There are many hidden benefits to exposing babies and infants to sign language early in life. Here we will look at benefits for adults and children.
Sign language is just that: another language. It is not necessary to live in France to learn French, and it is not necessary to be deaf or hard of hearing to learn sign.
Not only is it beneficial to learn more than one language, there are additional benefits to learning sign than learning multiple spoken langagues.
Benefits of Multiple Language Use
Some of the benefits of learning and using multiple languages are obvious. The more languages a person is able to use, the more people she can converse with. As different languages have developed in different cultures and in different parts of the world, multi-lingual people have access to understanding more about the world's various cultures, how traditions developed, and ways of thinking.
Hearing people who learn sign language enjoy all of the benefits above; the "native speakers" of sign are often a part of deaf culture.
The Many Benefits of Signing With Young Children
Many benefits of signing with young children are unexpectedly different from the benefits of raising multi-lingual children.
- Children understand spoken words before they have developed the physical coordination and skills to speak the words themselves. Children develop the motor skills necessary to make many signs before they can speak. Including signs while speaking gives children the opportunity to communicate earlier than if they are only exposed to speech.
- Children who can communicate their specific needs, for example, hungry vs. need a diaper change, experience less frustration than children who must cry until the adult figures it out. And the parents and caregivers of signing children experience less stress because it is easy to understand and meet their needs quickly.
- Knowing and understanding sign language gives the adult the ability to communicate across the room with a young child. This is beneficial when the child may find a situation embarrassing, or if the attention of third parties may affect his behavior. For example, a two-year old who is learning to use the potty will probably not appreciate an adult asking him if he needs to go in front of other people. But catch his eye and quickly sign 'toilet' and he is more likely to cooperate.
- The same thing applies if a child is doing something she shouldn't. Catching a toddler's or preschooler's eye from across the room and signing 'no' is less embarrassing to the child, and she can acquiesce without attracting attention. (There is no guarantee, but the chances of gaining cooperation are greater.)