By Lora Heller
American Sign Language is the language of the Deaf, a true language with its own grammar and syntax. The signs are not made up, although some families and communities do have their own home signs. Joseph Garcia, an ASL interpreter and deaf educator, creator of the Sign with Your Baby programs, stated “Since the birth of the United States, ASL has been evolving to become the accepted sign language in North America. It is now standardized throughout the United States and Canada.” As with any spoken language, there are regional differences, lingo like “hello” vs “howdy” or accents like “coffee” vs “cawfee.”
The advantage of using a standardized sign language as a foundation is that most people who share knowledge of that language will be able to identify and respond to the signs that your baby knows. Also, as you’re learning the language, there is a host of resources at your disposal to reference for reminders and supplemental learning. ASL structure is compatible with the nature of language development in infants: one sign can relate an entire concept. Young children begin communicating using one-word sentences (or in this case, one-gesture sentences) to express complete thoughts or needs. Many ASL signs are also very iconic, in many cases resembling the objects or activities they represent (sign for ‘banana’ uses the index finger as the banana while the other hand peels it). In addition, sign language helps bridge the gap between two spoken languages. When your baby sees the sign for ‘milk’ while hearing mom say milk and dad say leche, the sign provides concrete consistency to carry over from one dialect to the other. Through this process of signing with your child in a monolingual or bilingual home, a foundation is provided for continued learning of ASL (or any second language) in later years.
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