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Title: RE: 16.1769, Disc: New: Lang Acquisition: Baby Signing
Submitter: Anthea Fraser Gupta
Description: The use of more than one language most certainly will NOT cause delay in language learning in general, or in the development of an oral language in addition to the sign language. It's long been known that childhood bilingualism isn't damaging in any way, and it is possible that children who are bilingual from birth may be at a cognitive advantage.

However, I am a bit worried about the motivations for what seems like a type of hothousing. Children who learn sign languages as native languages produce their first identifiable words two or three months earlier than children who learn oral languages as native languages. The promotion of signed languages for hearing babies in hearing families is motivated by a notion that early language is advantageous.

There is no evidence, however, that doing things (first word, walking, eating solids, toilet training, literacy) early confers any advantage in later life. In the UK last week, we had politicians extolling the virtue of a particular system of phonics to be used EXCLUSIVELY in the teaching of reading, on the grounds (in part) that children taught by this system are on everage ahead of those taught by other means at the end of the first year of school. At the end of the first year of school in the UK children are still aged 5 years. At this age children in many other parts of the world have not even started school. Norwegian children learn to read on average much later than British children, for cultural reasons. But do we see hordes of illiterate Norwegians and startlingly brilliant Brits? No -- it's what you do when you are an adult that matters, and early starting confers no advantage.

On the other hand, if parents enjoy teaching sign languages to their children, it won't do any harm. And the more people who know the local sign languages, the better it will be for Deaf people and the better attitudes to Deaf people might be. It's also good to teach music, swimming, nature observation, ball games, tree-climbing, clay skills.... But hothousing I don't like. Children need more time to explore things in their own way and at their own pace, and less teaching.


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Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr)
School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT
NB: Reply to
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Date Posted: 06-Jun-2005
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
LL Issue: 16.1779
Posted: 06-Jun-2005

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