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Sign language

(14 Posts)
Dragonrider Wed 27-May-09 11:56:31

Some of my family are deaf and use British Sign Language and spoken English to communicate. They are very keen on the idea of me teaching DC (due in 8 days!) BSL or baby sign. I'm a native English speaker and learned BSL too, but DP is German and his family only speak German. We are planning to use OPOL for English and German as we speak a mixture to each other. We aren't planning on moving to Germany but there is the possibility of attending the German school in England, although clearly this is still a long way off. Spoken English and German are our priority as my family can speak and understand English perfectly well.

I'm worried 2 spoken languages and 1 sign language be too much. If we do try to bring in the sign language, when should it come? Obviously it's easier to learn any language from birth but DP can't sign, although baby sign looks relativly easy to master. Does anyone have any experience of 2 parents using different spoken languages but both using baby sign (possibly later to develop into BSL)? How successfully? Or does this sound like a plan doomed to fail? I'm worried it might delay speaking or delay German speaking (if only I used it). Could it help baby to physically see that one thing has two words, one in each language?
Please help!

TakeLovingChances Wed 27-May-09 14:33:29

Firstly, don't panic about it! I am an English speaker, but learnt BSL for my job (when I was in mid-20s). It is very hard to learn as an adult, but, you're right to think that teaching a child would be easier.

However, the baby isn't even born yet!

I think the priority is to teach English first - speak to baby in English, then as baby starts to develop and respond non-verbally then start to use the German and BSL. But I do think for the sake of your DP that German should be taught before the BSL. Maybe keep the BSL until child is old enough to copy the way you hold your hands and is able to fingerspell while saying letters in either English or German.

A friend of mine is Latvian, lives in Latvia, but she has strong English connections - from 6 months old her DC was being taught English alongside Latvian.

Congratulations on your baby!

Dragonrider Wed 27-May-09 16:51:43

Thank you for the advice and the congratulations I'm so excited.
Can I just ask why you suggest it would be better to focus on English first? At home DP and I speak a jumble of German and English (usually I speak English and he answers in German but we also speak German together for privacy and he speaks English to me when I'm tired / grumpy etc). We were planning for him to speak only German right from the beginning, I would only speak English, and we would continue to speak both languages together. Do you think this is unlikely to work? It is very important that DC can speak German as well as English to talk to DP's family, hence the worry about focussing on one language more.
Part of the reason for considering BSL is because of the claims that it enables a pre-verbal baby to communicate. Will this be lost if we don't use it from the beginning? I don't know much about using sign language with children, and sadly my mum is no longer here to ask, but I could imagine being able to understand the wants of a pre-verbal baby could be quite useful. (Obviously assuming the claims of the websites are true.) Have you used sign with a baby? Did they learn to sign before learning to speak? The websites I've read list some fairly impressive advantages which it would be a shame not to pass on to DC when I can already sign.
Thanks again for your advice. I hope this doesn't sound like I'm attacking you!

Dysgu Wed 27-May-09 17:40:04

I come from a bilingual English/Welsh family where most people speak both languages according to mood! I also did my dissertation (Uni of Wales) on bilingualism. I also taught in a school with a unit for hearing impaired children and use BSL.

I now live in England and use Welsh very little - but my mum speaks it AT me quite often!

My extended family - who all still live in Wales teach their children Welsh and English from birth. During my research, it is very common for one parent to speak one language each to/with the child and a family chat is simply a mixture with everyone speak either/or any language.

I also used BSL/Makaton with DD1 from about the age of 4 months - and am doing the same with DD2 (currently 5 months old). My DD1 started signing back from about /9/10 months old i think.

I would say that it would be absolutely fine to use all three languages at home. In most cases you will begin by using only individual signs to support speech (Makaton) and the sign for milk/milch will give the same result.

Also check out Justin Fletcher and Something Special for simple programmes that children love. My DD1 (aged 2.9 nearly) joins in with him and chats in English with added signs still.

Also, as a primary school teacher, a child who is multilingual is always an added pleasure to any classroom - regardless of whether he/she ends up in an English or German school.
Good Luck and Congratulations.

Dragonrider Wed 27-May-09 19:37:39

Thank you for the replies.
Dysgu, did you find your DD1 spoke later than monolingual peers due to having more to deal with? I'm worried that a bilingual upbringing will delay speech which in its self isn't a problem (so long as they get there eventually). But I am worried that it might lead to more frustration induced tantrums etc and stress. Did you impliment OPOL right from birth? I would feel strange speaking a foreign language to my child, and I think DP would too.
Thank you for all the advice

TakeLovingChances Wed 27-May-09 23:51:18

Dragonrider - I only have experience using BSL with adults, and also use a mix of that and makaton with in my work (with disabled adults), so I can't say anything about its use with kids.

Sorry, I seem to have missed the part where you said that you and DP speak German at home. When I said to teach Eng first I assumed it was the main language. In your case you could mix it up a bit, but I have no idea how that'd work. Dysgu seems to have this one much more clued up, so I'd focus on what she's telling you!

All the best!


Dysgu Thu 28-May-09 10:10:40

With regards to speaking DD1 (who was born at 32 weeks and had a Grade 3 BH) spoke at the same time as other babies born when she was due so had no issues. If anything, her speech has come on better than many of her peers (according to other people like my CM and her pre-school key worker - I don't get to mix with other 2 year olds very much so to us she is just doing what she does) and people often check how old/young she is now when they have had a conversation with her.

At the age of 18 months she had a vocabulary of 75+ words and we stopped counting! She speaks English (although will respond in English to my mum speaking Welsh or may respond with Welsh but we live in England) and still signs occasionally - but that is when she is joining in with me and DD2.)

In my extended family - and many families in my research - OPOL was implemented from birth and continued - in some cases - to date. In my family it does tend to be that the adults respond in the language the child speaks in if they start a conversation and vice versa.

There is some research - but I am not too up-to-date now - that indicates that children don't really understand that they are speaking two/three languages until they are 4-5 years old. They are just doing what they do. At around that age, unless they get pretty equal input in both languages, one may be used less by the child but this tends to be a phase.

And remember, there are lots and lots of children in this country who speak one language at home and another in school and the two never cross over. I have even taught children who, when in school, struggle to recall specific words in their home language despite the fact that, out of school, they rarely speak English and never use it at home . They seem to separate the two and use them accordingly.


JoeJoe1977 Thu 28-May-09 11:00:01

DS1 is bilingual (welsh/english), he's been in a welsh language nursery since he was 15months old and his Grandmother (my MIL) speaks solely to him in welsh. My husband and I generally speak in English to him, but we speak in Welsh if we are reading a welsh language book or watching a welsh programme on the TV. We have done this since birth.

His language skills in English are excellent and I asked at nursery recently whether they thought his Welsh was as good as his English and was told that they had never heard him speak English so couldn't judge!

He is 3.5yrs old and is able to translate reasonably well between the languages, for example if he has been taught a new song in nursery he tries to work out the English words and fit them to the music.

He also uses basic Makaton sign language thanks to a music group that we attend and Mr Tumble!

Think of how many nursery rhymes have movements associated with them and how easily little people learn those.

All the best xx

Reallytired Thu 28-May-09 11:28:49

I think you should sign with your baby. Its a great gift and it will not hinder your baby language development. In fact there is evidence that signing with your baby speeds language development.

If I was you I would find a baby sign class that uses BSL.

I have learnt some BSL at work, but its really hard as an adult to learn. Most of the BSL I have learnt at work belongs in the gutter. (Ie. Deaf teenagers have a tendency to swear when they have lost their word document.) It is really hard to learn to sign as and adult as you feel self concious.

Cies Thu 28-May-09 11:31:02

I'm not an expert but my gut instinct would be to speak to your child in which ever language you feel comfortable with, and to use BSL or Makaton from the start to reinforce what you're saying. There are many different ways to bring up a bilingual or multilingual child and you will find the best way for your family.

Sorry to be a bit wishy washy grin

Good luck with your new baby smile

moondog Sun 31-May-09 00:27:28

'think the priority is to teach English first - speak to baby in English, then as baby starts to develop and respond non-verbally then start to use the German and BSL.'

Take, I'm sorry but this is nonsense.
You need to introduce English and German simultaneously.Big mistake to introduce one then the other as a person ghets 'fused' with the first language they speak to another nad very hard to them change that.

Remember, most of the world is bilingual.

I would suggesat introducing BSL at the smae time as the other two languages also.I take it uyou are fluent? I am no expert (although I am a trilnigual salt who uses augmentative sign a great deal) however and am wondering if this is feasible given different syntactic structure of BSL which is a language in its own right of course.

What a fantastic opportunity for your child. Go for it!

sachertorte Sun 31-May-09 15:09:44

I agree with Moondog, it is normal for each parent to speak their native tongue with their children. This is the perfectly natural way to go about things, I know I wouldn´t want to communicate with my own children in anything other than English.

Apparantly studies show that bilingual children do learn to speak later than monolinguals, but there is some doubt about this. My experience is that my dc did speak later but so what?! There was no associated frustration and communication is not always oral!

I have no experience of BSL (would love to learn, find it fascinating but live abroad so no point), but don´t see why this couldn´t fit in along with English. Children think whatever they are brought up with as "normal" and adapt accordingly.

In a few years time Dragon your child´s language skills will be admired wherever you go. Don´t worry about it, s/he has a brilliant opportunity you will never regret!

Dragonrider Sun 31-May-09 18:04:38

Thank you for all the advice It's really nice to hear from other people.
I think we're going to go for OPOL with English and German as it's quite important to us and our families that these two are spoken fluently. DP wants to join a baby sign class when the time comes and has decided to try to learn BSL from me and an evening course so that he will be able to support this too, but I think the signing will mostly come from me. So hopefully things will work out.
Thank you for all the comments

Maveta Tue 02-Jun-09 09:19:46

You've already had loads of great advice so just wanted to add my experience.. ds (2yrs) is being brought up trilingual - I speak to him in english, dh in catalan and at nursery castellano. English is his strongest language so far but whereas it seems many english kids his age are speaking in sentences, he has lots of individual words but so far only a couple of 2 or 3 word phrases. His comprehension of english and catalan is fantastic, castellano maybe a bit behind as it is the one he hears the least.

We also did a bit of babysigning with him (only a handful of signs) and he started signing at just under a year, I think. He used the signs alongside the verbal words as he learnt them and now has dropped most of them, I think also because we stopped using them as his language has developed. He still signs for toilet (and says 'weewee'), 'more', 'aeroplane', 'butterfly' etc.

So I think if you do baby signing or BSL and keep it up as the language develops there's no reason to think your baby wouldn't carry on developing it in line with his/her other languages. They make it look easy!

Congratulations! smile

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