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There are many benefits to be derived when you teach your children Sign Language. The main reason I first started teaching Gavin to sign was to help reduce tantrums. Aside from reducing tantrums, it has been found that babies who learn to sign usually also learn to speak earlier.
Sign Language and Cognitive Ability
It appears that these are not the only benefits to be derived from teaching a child to sign. In his book “Brain Rules for Baby”, John Medina wrote:
Learning sign language may boost cognition by 50 percent
Gestures and speech used similar neural circuits as they developed in our evolutionary history. University of Chicago psycholinguist David McNeill was the first to suggest this. He thought nonverbal and verbal skills might retain their strong ties even though they’ve diverged into separate behavioral spheres. He was right. Studies confirmed it with a puzzling finding: People who could no longer move their limbs after a brain injury also increasingly lost their ability to communicate verbally. Studies of babies showed the same direct association. We now know that infants do not gain a more sophisticated vocabulary until their fine-motor finger control improves. That’s a remarkable finding. Gestures are “windows into thought processes,” McNeill says.
Could learning physical gestures improve other cognitive skills? One study hints that it could, though more work needs to be done. Kids with normal hearing took an American Sign Language class for nine months, in the first grade, then were administered a series of cognitive tests. Their attentional focus, spatial abilities, memory, and visual discrimination scores improved dramatically—by as much as 50 percent—compared with controls who had no formal instruction.
Even if you didn’t teach your baby Sign Language and helping your child to communicate with you is no longer your primary concern, it appears that there are cognitive benefits to be gained from teaching your child to sign.
Sign Language as a Second Language
Medina also states in his book that babies are born with the capacity to speak any language:
At birth, your baby can distinguish between the sounds of every language that has ever been invented. Professor Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, discovered this phenomenon. She calls kids at this age “citizens of the world”. Chomsky puts it this way: We are not born with the capacity to speak a specific language. We are born with the capacity to speak any language.
Unfortunately, this ability is usually lost by the end of the first year unless your baby has been exposed to the sounds of a second language by the end of the first six months. Additionally, the second language must be spoken by a live person, not a recording or even a video recording.
So what happens to children whose parents who are monolingual? It appears that Sign Language can serve as a second language. Learning Sign Language helps children develop the language center of their brain in the same way that learning a second spoken language does. If your child can only speak one language, being able to sign can make it easier for your child to learn a second spoken language later in life.
Sign Language Programs
We use Signing Time. Signing Time is a series of DVDs that teach basic everyday signs through music. They introduce each word with the written word, a picture of the word, and an explanation of how to sign the word. Take a look at the video below for an example of the word “cook”:
It is then followed by video clips of various children signing the word so parents can see the variations in how children sign the same word. Small children have difficulties signing the exact sign so it helps to see the different variations that crop up.
The sign is then incorporated into a song – for example the following song is about “animals” in the zoo:
Signing Time also comes with music CDs of their songs so you can sing and sign along with your child. You can also get Signing Time board books and flashcards. Although once you learn the signs, you can sign along with any book.
To maximise the benefits from Signing Time, parents should watch the DVD with their children so they can learn the signs, too. Remember, children will learn best when the signs are incorporated into their daily activities on a regular basis. Watching the DVDs alone is not sufficient. The reason why I like the DVDs is that it makes it a lot easier for me to learn how to sign with my children.
I have a couple of Sign Language books but I found it hard to decipher how to sign the word from the pictures. Alternatively, you can try other Sign Language programs, although they aren’t as fun for children. It might be something worth getting into if you wish to progress further than the basic signs.
A mother from Singapore is selling English and Chinese Glenn Doman word cards. She has 5 boxes in good condition and they are going at S$600 each. Please call/sms Lynnette on 96268406.
EuroTalk Talk Now Chinese Mandarin
Talk Now! is the world’s best selling language learning CD-ROM series for beginners, used by more than three million people to date. Designed for newcomers to the language, Talk Now! is the perfect method to access a wealth of comprehensive fundamental vocabulary and accurate pronunciation in one user-friendly plan packed with useful words, a picture dictionary, and quizzes. Anyone over 10 years of age will find the program indispensable for improving listening, understanding and spoken language skills.
- The “intelligent” software feature remembers words you get wrong and targets your weak points
- Extensive basic vocabulary, from first words, food, colors, phrases, parts of the body and numbers, to telling time, shopping and countries
- Each of the target languages for Talk Now! has help available in an additional 102 languages – simply choose the flag of your native country in the beginning of the program & EuroTalk’s Talk Now! Program will provide instruction in your native language
- Each topic contains listening practice, an easy game, a hard game, a printable dictionary as well as the opportunity to record your voice and hear how you sound in comparison to the two native speakers who tutor the user throughout the Talk Now! course
- Each question that is answered correctly increases the user’s score – get an answer wrong and points will be lost. There are 1800 points in total to gain from the disc. A full score earns the user a ‘Gold Award’
Here are some visuals from the Talk Now CD ROM:
The program loads from the CD ROM and installs quickly and easily onto your computer. You still need the CD ROM to access the program, though. You can also upload it to your iPod. Personally, I’ve tried learning languages from CDs before but no matter how many times I listen to it, I don’t seem to have picked up very much. I think it is because I’m a visual learner. But I digress…
There are several categories in the beginner program “Talk Now”: first words, food, colours, phrases, body, numbers, time, shopping and countries. Pick a category and you’re ready to go…
There are five components in each category: word practice, speaking practice, easy game, hard game and a function that allows you to print the picture dictionary.
Word practice shows a picture, the Chinese character, hanyu pinyin, and the word in your language. You can elect to have the words read aloud in sequence or you can click on each word to have it repeated on command. This is handy if you need to listen to specific words again.
In the speaking practice, you can practice saying the words yourself. You can record yourself to hear how you sound, however, you need a microphone for that. You can choose to repeat after the speaker, or to say the words on your own after viewing the visual cues.
You can play the easy game to test how much you have retained. The computer will read four words from the list you have just learned showing you the picture and the word.
They will then ask you to identify the word they repeat from the four words they have shown you previously. This one’s pretty easy even if you haven’t really learned the words yourself.
In the hard game, they show you the chinese characters, the hanyu pinyin and the pictures and ask you to identify which picture represents the word they have shown you.
You can do further testing in the games section on the main menu. Again there is an easy level and a hard level.
In the easy level, the man will show you two cards and will ask you to find the card that represents the word that he tells you.
He will continue with more and more cards until you’ve covered covered 11 cards. In the example above, he opens four cards and asks you to find the colour red (in Mandarin of course). Once you identify red correctly, he will ask you to identify another colour and then another until there is only one card left. He will then move on to the next level and open five cards.
In the hard game, it is almost like the easy game except that it also trains your memory. After reading each card out, the man will turn the card over and you have to remember which card is where.
You can have the base language in any language you prefer. For example, you can elect Russian as your medium of instruction instead of English.
I’ve only got the Mandarin software to go by, but I have picked up a mistake. Under food, they say that rice is “mee” which actually means “noodles”. My Mandarin may be crap but I do know that rice is “fun” in Mandarin. When I listened to Wink to Learn Chinese the other day, I could have sworn the pronunciation from Talk Now sounds different. Now I’m wondering who they got to do the recording for Talk Now… Are they even native speakers?
Here’s a video recording – if you’re a native Mandarin speaker, let me know if it sounds legit…
When hubby and I first discussed schooling for Gavin, we wanted to send him to a Chinese school. This was primarily because we wanted him to learn how to read and write Chinese – something neither of us can do. Well, hubby can read some words (mostly food-oriented) and I can’t even understand it being spoken. Gavin learned a new word at Kinderland the other day and I thought he was just babbling and pretending to be like his brother.
In the end we dropped the idea of Chinese school because we have heard so many horror stories about kids being stressed out by the syllabus. Chinese schools are intense and the teachers sounds merciless. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was also made to understand that corporal punishment is accepted. Well, if I don’t hit my kids, I sure as heck ain’t going to let someone else hit them.
Chinese schools also focus on rote learning. Personally, I want my child to have some leeway to explore his individualism and be able to express that. The work load at Chinese schools seems rather excessive as well. I want my children to be well-rounded. I want them involved in extra-curricular activities that don’t involve tuition for the subjects they are already taking at school. To be quite honest, I doubt Gavin would thrive in such an environment either because he doesn’t like repetitive work and gets bored easily.
Since I don’t know enough Chinese to teach my kids, I started buying programs for them. I can’t use flash cards or any text book learning materials because I can’t read pinyin. I don’t know the differences in the intonation and don’t want to teach my kids the wrong pronunciation. One of the first programs I bought for Gavin was “Wink to Learn“. It is a flash card learning series on DVD. Gavin seemed to enjoy initially but eventually grew bored of it. I honestly don’t know how much he learned watching those DVDs, but I can say I learned nothing from it. I cannot recall any words I didn’t already know.
Recently I went by a stand selling Language Teaching software. I have seriously been looking for something like this since I first came back to Malaysia in 2001. The stall is called Red Rock and I’ve seen them at Pavilion (Level 5), Ikano (the connecting walkway to The Curve), and Sri Hartamas shopping center (Level 3). They sell language teaching software by EuroTalk from beginner to intermediate.
Deciding it was time to seriously rectify my own language deficit, I bought the Mandarin set. I figured that if I could teach myself to speak, it might not be too late to use what I’ve learned to teach Gavin and Gareth to speak Mandarin. It wouldn’t be as effective as sending them to a Chinese school and they won’t learn how to write but at least they will know how to speak the basics.
Since purchasing and using the software, I’ve discovered an additional benefit resulting from “monkey see, monkey do”. Whenever I turn the program, Gavin wants to participate. Indirectly, as I am learning to speak Mandarin, Gavin is also learning. He enjoys playing the games portion and appears to be picking up quite well just utilising that portion of the program. Encouraged, I’ve been using the program regularly in front of Gavin.
How much will he learn? I really don’t know. But at least he’s interested to learn.
The Mandarin set also comes with a “vocabulary builder” which is recommended for children. I have yet to try it on Gavin but I assume that if he is enjoying the adult’s program, I’m sure he’ll love the vocabulary builder.
While we’re on the topic of Mandarin-teaching software, while at Heguru, one of the mothers told me about a series of Mandarin software for kids by A-Star which is available online from Singapore. I don’t know much about the program other than their description online but it does sound interesting. The mother that told me about it says she’s used it with her children and they love it. If you’ve heard of this software and/or used it before, I would love to hear your feedback. It is an uphill battle trying to teach the children how to speak a language I can’t even understand.
In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post to hear more about the EuroTalk: Chinese Set.