Sign language has been a godsend to many deaf people since its invention in the 1800s by Thomas Gallaudet. Many communication challenges have been mitigated and eliminated thanks to sign language, as well as technological innovations like closed captioning.
Sign language can often be the only language that young deaf children will ever know. There is evidence to suggest that sign language may be beneficial to hearing children, as well as an alternate form of communication before the words of the native language, can be spoken.
It has been widely reported that gorillas and some monkeys are able to understand basic signs, and research has shown more recently that teaching sign language to babies and toddlers can help incomprehension by the children, understanding of needs by parents and creating a closer bond between children, siblings, and their parents even before verbal vocabulary enters into the communication dynamic.
Whether you realize it or not, sign language is a language, and even hearing children have an opportunity to benefit from bilingualism if sign language is taught as a second language just like Spanish or French. And research seems to confirm that the benefits that children gain from learning sign language as a second language are similar to those who learn a second spoken language other than their own.
We are always told, or encouraged, to teach children other languages either through educational apps like DuoLingo, through home instruction or in classroom settings at school. With sign language, you can develop your child mentally and emotionally well before he or she speaks first words, as even as early as six or seven months children can begin to use hand signals to communicate ideas.
Some of the benefits for children learning sign language are included here:
- As much as an additional 12 IQ points over peers who don’t learn sign language
- Better grades in school
- As much as 17-percent higher scoring on standardized tests
- Faster emotional and speech improvements
- Earlier reading and a larger vocabulary
- Better memory – sign language involves muscle action, and the more senses are used in learning, the better the child is remembering the concept
- Speaking earlier and forming longer sentences at the same time as the peer group
As you can see, thinking of sign language as a second language and applying it to children’s education to support bilingualism, shows that young brains have the elasticity to understand multiple languages and to develop competency in more than one language at a time, even at a time of development before spoken words. It lends credence to the belief that babies do indeed understand language even before speaking it. Sign language is the perfect first language for them to “speak,” and the benefits are long-lasting and in some ways permanent in creating a well-rounded individual.