Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 8: Learning to use a sign language

HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 8: Learning to use a sign language

It is easy for a young child to learn a complete sign language. A child will first begin to understand the signs that others use, especially for people and things that she sees every day. After she begins to use signs that are important to her, she will learn and use many others.

Each sign will help your child learn more about the world around her. As her language skills develop, she will begin to put signs together. After a while she will be able to sign in full sentences. This will also help her develop her mind. If you and your child enjoy learning sign language together, you will get better results.

A boy signing to his little sister.

The best way for you and your family to learn the sign language used in your area is to have a deaf person who uses it teach you. See Chapter 3 for guidelines on how to teach your child language. Here is more information on how deaf adults can help the community learn sign language.

If there is no one who can teach sign language, there may be a book to learn some signs to use with your child. But learning sign language from a book is harder and less effective than learning
from a person.

In this chapter, we show people using signs, and we also show how signs can be put
together to make sign sentences, like this:
One picture by itself does not show all of the signs in a sentence.
A woman facing a small child signs and points her finger to a man standing behind her.
Say hello
to Papa.
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HCWD Ch8 Page 85-5.png We sometimes show the signs that make up a sentence in boxes that you read from top to bottom.
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How to help your child understand new signs

A child first learns the signs for things and people that are important to her. So notice who or what your child is interested in. To help a child learn her first signs:

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Say hello
to Papa.

1. It helps to make the sign near the object or point to the person, so your child connects the two. Show by the look on your face that something important is happening.

A man and woman signing to each other as a small child observes them nearby.
2. Sign the name of the object or person and use it several times. Be sure your child can see your hands and face when you sign with her.

3. Watch for your child’s response.
Does she respond in any way that
shows she understood? If so, praise
her. If she does not respond, repeat
the sign a few more times.

A boy signing and speaking to his baby sister.
This is Papa’s
chair. For Papa.
4. Use these signs as much as you can throughout the day. Encourage the whole family to use them, too.

Try to be patient. It may take your child some time to learn her first signs.