American Sign Language (ASL) has been one of the primary means of communication for the deaf since the early 1800s after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet helped to develop the language and then went on to establish a university for the deaf. Now, the practice of teaching hearing children sign language is gaining popularity nationwide.
ASL is now classified as a world language, the same as Spanish, French, or any other foreign language. Therefore, if a child speaks sign language, the child is considered bilingual. When children are taught English and ASL together, they are processing language using both sides of the brain. This gives the children two places to recall language from instead of just one.
Research has found that the use of signs and finger spelling will accommodate a wide range of learning styles: “verbal linguistic,” kinesthetic” and “interpersonal.” Using ASL is the representation of information through seeing, hearing, and movement, and the more pathways that are created in the brain, the stronger the memory.
Babies as young as six to seven months old can remember a sign, according to experts. By eight months, children can begin to sign single words and imitate gestures, and by 24 months, children can sign compound words and full sentences. Many preschools have also begun to teach sign language to their students.
The use of sign language has proven to be beneficial for children in a wide variety of settings. Teaching sign language to preverbal babies has proven to benefit children in their later years. Research shows that sign language speeds up speech development, reduces frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves before they know how to talk, increases parent-child bonding, and lets babies communicate vital information, such as if they are hurt or hungry.
Infants who learn sign language also are thought to gain psychological benefits, such as improved confidence and self-esteem. Feelings of anger due to an inability to communicate may not occur as often. Having the ability to sign could be a lifesaver when a child is too flustered to speak clearly.
It has been suggested that learning sign language can delay speech, but this is negated by experts who claim that in fact, it aids speech development. Most baby who can sign speak earlier than babies who do not learn sign language.
Early exposure to signing helps infants to develop their language and reasoning skills. While other s are still crying to get what they want, signing babies are learning how to communicate with words and simple phrases.
Studies show long-term cognitive benefits, including:
- +12 IQ point advantage
- Accelerated speech and emotional development
- Enables children to communicate effectively
- Lowers frustration levels
- Improves child-parent bonding
- Reinforces the learning of educational concepts such as ABC’s, animals, and other specific themes
- Helps children remember words because there is muscle memory involved, and the more senses involved in learning, the greater memory retention the child will have
- Improves attentiveness to social gestures of others as well as of themselves
- Larger speaking vocabulary and ability to form longer sentences
- Earlier reading and larger reading vocabulary
- Better grades in school.
In addition, children who know ASL score 17% higher on standardized tests administered in the younger school years than children who do not know sign language. Bilingualism of any languages (whether signed or spoken) is a great booster for brains. It enriches and enhances children’s cognitive processes, leading to higher abstract and creative thinking, better problem-solving skills, greater cognitive flexibility, better listening skills, greater academic achievement, and much more. It also promotes cultural awareness, literacy, and other intellectual benefits.
Another possible benefit of teaching a child to sign may be the facilitation of their attentiveness to social gestures of others as well as of themselves. It has been seen over the years that teaching sign language to children with autism and other developmental disabilities does not interfere with learning to talk. In fact, teaching sign language along with speech has proven to speed up the development of spoken communication abilities.
Parents of hearing children are discovering sign language is beneficial for children in a wide variety of situations. You can reinforce the signs your children learn at preschool by using them at home. The practice of teaching hearing children sign language will continue to gain popularity due to its many, many benefits.