Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sign language: look who's talking

Have you ever listened to a baby trying to make conversation with you? The baby is making a genuine attempt, but just isn't able to speak yet.

Sign language solves that problem. Babies as young as 6 months old can communicate with their hands. The average age when babies start saying meaningful words is around 1 year old. With hand signs they can begin communicating a few months earlier.

Teaching babies to sign can improve their language, vocabulary and reading skills. In addition, eight year olds who had learned sign language as babies scored higher on IQ tests. It can also save a lot of frustrations if babies can sign what they want.

Baby signing is becoming more and more popular, with signing classes for parents and babies popping up everywhere. A signing baby doesn't raise as many eyebrows as it did a few years ago. The movie Meet the Fockers, in which the baby signs with Robert de Niro, helped popularize the phenomenon.

Koko signing "koko"
Maybe signing babies is not such a big surprise if you know of Koko, a gorilla who uses over a thousands words of ASL (American Sign Language). With us humans evolving from apes, some scientists believe that we first communicated through sign and developed speech later. What all this definitely shows is the strong brain-hand connection. It's almost as if we have brains inside our hands.

Even if you never learned sign language, you probably still use hand gestures all the time. There's even a guide to Italian hand gestures (handy for those having trouble pronouncing the words). Vivid gestures help get the message across. But did you know that gestures also help us speak? If you're attempting to speak a foreign language, use your hands more. Your hands might be better at foreign languages than you'd think.



Further reading:

Article on baby signs fom Psychology Today

Research on baby signing

koko.org

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