10 November 2009

Teaching Children a Second Language - Add American Sign Language (ASL) to the mix?

An increasing number of families are realizing the benefits of introducing their children to second (or more) languages from an early age. In this day in age it is becoming more and more possible to raise children bilingually. What an incredible gift!

Choosing and sticking with a plan for what is best for your family in regards to how to go about creating a bilingual home life can be quite challenging. When I bring up signing with a baby/child, a concern I often hear from parents who speak more than one language at home is “Will adding yet another language to the mix (American Sign Language) be too much? Won’t this be confusing for my child?!”

While this is a very natural way to feel, the answer is NO! In fact, using ASL signs with a child of any age who is learning more than one spoken language actually aids in the acquisition of the second language. This happens for a couple of reasons:

1) Signs serve as a visual cue of the new word’s meaning - Signs are often visually representative of the concept they represent. For example, when you sign BALL and say “pelota”, the sign is a great cue as to the meaning of the word because the sign for BALL actually looks like a ball! This is true for many signs.

2) Signs serve as bridges helping children to find commonalities between languages - In other words, a child may learn very early on that when you put your hands together (like the sign fore MORE) that means MORE! When you ask your child in the second language “Quieres Mas?” the first several times you might get a look from your child like “huh?!” But if you say “Quieres Mas?” while signing that familiar sign MORE, a light bulb will go on!! Instead of “huh?” your child will likely be thinking “I’m really not sure what mom just said, but I know that sign means MORE and yes, I want MORE!” Over time as he hears “Quieres Mas?” and simultaneously sees the sign MORE, he will connect meaning to the phrase, increasing understanding and thus use of the new language.

Adding signs to the mix will not confuse your child! Rather, it facilitates the process of understanding and using a new language. The is not only true for babies but for older children as well. This is just one of the many benefits of signing with a child!

What are your thoughts? Has anyone experienced that “light-bulb” moment mentioned above when they paired a sign with a “new” word? Would love to hear your stories!