The following is a guest post by fellow mamá bloguera, Silvia M, who is raising two bilingual children using the OPOL method in California. If you’d like to know more about Silvia, you can find her blogging here: Mama Latina Tips.
When my firstborn was a few months old, I joined a mom’s group looking for some adult conversation and support. In one of our meetings, we watched the video “Sign with your baby” by Joseph Garcia and I fell in love with the idea of communicating with my baby before he could speak. I talked to my husband, who knew a little bit of American Sign Language (ASL), and together we decided to give it a try.
I started signing with my first son when he was 8 months old, but after two months, I didn’t see much progress, so I stopped. Then, after taking a couple of months off, I started over when he was one year old. A month later, I noticed that every time I signed and said leche or when my husband signed and said milk, my son knew exactly what we both were talking about. I was visiting my parents when my 13 month old son signed for the first time! Within a couple of weeks, he was signing leche, más, comer and agua. And from there he learned more and more signs, like galleta, flor, libro, zapatos, dormir, and ayuda. It was a fascinating process to watch, and my baby looked so cute signing with his perfect hands. Sometimes he would make up his own signs or change to an easier version of the original, which I thought was pretty clever. Also, I noticed a decrease in frustration for both of us when we tried to communicate.
After he learned more and more signs he started “talking” with them, by this I mean he started signing sentences like, “more milk please.” But what amazed me most is it didn’t matter which language we used (English with my husband or Spanish with me), my son would know the sign, which I thought was pretty sophisticated for such a small child, and it made me realize how powerful small children’s minds can be. He was learning three languages at once!
At some point, I became concerned I might delay my child’s language development if I continued using signs, considering that he was two and a half and he didn’t verbalize more than mamá, papá, bye and ball. However, my concerns lessened after I read a little more about language acquisition and realized that in some cases multilingual babies may take a little bit more time to decode all the different languages. Sure enough, after a short while, as he started to use spoken words more, he stopped using the signs for those words, except when he really wanted to emphasize something, in which case he would use the spoken word and the sign together, as in: MAS mamá!
With my second child the process has been different. He is taking even longer to sign, (sigh) but he is doing it! And I feel very proud of him. He made his first sign at 18 months but in just one month he learned nine more. Now even my older son is using his signs again to help his little brother Isn’t that amazing?
Here are some tips based on my experience:
1. It is recommended to start when your baby is around 8 months, but it’s never to late to start. Your baby will benefit even if he is one and a half or two.
2. Be patient, it takes a lot of repetition and commitment, but the first time you see your baby making a sign you will feel very proud for sticking with it.
3. Try to get books or videos about baby signing, usually they come with illustrations to show you the signs, and videos offer great help to see the movement. Check your library.
4. Take advantage of signing opportunities, like when you hear a bird, and you notice your baby is listening to it, sign and say pájaro, when he goes and touches a flower, you sign and say flor, etc. You will be amazed how many times a day you can introduce a new sign.
5. And don’t forget to have fun! This process doesn’t have to be a chore, it is just a great way to “talk” to your baby. Enjoy!
Finally, I have to say that as a family using the OPOL method, signing with our babies has been a great way to “link” Spanish and English in our house. I believe that using basic ASL as one “universal language” helps my family to communicate easily with our toddler and helps my kids to expand their comprehension of both languages. I definitely would recommend any OPOL family give it a try.
You still have a chance to win one of two copies of Monta Briant’s book, Baby Sign Language Basics. Go here for more info on how you can be one of the winners!