I started learning ASL via the internet, and especially via the Start-American-Sign-Language page when my daughter was about six months old. I started signing to my daughter as soon as I had memorized the first signs, and then I kept repeating them to her whenever I got a chance. I managed to do this perhaps three or four times per week during dinner and then for her bath time, when I was home early enough to be there for it.
I also spent a little bit of time on the weekends looking up a couple of new signs here and there, and then showing them to her. The first signs I learned were “eat”, “drink”, “bath”, “splash”, “water”, and “milk”. I only did a few of the lessons on the internet, and unfortunately I haven’t gotten beyond them because of time and priority constraints. But I did keep adding signs to my repertoire just by looking them up on the internet, and then I applied them in appropriate situations with my daughter.
I didn’t spend all day, every day, doing nothing but learning ASL and then teaching it to my daughter. I’m a working man, after all! But I did a little bit at a time, and on a regular basis. And of course whenever I made a sign for something, I said the word for it at the same time.
I kept signing to my daughter for the next ten months or so, and I started to wonder if it had any effect or if I was not signing to her often enough, since she wasn’t signing anything back. But she had understood one sign, “splash”, and whenever I made it she would splash her hands in her bath water or at the pool, so I knew that at least she was starting to make the connection between signs, words, and meanings.
Finally, when my daughter was about a year and a half old, around the same time that she started walking and talking, she also started making signs back to me. She started making the sign for “shoes”, “apple”, “baby”, and “dog”. Some of these she had only seen me sign a few times, and it had already been a couple of weeks since. But suddenly, when we saw a baby, she made the sign! If I had been wondering earlier whether or not she even noticed that I was making signs or if she understood what I was doing, it became very clear to me that not only did she notice, but she understood very well! The effort had clearly paid off.
Two signs which she understood really quickly were “knock”, and of course “more”. It took her exactly once to understand and give back these two signs. When she realized that by making signs she could get stuff, it became even more interesting for her to learn new signs.
It’s important to mention that my daughter is growing up learning three languages at the same time. I live with my wife and daughter in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and my wife speaks German with our daughter. And I guess you could say she’s learning a fourth language by learning ASL. But then, I use ASL just to help reinforce the English I’m teaching her anyway. Considering she knows many words now in all three languages, and since it’s not always clear what she’s saying (it’s still babytalk, after all), it’s good to see her make the sign. It reinforces the meaning and gets across what’s she’s trying to express.
Sometimes, when she’s being mischievous, she’ll take some food off her plate, look over to my wife and me, move her hand over the edge of the table, then quickly drop the food, and immediately start saying “no no no!” and making the ASL sign at the same time. Sometimes we have to keep ourselves from laughing out loud, because even though she’s not supposed to do that (no no no!), it’s just too darn funny.
She loves it when I wear a hat or baseball cap, and she makes the sign for hat when I have one on. Or she’ll bring me my shoes, and then makes the sign for shoes, when she wants to go out. Of course she knows the sign for “hot”, and “oww”, and for “cold”.
Now, my daughter must be the smartest, cutest, most intelligent, and best little girl in the world for her to be able to learn these languages so easily, right?! Well, I certainly think so, but then I’m biased. But that’s not it in the end. I mean, she’s bright like most kids, but I think she’s just really lucky to have the opportunity to learn all these languages at once. At her age, she just soaks everything up like a little knowledge-sponge.
However, considering she was born two months prematurely (and weighed not much more than two pounds at first), it took her perhaps a bit longer to start walking and talking, and so she started signing only at a year-and-a-half. She luckily didn’t come to any harm because of the premature birth, and besides having to catch up a bit in her size and development, she is perfectly healthy and happy. And it seems like regardless, and in addition to all the other languages and stuff she has to learn, she was able to pick up ASL quite easily. If I’m worried about anything, it’s about not knowing more signs for the words she already knows and continues to learn, and about not being able to sign fluently enough. I guess I had better get on to those next lessons!
I’m very lucky to be able to say that my daughter is a very uncomplicated, easy child to begin with, and that we don’t have any major worries about her health or development. But ASL makes being with her even easier, and at this point I can’t imagine what it would be like without knowing the signs to communicate with her. And the more I manage to teach her, the easier and the more fun it gets.
Thank you Start-American-Sign-Language!
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