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The Effect of Teaching Infants Sign Language on The Language Acquisition Process

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Communication is a significant part of human interaction. It refers to the process of sending and receiving of information, feelings, ideas and messages through written language, speech, gestures, sign language, and facial expressions among others. Every child, more especially those that are too young to make verbal communication, require a way to share their desires, demands and dislikes to other people around them. Previous studies conducted that there is not adequate evidence that has been carried out to draw a conclusion on the effect of infants’ sign language in the skills of communication, but the use of sign language by babies has been proved to be a language tool of potential benefits. Baby sign language does not cause a delay in speech development or negative impacts on communication. In fact, Hulit et al. says that many families have realized that use of sign language improves the language skills of the young ones. Teaching infants’ sign language results in acquisition of positive communication skills and an overall development of infants who undergo the lessons of sign language.

According to Barnes, the use of sign language is one of the methods of communication that is gaining popular growth. It involves a manual form of communication through the use of movements, hand shapes and facial expressions. As many deaf children, that is, those who have extensive hearing problems are taught sign language, results from research conducted show that it can also add value to the hearing children who are in the normal range of up to 15 decibels HL. Many studies are being done currently to ascertain whether the use of sign language with hearing children will promote or hinder the ability to communicate. Conversely, some parents are often worried that their children many not have the ability to speak early enough as we expect if they are exposed to the education of sign language . On the other hand, other believe that sign language is a great strategy that can be used to lower frustration in the young ones and permit them to have additional meaningful interactions with the people around them.

The gestures and motors skills of babies develop sooner and faster in comparison to their speech. This happens so that they can use their hands and other body movements to talk before they start using their mouth to communicate. They naturally acquire the signs such as waving to people, that may denote goodbye or hello (Barnes 23). Therefore, it is logical that learning of many other simple signs would assist them in communication. Also, it has been proved that toddlers can use signs for communication within a whole year before they can communicate effectively through speech. During the first year, babies start to make their communications through babbling, cooing, crying, imitation speech sounds, laughing and finally they say their first words (Hulit et al., 97). Just in the same year, babies develop the ability to use gestures and also they start combining them with certain sounds to help them in conveying their message (Acredolo, Linda and Susan np). When they raise their hands often means that they need to be picked up, and so they can do that before developing the language to say “up.” Their caregivers can always learn what they want by watching their eyes, body language and hand gestures. Babies will yawn when sleepy, make a motion of drinking when they need a rink and many more. Therefore, these signs that they develop through gestures helps other people to recognize the attempts of communication being done by the babies so as to determine the message they are trying to convey.

When the time reaches that a baby begins to use words for communication, it finds out when he or she has extensively used sign language for many months. Before babies reach the age of two, they have the ability to understand more languages than they can actually express through verbal means. While most children do not speak out their first words until they are of around the age of twelve months, it does not necessarily imply that they lack the capacity to communicate (Acredolo, Linda and Susan np; Barnes 25). A child can communicate through gestures, body language, sounds, and other signs which may give help them to acquire additional techniques that they will use to enhance their communication. Parents talk to their babies through a language called “motherese” and this entails a baby talk or infant-directed speech (Hulit et al., 101). It refers to a high-pitched, short, repetitive and exaggerated style kind of speech which the hearing parents use to communicate with their babies. ‘Baby sign’ is a term that is used to make reference to the use of sign language done with hearing babies. Also, it entails teaching of sign language to hearing infants and toddlers who are born to hearing parents.

The proponents of sign language of infants believe that because gestures and sign language, like spoken language is representation of thoughts in a symbolic way, it can be easier for every young child to first acquire language through signs. However, this does not bring a meaning that children will not reach the normal milestones of speech acquisition and development (Taylor-DiLeva 78). When they will finally begin to speak, they may do it with much confidence and show their ability of wanting to be understood, so that they also get to grasp about the significance of communication. The parents of a child or caregivers have the choice to teach baby signs to the child so as to improve verbal language and communication and also to strengthen the bond between the child and adult. The first signs that the baby is taught are those that he or she may use often times at home and may vary depending on the child. Examples of such signs include ‘eat,’ ‘milk,’ ‘cat,’ ‘juice’ and many more (Acredolo, Linda and Susan np). It is also important for the parent not to try to teach signs that will be overwhelming, but rather only signs that are used frequently should be taught. When the parents or adults use the signs with the child, they should be accompanied with their equivalent words so that the child can learn to pair the signs being taught with their words for the purpose of knowing the meanings and enhancing verbal communication. Thereafter, the adult may also do the action that is indicated by the sign and will use the signs to communicate with the child all through the day (Acredolo, Linda and Susan np). Even though some parents worry that using the signs will discourage the process of language acquisition, many of them that are learning baby signs. Do talk more as a way of fostering positive reinforcement to the child’s use of sign language and his or her attempts to communicate with others through a particular language.

Numerous benefits are associated with children who learn baby sign language. To start, it has been found out that the signing babies can communicate earlier than the ones who wait to achieve speech development. Also, parents will have reduced frustrations when trying to communicate with their children. Furthermore, parents can inform their child about external things, and children would develop language sooner than they would have done without having to acquire the sign language (Barnes 27). There may be some special cases, for example, there are parents of hearing children who are deaf and may be fluent in sign language, and also there are others who must learn the signs that are necessary to teach their hearing children (Acredolo, Linda and Susan np). On the other hand, there may be parents who have never signed and to them, the task of teaching their children sign language may come along with some setbacks (Hulit et al., 134). Children have differences, but the time to start signing language always occurs when a child is between the age of six to twelve months. At this age, the child starts expressing his or her desire to communicate through crying, pointing so as to convey a message to the people around him. At this time, it is important that the family starts to sign with the child through the use of various tips such as maintenance of eye contact with the child, including sign language into the daily activities of the child among many more.

Based on once upon a Sign, teaching infant sign language helps in enhancing a child’s verbal language and provide children with different other ways of expressing themselves, that is even more precise than the use of sounds and gestures (Taylor-DiLeva 59). Because many of the signs used are iconic, to mean they look like the things they represent, it would be easier to learn meaning of new words and to expand vocabulary when a person can see the iconic sign and hear the associated word. It is true that many adults may not see the connection between increased acquisition of language skills and the sign language, but Taylor-DiLeva argues that learning how to sign is a stepping stone towards knowing how to communicate verbally after understanding the signs and their meanings. Just like children learn to crawl before they can walk, similarly, learning to sign come handy before learning to talk. Once children have known how to walk, they cannot go back to crawling because walking is a faster way of movement. In the same manner, children learn how to sign because they have not yet acquired the ability to talk, but once they know how communicate verbally, they will stop using the signs and will learn how to talk even more (Taylor-DiLeva 65). Talking is considered to be a more efficient way of communicating, and so babies will use speech as soon as they acquire it, but first of all, they begin from being taught communication through sign language.

In conclusion, a child undergoes growth and development on various aspects, and one of them is the process of language acquisition. This is important because as a child grows, he or she must acquire a particular language that will be used for communication and interaction with others in the society. Infant sign refers to a temporary language tool that a child is taught as the first step towards language acquisition. It is always forgotten once a child has known how to make a speech. In fact, the child may not be able to recall that he or she once signed at an early age. Although the continuous trend of baby signs many benefits, there is no guaranteed success that it would fully work for every child in promoting language development. From the studies done, it is evident that in most families, teaching of infants’ sign language has enhanced the process of language acquisition. However, the main objective of teaching sign language should not be purely based on getting children to talk as early as possible, but to ensure that they grow up in knowing how to relate well with others and to have good communication skills.   

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