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Language Acquisition and ASL:

Debbie Saelee
April 27, 2008

Language Acquisition and ASL

     Language develops in the first two years of an infants' life. By the age of one children speak their first word and at the end of two years they have acquired about 550 words in their vocabulary. Deaf children begin to express their first signs at about the age of 10-12 months (Berger, 2006). In mainstream culture today there has been much debate about language acquisition between hearing children and deaf children. Are deaf children at a disadvantage in language? It seems that the answer is no, remarkably many people believe the opposite. Research has shown that teaching sign language to infants, whether hearing or deaf, increases their ability to learn language at an earlier age and increases the number of words learned. Because infants do not have the ability to respond verbally to their parents, they tend to make gestures to communicate. It seems that gesturing is an innate ability they have to communicate already. Research has found that at an early age, infants who were taught to sign were less frustrated, higher in self-esteem and parents were more attentive this may be due to the reduction of communication barrier between an infant and their caregiver (Acredolo, Brown & Goodwyn, 2000). Initially with deaf infants, they become more advanced in their gestures and soon are able to have distinct hand gestures that resemble their parent's signs (Berger, 2006).

     Due to the vast popularity in "baby signs" we are seeing more books, articles and research presented. More parents with hearing children are teaching sign language and more support is being presented about the benefits of sign language. It seems that sign language is not only a language for hearing impaired or hard of hearing individuals but for everyone and anyone. Soon this language may not just be for the minority but majority, which I hope will allow us to continue to learn and understand the deaf community. Reports of educational benefits in hearing children have encouraged parents to teach sign language in an effort to improve their child's vocabulary at an early age. It seems that American Sign Language is beginning not only a resource for communication but for increasing language acquisition. The use of sign language in hearing children allows them to use additional sensory channels (expression, visual, auditory). Being able to learn language through several sources "provides a richer language base for young learners" (Daniels, 1996). It has also been found that there are both short-term and long-term effects of teaching sign language. Many children who learn it as an infant, as suggested earlier, learn more vocabulary initially, but do they retain the information learned if they are no longer taught sign language. It was found that word growth continues even after sign language is no longer used (Daniels, 1996).

     It seems that sign language is becoming more of a resource for learning vocabulary, and the more it is used I think the better it will be for language development and communication between two different communities. This use of sign language will then enhance the environment of both verbal and non-verbal communities.

Acredolo, L. Brown, C. & Goodwyn, S. (2000). Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. 24, 81-103.

Berger, K.S. (2006). The Developing Person: Through Childhoods and Adolescence. New York City, New York. Worth Publishers.

Daniels, M. (1996). Seeing language: the effect over time of sign language on vocabulary development in early childhood education. Child Study Journal. 26 (3), 193-208.


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