These were about the only signs I learned on my short journey on the Sign Language Express. I could’ve tried harder, but I didn’t see the point. My baby isn’t deaf, she doesn’t have deaf siblings, I’m not deaf, and I’m not aware of any deaf person in my sphere of influence. Why not teach her Latin or Chinese? Or what about [sarcasm font] English [/sarcasm font]?
I don’t want to be a spoil sport for parents who have managed to communicate with their children via signing, but I also don’t understand what the big fuss is about. Babies are pretty good at sending messages. My baby arches her back when she is tired, lifts her arms when she wants to be picked up, cries in little cry-hiccups when she is hungry, and screams her head off when she bonks her head.
I’m also quite irrationally jealous on behalf of my baby when I see a kid signing fluently. I start to feel like a bad parent because my kid can’t sign… as if it mattered. But, maybe I’m just a sore loser because my kid isn’t a genious. The truth is, I don’t know sign language- most parents don’t. And, I think that parents take delight in teaching a simple skill that will not only propel their babies beyond the other toddlers, but also beyond the majority of adults. It’s a parlor trick that parents have fooled themselves into believing is a sign of superior intelligence.
Infant sign language schools are actively trying to stop skeptics from questioning the usefulness of baby signing. They list several replies to those who are skeptical about signing- not included in the list is any research that has been done on the topic. I do know that there are a few studies that look on it favorably, but babble.com has done a good job of recently pointing out that many of those studies were flawed.
In 2005, researchers at the universities of Ottawa and Waterloo published a paper titled “Teaching Gestural Signs to Infants to Advance Child Development: A Review of the Evidence,” which examined the claims made by baby-signing advocates. The scientists reviewed more than 1,200 studies and found that only ten actually measured objective outcomes in teaching signing as compared with groups of hearing babies.
There are also numerous problems with the original positive study by Goodwyn and Acredolo…
Acredolo and Goodwyn failed to explain the methodology used to select and group their study’s children. It may be, for example, that the parents in the baby-signing group were volunteers who were already highly motivated, educated, and involved, and thus likely to foster language development in their babies with or without signing classes. In addition to the baby-signing test group, there were two control groups: one in which parents received training to encourage verbal language skills with their babies; the other in which there was no intervention at all. But Acredolo and Goodwyn followed up with only one of the control groups — the babies with no intervention — which means that no long-term comparisons can be made between the parents who were trained to encourage spoken language and the parents who were trained to use sign language. It is possible that the verbally trained babies did just as well with language acquisition and IQ as the signing children, but the research doesn’t say. Furthermore, the attrition rate in the follow-up study was as high as 40 percent. “When there’s a high attrition rate, you wonder what happened to the other children and whether they were intrinsically different from the subjects they could find,” Johnston told me.
A new book is out called Parenting Inc. by Pamela Paul that talks more about the issue of commercializing sign language and the evidence against it. She also goes into several other topics such as Baby Einstein. I fully plan on picking this up, and giving a full report soon. You can hear Pamela talk about her book on Talk of The Nation with Neil Conan.
I haven’t had time to follow up on the meta-study of baby sign language or the original study. I fully plan on interviewing both groups to get their sides of the story. In the meantime, I won’t be teaching my child sign language. I will, however, be teaching her all about Star Wars and the force. Go ahead click that Star Wars link- too cute!