This is the beauty of the course – you won’t have to learn a new language when teaching ASL to your baby. As discussed earlier we won’t be concerned with the grammar, punctuation and syntax which will come as a big relief to many. Instead, we’ll focus on just the words we want our baby to learn and use. These will be things that are important to you and your baby and things they use pretty much every day, at least for starters. We’re not going to try to sign all words we would use in a sentence as this would be confusing to your baby and impossible to do correctly given that ASL word order is different than spoken English.
So now that we know what we won’t be teaching, what is it that we will be teaching? Well, to make it even more simple, why not just decide for yourself! Think of something that is important to a baby, consult the baby dictionary, sign it to your baby, repeat it many, many times, and there you go, it’s really not much more complicated than this. Baby’s follow pretty specific routines every day and a baby’s world, while seemly large, is really quite limited. Babies do a lot of sleeping, eating, playing and pooping so naturally these will represent a lot of the words you will sign.
A lot of the signs you will use around your baby will have “natural” origins – called “iconic signs”, meaning they look an awful lot the thing they are meant to represent. This makes them very easy to recall. For example, the sign for MILK is a fist that is squeezed several times as if milking a cow, whereas the sign for DIAPER is the middle and index finger turned upside down and pinched together as if removing the pins of an old style cloth diaper. The sign for UP is an upward pointed index finger (or two arms lifted upward) and TELEPHONE is done by placing your hand to your ear like you are talking on an imaginary phone with the thumb and pinky extended. See this is easy!
As you teach signs keep in mind that these signs are all new to them and they have little or nothing to associate the signs with. It’s not like you can remind your baby that the sign for MILK is “like milking a cow.” Milking a cow is just as foreign to them as is the milk that comes from it! This is all new to them and will take time to learn.
Above: Milk: The hand is held vertically and squeezed several times as if milking a cow in the ASL sign for MILK.
However, while not all sign are this simple for you to recall, it won’t take long to learn the association. For example the ALL DONE or FINISHED sign is done by sweeping the hands at the wrist as if brushing something away. This requires a second step for you since it really doesn’t mean a whole lot in and of itself. Signs that do not imitate a natural origin are called “abstract signs” and require a separate association to recall. Take for example the sign for MORE which is done by bringing the two hands together fingers touching. The sign the action does has no bearing on what it means, so requires a bit more thought on your part to remember.
In all, you will probably learn anywhere from 30-60 signs, and this might seem like a huge leap, but you don’t have to learn these all at once before you start. While we are on a roll, let’s keep going to illustrate the point. The sign for BATH involves closed fists that are “scrubbed” up and down along the body exactly as if washing and the sign for SHIRT is done by pressing the index and thumb together near the chest as if pulling it away from the body. How easy is this? You’ve already learned 6 signs in this section alone!
If you still think this is going to be hard, know this, you’re only going to learn about 5-10 signs in the beginning anyway, and the rest you will add only after your baby has begun to use one of them effectively. This means you only need to be one step ahead of your baby, and this is very easy, trust me! Also, you don’t have to learn every single word in a sentence and in fact doing so would be a mistake and be confusing to your baby. You just need to sign the one or two key words in a sentence, this is all. When you sign “Do you want MILK?” You will only sign the word for MILK as this carries the whole meaning for your baby. Once you have chosen the signs you want to start with and memorized them, it’s as simple as that. It will barely require any extra effort at all. I’ll note too that even reluctant father’s (or mother’s!) will pick up signing passively after watching you and your baby sign. Once your baby starts to communicate, everyone is going to want to know what it is that baby is saying!
Above: Mom and baby talking about snowballs, snowmen, snowplows and other winter fun!