Which sign language to use for Baby in a bilingual household?
December 23, 2012 4:59 AM   Subscribe

Baby sign language in a bilingual household research: I'm American, Dad's Italian and we live in Italy. When Lil' Peanut is old enough, should we go with ASL or LIS? Or am I beanplating this?
posted by romakimmy to Education (13 answers total)
Yes. I don't see how/why it would matter which you introduce. We are German living in the US. We speak German at home, I tried to introduce some ASL as baby signs. Baby toad wasn't interested and made up her own (adorable) signs for making herself understood...if your baby wants to tell you something, she'll find a way.
posted by The Toad at 5:23 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess the only way this wouldn't be unnecessary beanplating is if there's a possibility that someone outside the family might be using sign language with the baby as well, like if your daycare uses LIS or you have a babysitter that knows ASL. But barring that, I think you can do whatever.
posted by telegraph at 5:27 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might know this already, but: ASL and LIS are pretty closely related to each other, and neither one is at all related to spoken English or spoken Italian. So either one is equally compatible with whichever spoken language(s) the kid ends up using.
posted by and so but then, we at 5:33 AM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I guess there might be more free material for ASL available on the internet than for ISL, like tutorials/youtube videos. So maybe that would make it an easier choice. I wouldn't go out and buy tons of books or tapes on sign language, your baby might never get into it or be an early talker or so.
posted by The Toad at 5:34 AM on December 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Except for very exceptional daycare situations, baby sign language is an internal family shorthand. To that end, I'd choose whichever has more materials for learning and, if this is how your family rolls, things like baby teaching and signing songbook DVDs or apps or whatever. Based on nothing, I'd guess this is ASL but I'm making that up.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:34 AM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

We wondered the same thing as an American family in the UK. We went with the local BSL, mostly so that Baby Crab could go to a fun class with his Nan - if you're learning the local one it opens up social opportunities. It's neat too that people in stores sometimes ask "Ooh! is he signing?" I think his sign for milk is actually the ASL one though, and he does some stuff that's just him. In the end it's just all not that precise, and I don't know a single person whose kid uses more than a few signs. Do it, it's fun and helps them feel less frustrated.
posted by crabintheocean at 5:35 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you know any deaf people in Italy? That would be my only reason to choose LIS.

You may be interested in Cued Speech, particularly if the baby has any speech delays or you find you just have absolutely no clue what the child is trying to say to you - which happens with bilingual kids sometimes, in my experience with a little girl speaking both German and English. CS has been adapted for Italian.

Some kids learn CS faster than ASL/etc. - they "get" spoken language earlier than their mouths/tongues/etc. are able to produce the sounds well, so CS is reasonably useful for surprisingly young children. Meanwhile, parents invariably learn CS faster than ASL/etc. My cousin and his parents were fluent before he turned 3 years old (he became deaf due to complications from a childhood illness, around 14 months old IIRC.)
posted by SMPA at 6:14 AM on December 23, 2012

For most kids, as far as I can tell, there are just a few signs that they use: more, all-done, milk, thank you, water, food. We tried to get some sign words established for diaper and needing a change and using the potty but those never really stuck. Though I do know other kids who got the hang of them. My daughter also learned her colors in sign language at daycare. Interesting to note: if we'd ask her the color of something and she looked unsure we could do the sign for the color and then she would know. It's like her brain could readily translate the sign for "yellow" than could readily translate the color she was seeing into the word for that color. At 2, she's still doing some signing alongside her words but now that talking is pretty well here, I doubt it will continue on.

You said "when the baby gets old enough" -- we started doing sign with her when she started doing solid foods, around six months. Some babies/parents start sooner. It's really used as a type of pre-verbal communication. And is generally applied in a rather small window unless your child is a later talker. So, yes, I think you're beanplating a bit and you could probably mix and match between them or choose one or the other without any consequence. Ultimately, choose the one that works for you. I don't think there would be negative consequences either way.
posted by amanda at 6:20 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Feel free to ignore this, as it isn't answering your question, but I began signing with my son around two months, and at three months, he clearly recognized the sign for "milk". You don't have to wait long to start signing; and it's a relief on both sides to be able to communicate.
posted by Specklet at 8:06 AM on December 23, 2012

I started signing with Li'l Epps when she was about 6 months old. I used ASL because I grew up using it a bit with a deaf family member. I'm sure LIS would work just fine. Which one are you or your husband familiar with? If neither one, then try to learn or look up some basic signs in either one and see which ones you can find most easily. I wouldn't start with more than five or six signs (adding more only after the baby starts using some), keeping in mind that your child may never be interested in saying some things. (My daughter learned milk, Daddy, and outside first, but eventually mastered animal names, clothing, and "more", but never said, "all done" or "diaper". I finally realized she never wanted to be done with anything and didn't want her diaper changed.)

I found that Li'l Epps learned about a sign a month until she turned one, and then basically learned a sign a day until my husband and I maxed out at around sixty signs. My mother, who signs some, had no problem learning the unique way that Li'l E signed all of these, but my mother-in-law, with no signing background, was only able to get ten or so of the most important signs. My daughter was a late talked and this signing ended up being very important to us-- we used it until 2 1/2 or so, when she could finally say as much out loud as signing, and it made those years so much less frustrating. Yet while most of hers signs originated as ASL, they kind of turned into her own private language. Most children are very sloppy, lazy signers, and they are much harder to understand if you don't spend a lot of time talking with them (like most kids out loud, actually). So whichever language base you start from, I think the language will become Lil' Peanuts own that only you can understand.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:21 AM on December 23, 2012

Yes, in my experience, a very narrow window of use and only a few signs such as more, milk, drink, thank you, all done. Don't over think it.
posted by tamitang at 8:21 AM on December 23, 2012

If you're only using it for baby sign and not to teach your child an additional language, it doesn't really matter. (We still use it with our pretty verbal toddler to communicate in loud places or to clarify words. He uses it for emphasis -- if he REALLY wants more, he'll sign it as well as saying it.)
posted by linettasky at 8:33 AM on December 23, 2012

Do either you or your husband sign either of these languages? Do you intend for your child to sign at all once she can speak? If the answer is "no", you are overthinking the matter. This is a type of shorthand that three people in the world will ever use, so feel free to make up your own signs for the five ideas that an infant would need to communicate like "hungry" or "poop".
posted by Tanizaki at 9:02 AM on December 23, 2012

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