More on Language Development
Throughout the process of learning language, experts say, kids will understand a lot more words than they can produce.
Twenty-three years ago, when her daughter Kate was almost a year old, Linda Acredolo, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of California at Davis, noticed her child was starting to make up "signs," such as pointing at a rose and sniffing. Kate could only speak a few words, but when her mom encouraged her, she soon doubled her vocabulary by adding gestures. By 17 months, Acredolo says, Kate had learned 30 spoken words and 30 signs for basic things like "eat" and advanced words like "monkey." "It was a wonderful window into her mind," says Acredolo, remembering an incident when Kate saw a long-haired, bearded student on the UC-Davis campus and started frantically signing, "Monkey! Monkey!"
Acredolo's experience with her child led to academic research, and a best-selling book, Baby Signs, cowritten with collaborator Susan Goodwyn, PhD, was published in 1996. Books, videos, and workshops have proliferated.
Advocates for the deaf community initially criticized Baby Signs for not using standardized American Sign Language (ASL). Joseph Garcia, an ASL interpreter, developed his own baby sign program called "SIGN with your BABY," and Baby Signs included some ASL signs in later editions. Since then, other signing systems have also evolved.
No matter what program you decide to use, experts say that infants exposed to baby signs by 5 or 6 months of age typically make their first sign at about 8 months old. Studies have shown that signing with your baby can reduce toddler frustration. Signing babies may also learn to talk sooner.
For more on the Baby Signs program, visit babysigns.com; for more on "SIGN with your BABY," go to sign2me.com.
Master of Foreign Languages?
A decade ago, Patricia K. Kuhl, PhD, a professor of speech and hearing at the University of Washington, in Seattle, published groundbreaking research that indicated tiny babies can perceive all possible language sounds, everything from Chinese tones to English diphthongs. But this doesn't mean you should run out and buy language tapes. Kuhl's most recent research has shown that babies only remember words they hear from people. Without the social and emotional connection, infants register the words in tapes and videos as just background noise.
The best way to teach a foreign language to an infant or toddler, experts say, is to set clear boundaries between languages: Mom speaks Japanese, Dad speaks English; or English at daycare, Spanish at home. If your family isn't bilingual, and you really want your child to be introduced to a foreign language at an early age, then experts advise seeking out a preschool program that introduces a second language as part of the daily routine and activities, rather than as formal lessons. And remember, while certain sounds may take effort after infancy, studies show that kids remain uniquely receptive to learning languages until puberty begins.
Heather Millar is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, New York.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, December 2005.
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