Is Baby Sign Language the Same as ASL?

This Article Discusses These Topics:
Understanding Baby Sign Language and ASL
Baby Sign Language vs ASL: Where They Meet and Divide
When can you start to teaching baby sign language?
Don't Teach - Model!
Baby Sign Language: How Will It Make Your Life Easier?
Are There Any Disadvantages of Baby Sign Language?
When Can Babies Learn Sign Language?
How and When to Teach Baby Sign Language?
 
Understanding Baby Sign Language and ASL

The two languages are very different. 

That is to say that the ASL language is much more complex than baby sign language. ASL is a complete language whereas baby sign language is offering your baby one single topic sign for an entire thought or sentence. "Are you all finished?" is just FINISHED. Do you want some milk is just the sign MILK. 

Baby Sign Language vs ASL: Where They Meet and Divide

There are signs that are modified for babies such as the sign HELP which requires two hands to come together and coordinate movement. Movements like these are difficult for very young babies to coordinate. So, we modified the sign HELP so that the two hands just tap the chest, indicating the child needs help. Besides this sign, most of the signs used in our Baby Sign Language in 14 Days program are actual ASL signs. The reason for this is that ASL tends to be visually accurate and depict in its motions and gestures a lot of the physical characteristics of what the sign means. The ASL language was designed to be visually accurate. Although it is not a mime language, it does reflect some of the characteristics of a mimed language. The syntax and morphology of American Sign Language differs from English.

If you wanted to have a debate on baby sign language versus ASL – the two languages are very different.  However, baby sign language doesn't sign every single thing that you say in English. It captures the topic word of a sentence and signs the most important aspect of each thought or concept, which is the way babies communicate anyway. As babies develop and their language skills increase, they start to understand all the elements of the various languages and start to slowly fill in the grammar elements of that language.

When can you start teaching baby sign language?

First of all, I do not recommend “teaching” anything to your baby.

My research has shown me that it is best to take a different approach when introducing any information to babies who are learning things for the first time. Learning for young babies is all based on experience...especially during the first three years of the cultural imprinting. My programs are designed to include the signs in your daily life. Parents and caregivers should MODEL the signs in context as you go through your day so that your child can attach the signs to the meaning intended to the activity or object being acknowledged. How you introduce and deliver signs to your baby–how you model and present the signs–is as important if not more important than the idea of signing itself.

Don't Teach - Model!

As I mentioned you should not TEACH your baby…my system is based on MODELING. You want your child to discover the signs and draw on their internal resources to communicate and express themselves. That process is where much of their confidence will originate not to mention it will also enhance the bonding experience through improved communication.

Because sign language is a three-dimensional language, it is difficult to show how to sign in a book or print form. After my first book was published, baby sign language books began showing up everywhere. However, those books were not based on research, or the best baby sign language book was still a book.

When I first learned ASL and became an interpreter, the study guides were in print form making it difficult to learn the complete language that contains body movement, facial expression, and changes in the way you make a sign, that adds as much meaning to the sign as our tone and inflection does when we speak.

I found that the best way to learn ASL was to learn from native signers…Deaf people and Deaf instructors. I was thrilled when technology offered video as a medium for learning ASL. My medical communication course and all my baby sign programs are now available on video that can be accessed on any device. This process will make learning much easier and offers access to more people with less cost.

Baby Sign Language: How Will It Make Your Life Easier?

Many benefits of baby sign language are evident. Watch the video at the end of this article to learn some of them.

Are There Any Disadvantages of Baby Sign Language?

There aren’t any disadvantages of baby sign language that I have encountered in my 34+ years at the center of the baby signing revolution.

When Can Babies Learn Sign Language?

"When can babies learn sign language" is one of the most frequent questions I encounter. The process of learning begins when the baby is born. Once they can focus their eyes beyond a couple of feet, they can begin to observe the world around them and begin to make sense of what they see.

There is no “right age” to begin signing. If you choose to, you can begin learning and modeling the signs to your baby from birth. However, keep in mind that you are unlikely to see any results until your baby is between eight and ten months old. Until then, your baby is still in the process of developing their cognitive skills, memory, and dexterity to distinguish, remember, and produce the signs. 

How and When to Teach Baby Sign Language?

I recommend that you introduce signs during the fourth month when your baby is beginning to focus on you. It is quite easy to tell when your baby is ready to learn signs—their eyes will start connecting with yours.


If you are currently signing with your pre-speech infant, I'd love to hear how it's going for you. Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or comments. And I'd love to see photos and/or videos of you signing with your baby!

 


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