I guess I never really made the correlation, but as I meet more people raising their children bilingual and I read more about the whole concept, it truly makes a lot of sense that those who use the OPOL (one parent-one language) method, have found it incredibly beneficial to also teach their children sign language.
Recently, we dedicated a whole week to the topic of the OPOL method since we realized this is the one the majority of you are using. We were pretty happy with the results. Thanks to your feedback, which was amazing, we realized there are many topics we really need to concentrate on – and one of them is using sign language as a bridge between two other languages.
In case you don’t recall, in our guest post during OPOL Week, AnaGloria Rodriguez, who is raising two bilingual (English/Spanish) children mentioned the usage of sign language by saying this:
“We learned ASL so that the family would have one language in common.”
This statement pretty much summarizes the reason why so many parents using the OPOL method also use baby sign language.
A Bridge Between Two Languages
According to Monta Briant – author of Baby Sign Language Basics and Sign, Sing, and Play!- who has been teaching sign language to children and their parents since 2001, it makes sense to many parents raising bilingual children because it connects both languages.
“It helps them realize that there is more than one way to say the same thing,” she said. “It really helps sort out that leche and milk mean the same things, thanks to the solid representation made through signing.”
The beauty of the whole concept is that there is only one sign that means milk or leche in sign language. It is important, however, to point out that there are many variations of sign language depending on the country and region where it is used. Since we live in the U.S., we’re only really talking about American Sign Language (ASL).
“Sign language makes it easier to learn both languages because it expands on what every baby – and adult – already does naturally,” Briant explained. “Research has actually shown that a baby being raised bilingual will learn both languages quicker when also using sign language. It’s just very natural for babies.”
One common concern that parents have – which really is a concern of parents considering bilingualism to raise their children no matter what combination of languages they plan on using, and ASL is considered a language – is that their children will get confused. As we’ve mentioned in the past, this is a myth and it needs to be debunked!
Briant, who’s raising bilingual children herself, said a lot of parents also worry that using sign language with their babies will actually delay their speech development – another common misconception related to raising bilingual kids.
“Sign language actually promotes and increases speech development,” she said. “Many parents have said to me: ‘If they can use their hands (to communicate) why would they bother to talk?’ But if you think about it, talking is a lot easier than signing. Plus, why then would speech language pathologists use sign language as part of therapy for children with delayed speech?”
It usually goes back to uninformed people making erroneous assumptions. If you’ve been following SpanglishBaby for a while, you know all of us in this bilingual journey face an uphill battle when it comes to comments made by those unfamiliar with this subject.
Another incredible benefit of using sign language, according to Briant, is that as children get older and maybe they forget a word here and there in the minority language, signing can be used as a hint to trigger their memory – instead of the highly discouraged method of simply translating.
Following is a sneak peek at what we’ve prepared for the rest of the week. As always, we hope you find this info useful and remember we encourage you to leave comments, questions or to just share your own experiences. After all, this is the best way for all of us to learn!
- TUESDAY – Our weekly Ask an Expert series with a question specifically related to sign language and raising bilingual kids answer by Simona Montanari, one of our very own experts.
- WEDNESDAY – A guest post from one of our loyal readers – and a fellow mamá bloguera. She will tell us about her own journey using sign language to help in the process of raising her two bilingual children. You won’t want to miss this one!
- THURSDAY - A list of resources/articles/websites compiled specifically for those of you using or thinking about using sign language to raise your children bilingual.
We are so grateful to Monta Briant who has been kind enough to give us two copies of her book, Baby Sign Language Basics, one in English and one in Spanish, so we can give away to two lucky winners. All you have to do is leave us a comment sharing something about using sign language to raise bilingual kids, whether it be a question, a concern, a challenge, a tip, pros/cons, an anecdote, anything that will add to the online conversation about this topic.