American Sign Language (ASL)
what is sign language?
Sign language is the physical expression of vocalized communication. American Sign Language (ASL) follows different grammatical rules than the spoken language. ASL also involves facial expressions to more clearly convey the message. It is similar to putting things into context in vocalized language. In many languages a single word can have multiple meanings. In order to know which meaning the word is intended, one must look at the sentence, the content around the words in order to properly derive its correct meaning (1).
how many sign languages are there?
Just like the spoken language, there are many sign languages. “All countries, even English-speaking ones, have their own sign language” (2). That’s 195 sign languages if what Laura Berg says is true. (3) Wikipedia states that there are perhaps 300 sign languages used around the world today. Africa has 25 or more sign languages. South America has many local, village, French and more commonly used sign languages. Asia, Europe has French, British, Hungarian, Russian, Swedish, German, mixed and local sign languages. The Middle East has mainly Arab, village and Levantine and family sign languages. There are Danish and Icelandic sign languages. New Zealand and Australia have their own sign languages (4). When I google, “How many sign languages are there?” AI Media Blog says there are upwards of 135 sign languages (5).
If you are fluent in ASL and travel to England, you won’t necessarily be able to understand a person signing British Sign Language (BSL). I remember a funny story I heard on the radio a few years back regarding the English language. Depending on which country your’e in, one word can have very different meanings. For example, a Canadian woman traveled to the United States, stopped at a gas station and asked for a “rubber”. The clerk pointed her to the condoms to her embarrassment and surprise. She was very confused because in Canada, a “rubber” means a “rubber band” or “hair tie”.
what is asl?
ASL stands for American Sign Language. This is the most common sign language used in North America. This is the equivalent to learning a second spoken language. Your child will be bi-lingual or multi-lingual if they are able to sign fluently. Different parts of the brain are utilized since the hands and facial expressions are emphasized in ASL. For our purposes we will be using American Sign Language or ASL.
What are the benefits of Sign language?
Many babies are able to sign before they are able to speak. This can be very helpful when mommy is trying to understand what baby is telling her. As new mothers we become rather adept at discerning our baby’s cries but if baby can communicate their needs rather than fuss about it then frustration is spared for both parties. Just like learning to walk or talk, baby’s first attempt won’t be perfect. Recognizing your baby’s style is important to your success to communicate with one another.
when should I start signing with baby?
If you’re like me and you were gung-ho on signing with your little one, you may or may not have bought a baby sign-language book and read it when you were pregnant. By the time baby was old enough to become aware of signs, I had forgotten what I read six months before.
You can start signing as soon as you like with baby. It’s probably not a bad idea just so you become familiar with the signs byt he time baby is ready. If you make it a part of your daily habit then baby will pick the signs up more quickly.
Realistically, after the fourth trimester is a good time to start signing with your baby. It’s funny because it’s easy to do and easy to not do. If you forget, don’t beat yourself up. Just pick up on where you left off. Keep it simple and have fun with it.
when will baby start to sign back?
On average, babies begin to sign back around 10 months. This ranges and depends on your little one just like everything else. Of course this depends on how consistent mommy and baby’s caretakers are with the signs. The key is consistency. Try picking one word that you can incorporate into your life easily. Once this is done, add a new word. For example, milk is the number one word to start with since baby lives on breastmilk or formula for the first few months of their life. Once they reach an age where they are able to see clearly, interact with you then this is a great time to introduce your first sign.
how to sign the alphabet in asl
The lovely thing about knowing the alphabet in sign language is that you can spell baby’s name. If you don’t know a word, you can always spell it out or fingerspell it until you learn the sign for the word.
Righty “A” back
Righty “B” back
Righty “E” back
Righty “J” start
Righty “J” finish
Righty “M” back
Righty “N” back
Righty “R” back
Righty “S” back
Righty “U” back
Righty “V” back
Righty “W” back
Righty “W” back
Righty “Z” start
Righty “Z” finish
Lefty “A” back
Lefty “B” back
Lefty “E” back
Lefty “J” start
Lefty “J” finish
Lefty “M” back
Lefty “N” back
Lefty “R” back
Lefty “S” back
Lefty “T” back
Lefty “W” back
Lefty “Z” start
Lefty “Z” back
helpful learning advice
Some advice given to me by an early learning center was to put the alphabet and numbers everywhere so that baby is better able to recognize them. We love this felt wall decor for baby. I only used the capital letters to demonstrate the sign language letters but it actually comes with both uppercase and lower case letters as well as punctuation marks. We use this everyday when we watch Sesame Street when they sing “The Letter of the Day” song or “The Number of the Day” song. YouTube Kids does the entire alphabet if you can stand it. We’ll hand her the appropriate letter when the song comes on. She learns to associate the image and the letter in her hand to the sound and the song. You can do the same for the numbers. It’s repetitive but it’s a good learning activity where the little ones are encouraged to move and jump around.
what are the best first words to teach baby?
I read the Baby Signing Bible when I was still pregnant. I was so excited to be able to start signing with my baby once she arrived. Laura Berg is a mother and a nurse who founded My Smart Hands. This books is super easy and fast read. Laura breaks down your baby’s developmental stages, discusses the benefits of signing which is really why I was so excited.
To be able to communicate with baby and know what she’s saying rather than playing the guessing game if she’s upset. One example that I found so powerful were that her toddler was fussy and they were in a hurry so she just figured that the baby was being difficult. Once in the car, the baby signs “hurt” and points to her toe. Apparently there was a pebble in little one’s shoe! Talk about heart wrenching. Your child is trying to tell you something is wrong but we cant understand so they suffer.
I’m sure there are tons of examples and times when we are tired and we don’t know how to help and we just wait for baby to get over it when really ASL gives us a super power to be able to understand and avoid a bunch of unnecessary headaches for mommy and baby.
The other story that I found inspiring was when a mommy was at a play ground watching her kid play and wasn’t sure if she needed to intervene. Rather than walk over there and butt-in she was able to sign to her son asking if he was okay or needed help. He signed back, “No” and everything is fine. Mom was relieved, son is good and all is well. I don’t want to spoil all of the stories but there are so many examples of how this unspoken language can help families in our everyday lives.
baby sign language books
If you don’t think you need 400 signs but are good with about 100 to start then here’s another fun option! Baby Sign Language made easy is free if you have a kindle account and it’s available via amazon prime if you want the paperback version. Either way you’ll soon be communicating with your little one. Remember the key is consistency. First the baby will recognize what you’re doing and its meaning before he or she starts to sign back. Just like speaking their signs may not look exactly like your sign. It’s important to encourage and praise them for trying so that they continue to do so. The other big tip is for everyone in the house hold to participate. The more baby sees the same sign reinforced the better.
(2) Berg, Laura. 2012. “The Baby Signing Bible. Baby Sign Language Made Easy.” Penguin Group.