains and demonstrates the beautiful expressive power of sign language:
Language for the Eye
Hold a tree in the palm of your hand,
or topple it with a crash.
Sail a boat on finger waves,
or sink it with a splash.
From your fingertips see a frog leap,
at a passing butterfly.
The word becomes the picture in this language for the eye.
Follow the sun from rise to set,
or bounce it like a ball.
Catch a fish in a fishing net,
or swallow it, bones and all.
Make traffic scurry, or airplanes fly,
and people meet and part.
The word becomes the action in this language of the heart.
by Dorothy Miles
Using sign language also allows you to communicate politely with your mouth full, to communicate across window panes and noisy streets, and under water when scuba diving!
If you find sign language fascinating, some promoters of baby sign language products make a point of encouraging adults to continue with more formal studies of sign language that include grammar. As you can see, there is a fascinating world of grammar to be discovered by the student of sign language.
If you are interested in reading more about the benefits of signing with babies and young children, from the mouths of the researchers who studied this, then the following books are for you: