Monday, July 27, 2009

Fingerspelling babies

Well, our 2-year-old might not really be talking yet, but he can spell!

It's too funny. He'd enjoyed the Baby Signing Time DVDs, as I mentioned, but we noticed he also enjoyed YouTube videos of the more advanced regular Signing Time version.

Well, we sell some Signing Time sets in our home business (which is, ta da, selling DVDs), and one of the discs from the new Series 2 was loose in the case, so Sam had to take it out to see how scratched it was and if it would still play. Mikko, being present for every aspect of our family business, won himself some free Signing Time watching right there!

(He was quality testing. He's a contributing member to our home business.)

Signing Time DVD with Rachel ColemanSo, it was the funniest thing. The Series 2 DVDs try to be a little more advanced for the older kids by, among other things, introducing special fingerspelling practice and commonly fingerspelled words, like TV (well, duh, which is just what that link conveys) and refrigerator.

Sam saw Mikko pantomiming fingerspelling by holding up one hand and waving it around vaguely.

But then later, Sam showed him a few ASL letters, and Mikko knew them all! We knew he was learning some letters, reading-wise (he loves finding Os in books in particular), but we had no idea that fingerspelling could sink in with just one casual viewing.

I had heard that baby sign language could help promote early literacy, but one place I'd heard it from was the Signing Time videos — and you know how when you hear a product claim from the manufacturer, you're apt to take it with a grain of salt? (Or a full saltshaker?) They were pointing out that each sign is presented on a screen with the word clearly printed behind Rachel (the host) and that that could help connect the idea that letters mean something and what they mean is the concept we're talking about — all those big leaps of logic required for literacy. A sort of easy, receptive way to start learning to read.

Now, I'm not a big believer in pushing babies to do anything they're not developmentally ready or motived to do, so I've been trying to avoid coaching Mikko along the way to sit, walk, talk, whatever. I figure he'll get around to it all in his own time. I mean, he is sitting and walking — did I not make that clear? And he is talking, just not with a degree of facility I see in other 2-year-olds. But I (really) don't worry about it. We've had his hearing checked; we know he understands what we're saying because he responds appropriately; and we know he's trying to get it all out in comprehensible words and sentences and just isn't quite there yet physically.

Anyway, the reading fingerspelling thing is a another encouragement that he's on his own unique and perfectly normal developmental track, in particular because we weren't forcing him into it. He just thinks it's fun to spell.

So, off we go!

If you're interested, here's a little more about fingerspelling and ASL. Fingerspelling is used all.the.time in sign language, both for common words and proper or unusual terms that don't have a universally accepted sign (people's names or specialized vocabulary). Words are also sometimes made more specific by using an initial (like using the R shape for the general "mouse" sign to mean "rat"). For instance, follow this link and scroll to the end to see a list of commonly fingerspelled or initialized ASL terms.

I don't give enough props to my linkie friend for all things ASL:'s ASL University, hosted by Dr. Bill Vicars. I've gushed about it before, but it bears repeating. It's got a great ASL dictionary and a free (!) ASL home-study course.

For fingerspelling in particular, there's a whole lesson series just on fingerspelling in ASL. It goes way more in depth about all the nuances and culture of fingerspelling than I can do justice here.

For super fun and maybe to hurt your brain, try out the interactive fingerspelling quiz. A phantom hand will spell words at you of a specified length and at your chosen speed, and you have to wrap your mind around how to interpret these letters flying at you, then type in your best guess. (Hint: It helps to sound out each letter as it flashes by rather than saying its English name and then trying to reconstruct what you've just spelled.) It's addictive! I find it really useful, because I feel like I don't get enough practice being signed at, particularly at an easily adjustable speed with a replay button!

On the main page, scroll down to see a "Spell It" box where you can type in words of your choosing and see them relayed to you. See if your kids would like to view their names in American Sign Language! It might help their spelling...

C-hand courtesy Luis Alves at stock.xchng
and ASL alphabet courtesy Bill Vicars at


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