As long-time followers of the blog will know, we’ve been working on sign language with SB since she was about six months old. It started out as just a casual thing we’d do occasionally – we’d always accompany “thank you” with the British Sign Language sign, for example, and when we started weaning, every mealtime we’d sign “eat”.
For a while, we didn’t have much joy – she’d just giggle at us, so we were feeling like maybe sign language wasn’t going to work out for us. I was gutted. We’re never going to be Pinterest Parents, and we’re aware of that – but teaching SB sign language felt like something we could do that would really benefit her.
Eventually, she’d sign “eat” when she was ready for her dinner. It was a small victory, but still – it was one sign. We’d worked on so many with her, and only one appeared to have had any impact on her. Still, we continued to try. We bought books, I read online tutorials, I watched videos. I followed British Sign Language on Facebook, and made a conscious attempt to learn their ‘Sign Of The Day’ each day.
Just as we were on the verge of throwing in the towel with sign language, SB started signing “thank you” to her key worker at nursery at pick-up time, and to us when we gave her toys or food at home. We were cautiously excited – this was a good sign, right? Still, we didn’t want to get our hopes up. It could just be a one-off, like “eat”.
But we taught her “shoes”, and she remembers it most of the time. She’s getting better at “mama” and “dada”, although sometimes she gets confused by which way her hands are supposed to be facing. The other day, we asked her where her dolly was, expecting her to waddle over to her toybox and fetch it. To our surprise, she did the sign for “doll”, as clear as day. We’ve shown her that sign once, and I’m fairly sure they don’t learn sign language at nursery. We were amazed – she had picked it up so quickly. We checked it wasn’t just a fluke, and sure enough, every time we say the word “dolly”, she does the sign.
When we gave her some milk at bedtime the other day, we did the “milk” sign for the first time in a while – we used to do it a lot, and then just forgot. The next night, when it was time for her milk again, she walked up to us and signed it. We were shocked – how had she gone from having zero interest in signing anything, to picking up signs within hours?
At the moment, she doesn’t really know enough signs to hold full conversations, but she can definitely tell us what she wants. Any worries we may have had about learning to sign stunting her speech were put to bed yesterday, when Daf signed “pushchair” and said it at the same time – and, clear as day, she said “pushchair” and repeated the sign.
With a combination of PMT hormones and some weird kind of flu-y virus turning me into an emotional, miserable mess, it wouldn’t have taken much to make me cry yesterday, but I’m not even going to try and deny it – I sobbed out of sheer pride. She kept repeating and signing “pushchair” – and then did the same for “car” and where?”, saying the word and signing it at the same time.
Out of nowhere, she seems to have really gotten the hang of signing. We’re working through the books with her, introducing her to more familiar words that she can sign – “teddy”, “puppy”, “please” and “cup” are next on the list to master with her – and I’ve set a goal that in a year, we will both have a knowledge of BSL good enough that we can have a brief conversation – for example, “Where’s your teddy?” “Teddy is over there”. Just to get to that point will be incredible.
I can’t overstate the benefits of sign language enough – especially if, like us, you’re raising a child bilingually. I love being able to communicate with her and watching her learn, and I’m glad that – should she ever make a friend who uses BSL, or should any one of us or a family member or loved one end up communicating through BSL at some point – she has a headstart on learning it.
Some amazing resources if you are interested in teaching your child British Sign Language include the British Sign Language Facebook page, and two amazing series of books – the Baby Signing books by Annie Kubler, and the Sign About books by Anthony Lewis, which have really handy guides for adults to learn the different hand positions, and bright, big illustrations to show little ones how to sign various words relating to meal time, play time, going out, getting ready and everything in between!
Did you teach your little ones sign language? Is it something you’re interested in? Let me know in the comments!