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What is Baby Sign Language?

Bilingual Homes

"I want to use Baby Signs with my baby. However, we are already using two spoken languages in our home. Will my baby get confused if we use Baby Signs?"

When children first start learning about language, they make one-to-one correspondences between a word and the object (or action) it represents. For a baby in an English-only environment,

the white stuff in my bottle = ‘milk’

However, babies in bilingual environments will have two labels to choose from. So infants from a Spanish/English setting can use either ‘milk’ or ‘leche.’ However, because of their developmental need to establish a one-to-one correspondence, these babies will choose either ‘milk’ OR ‘leche,’ but not both – at least not at first.

the white stuff in my bottle = ‘milk’ OR ‘leche’

As babies grow and acquire a larger vocabulary, they will start to figure out that there can be two totally different words that share the same meaning. In other words, through exposure to both languages, the baby will conclude that

‘milk’       =      ‘leche’

So in addition to learning what words mean, bilingual babies are doing the work of separating out the words, assigning each one to a particular language set (Spanish or English), and then linking the meanings of the corresponding words to each other.

Spanish                  English

‘leche’        =       ‘milk’
‘mas’         =       ‘more’
‘libro’         =       ‘ book’

This process can take a while, especially if the baby is hearing a mixture of English and Spanish words within the same sentence.  Research shows that there are many advantages to learning two languages, but it is important to understand that bilingual babies have a lot of figuring out to do – even before they start talking!

This is where Baby Signs can help. By giving infants the same visual symbol (sign) for both ‘leche’ and ‘milk,’ you make the job of connecting the object with the meanings of both words MUCH easier for babies. In other words, when the baby hears “leche” paired with sign and then also hears “milk” paired with the sign, the result is “Aha! These words mean the same thing!”

Milk = Leche =    ‘leche’    =   ‘milk’

Rather than confusing your bilingual child, Baby Signs will help smooth the road to understanding and speaking both languages.

* By Linda Easton-Waller, MA Linguistics

 

Daniels, M. (1993). ASL as a possible factor in the acquisition of English for hearing children. Sign Language Studies, 78, 23-29.

Daniels, M. (1996). Bilingual, bimodel education for hearing kindergarten students. Sign Language Studies, 90, 25-37.

Daniels, M. (2003). Using a signed language as a second language for kindergarten students. Child Study Journal, 33(1), 53-70.