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Signing With Babies And Children: Signing in Bilingual Homes: ASL is the Common Bond

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Signing in Bilingual Homes: ASL is the Common Bond

Are you fortunate enough to know more than one language? Feeling a little confused about how to teach your child your native language? Do you slip back into English because you fear your little one won’t understand you otherwise? Do you struggle between the desire to give your child the gift of a second language and the concern that your personal communication and connection will suffer? Well, you’re not alone. I hear over and over again from bilingual parents that it’s easier just to speak English with their kids because that’s the “norm” among other parents and the kids’ friends. But what a gift they would be missing out on.

Our home happens to be quad lingual. You’re probably wondering how we get through the day! We have figured out how to make it work for us. My first language is Hebrew, while my husband and children are Americans and the extended family knows about one word in Hebrew – Shalom. Our wonderful nanny is a native Spanish speaker and we have always encouraged her to share her language with us. I knew early in my first pregnancy that I wanted my children to benefit from all these languages, but until I discovered signing, I wasn’t sure how to integrate so many different vocabularies without causing confusion in our home.

Signing became a common language for everyone in our household. Whether my husband was offering our daughter some milk or her nanny handed her a cup of leche or I poured her chalav, we all used the same ASL sign to describe it. In this way, it was easy for my kids to learn new words in all the languages, because the sign was always the same and it became the common bond.

Signing as a multiple-language tool is a wonderful way to demonstrate to our children the similarities among people and races all over the world. In this way, signing encourages tolerance. Signing is a way to make the unknown familiar, and teaches our kids the most important skills in the world: understanding and compassion.

Regardless of how many languages are spoken in your home, teaching your child ASL is a proven way to begin to hardwire yet another skill – the ability to learn other languages. We have long known that it is easier to learn a second language as a small child, while the pathways of the brain are still being mapped. Studies now suggest that a child who has learned a second language (including sign language) early in life has an easier time learning additional languages as they age, because their brains already understands the process. Signing can be your child’s “gateway” second language. It’s the gift that’s bound to enrich your child’s life tremendously!

Let the Sign Shine!

Etel Leit, M.S.
Founder & Owner


Anonymous said...

Yeah! I think I should consider the same for myself... I love being able to sign as my husband teaches our children Vietnamese. My husband has picked up sign language a bit as well as he teaches our children his native language. Now if only I can get my husband to sign more and speak to "me" in his native language, maybe I could be able learn Vietnamese more fluently as well^_^.

My Smart Hands said...

I could not agree with Etel more! Being in Canada we have a lot of bilingual families speaking French and English. All of the families who I know that sign and speak two or more languages find that signing is a great link between the two languages.

Baby Fingers said...

Here in NYC there are so many families whose first language is not English... they are learning English while keeping their native language accessible for their baby---and find sign to be the common bond. One of our teachers is a great example... she grew up in Brazil with Portuguese. She is also deaf and is fluent in Portuguese Sign Language. Coming to NYC, she learned English and ASL. Her son is able to use all 4 langauges. The sign definitely bridged the gap!!