Friday, January 25, 2013

What's the differences between sign language and baby sign language

I always run into the comment, "Oh it's so nice (or so cute) that you're teaching Little Fingers baby signs!" ... and I cringe. Depending on the person and situation, I smile and says, 'thanks' and continue on. Other times I may say, 'Well we use real concepts from American Sign Language' ... or something along those lines.

Or when I am teaching Mommy & Me or did my research study in 2008, I emphasized 'sign language with babies' - this concept is very different than Baby Signs! I know it's easier to say Baby Sign Language but... they are not one in the same.

Why do I make such a big deal out of this? Because research warrants the amazing results with ASL concepts for babies. When I first starting teaching sign language to others, one of my favorite lines to say came from Joseph Garcia from Signing With Your Baby... It Takes A Language to Learn a Language! 

American Sign Language is a legitimate language (We've already talked this topic before, click here!). The quick of it is - Baby Signs is not a true language. .. which is a shame because the origin of Baby Sign came from two wonderfully educated women who did substantial research proving using gestural communication with infants and toddlers promotes language development, positive social skills, joint attention and all other positive communication skills. (I am not one to bash other people or companies, so I prefer to keep things nameless if that's ok with you). 

BUT... Baby Signs does not use all concepts in ASL and creates some fake signs. For example, the sign 'bird' is a person flapping like they have wings. The sign BIRD in ASL is the pointer finger and thumb at the mouth/chin like a bird's beak. (keep in mind the sign BIRD in ASL is capitalized, because it is considered 'glossed'. Remember that discussion? Click here!)

Why is this important?
Before going into a dissertation on the topic, the highlights are:

  • it takes a language to learn a language
  • carry over is inconsistent with Baby Signs. If a child is taught homemade signs and signs that accommodate their lifestyles, they cannot use them in other settings (e.g. daycare, community, school, etc).
    • sign language reduces the guesswork in a toddlers/infants' thought process with their communicators (e.g. parents). If their signs are made up, then the guesswork comes back! That's not fun! It's like the pointing game. While a infant/toddlers first gesture is the point and it's extremely meaningful and effective... after a certain it's important to move away from the point Katie @ PlayingWithWords365 wrote a great blog post about the importance of pointing (click here!).
  • ASL is not taught to infants and toddlers for its grammatical concepts, which is where people get confused. But using real gestures that mean something to more than the person who created them (e.g. mommy or daddy) leads to easier growth and learning for the child. 

I just emphasize to moms and dads looking for a sign language class, book, and/or DVD for your infant or toddler to make sure it's not actual Baby Signs. There are many companies that promote ASL concepts. By no means are we discussing ASL using the language concepts grammatically-speaking (e.g. mouth morphemes, etc. - now that's another day's discussion for sure!) - but using true signs will help with language and communication growth. 

Ms Little Fingers signing HORSE
(this is the end of the sign for her)
P.S I didn't realize how hard it is to get her to pose
for a signing pic! LOL!
I am aware of the fine motor concerns with infants and young toddlers and it's reasoning to creating Baby Signs. I still have the same feelings though. What I teach my moms and dads is this: sign the sign as it's supposed to be signed. If your little one signs it incorrectly, don't necessarily always correct them, but you keep signing it correctly. Modeling is key! They think they are signing it right - I promise! As they continue to develop,  so will their signs! You can see from Ms Little Fingers signing HORSE - she's not on the top of her head like she should be. .. I continued to model it with positive praise that she was signing it correctly ... her handshape was correct (she moved her two fingers like the horse's ears), ... it was just a couple inches off of where it should have been! Don't worry folks - I didn't break the bank over it. And guess what, she's since signing it correctly!

If you are looking for a class, check SigningTime Academy. If they don't have instructors in your area, let me know. I know a few other great companies that might be able to help!

Happy Signing!

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