Sunday, August 26, 2012

Baby Sign Language—A Boon to Multilingual Households

One of the most frequent questions I get is the following: “My baby is exposed to two languages at home. Won’t adding the Baby Signs® Program just make her task more complicated by adding a third?”

The answer is a strong and resounding “No!” The truth is that, no matter what form bilingual input takes, adding signing to the mix actually makes the child’s job easier, not harder. Here’s why.

In a bilingual household, babies hear two words being used to label objects, and what they need to figure out is that both words are equally valid—in other words, that they mean the same thing. For example, if babies hear both the word “leche” and the word “milk,” they need to understand that the words are equivalent.

And that’s where signing becomes helpful. Quite simply, signs act as mediators between the languages, making the equivalence of words obvious to the baby. For example, when the baby hears “leche” from Mom and “milk” from Dad and both parents pair the word they say with the MILK sign, the parents are making the job of connecting the object with the meanings of both words much easier for babies.

In other words, rather than confusing children in bilingual families, signs help smooth the road to understanding and speaking both languages.

Happy Signing

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Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program
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