Why Should Hearing Children Learn Sign Language?

Why Should Hearing Children Learn Sign Language?4ES BLOG 7

People have asked me why I would use NZSL with hearing children. “Why do they need to know that”? My reply, “How long have you got”?!

I’ve seen first hand the huge benefits learning NZSL has for hearing…

I’ve seen first hand the huge benefits learning NZSL has for hearing children and I am a huge advocate for using it in the home and Early childhood/school setting with all children.

Research has proven that learning more than one language at a young age assists with brain development. In the first three years of life brain cells form as many as 15,000 connections (called synapses). Without continued use, these synapses decline and once lost, can never come back. The window of opportunity to learn new skills is usually at it’s widest from birth to three years of age. Windows of opportunity describe the periods in development when children learn skills most easily as certain parts of the brain are able to absorb more information if stimulation is appropriate. So, in short the earlier children learn something, the easier it is and the more likely they are to retain the knowledge/skill. Research also suggests that bilingual young children have a better ability to concentrate, better working memory, be better at planning and decision making and may even protect against the onset of dementia and other age-related cognitive decline in later life.

So why should NZSL be the second language that a child learns?

As well as NZSL being an official language of NZ. Learning a spoken language is a hard thing to do and can take many months for a child to be able to communicate in this way. Learning sign is much easier for children as they develop the dexterity in their hands much sooner. Signing helps to further develop this along with their fine motor skills. Giving babies and young children a language that they can communicate vital information of their needs reduces frustration for both the child and their parents/caregivers. Having another form of communication can also strengthen the parent-child bond and build their relationship.

Learning NZSL along with spoken language was once thought to hinder the development of spoken language in babies and young children. In fact, research has shown that exactly the opposite is true. Having sign hastens and fosters the development of spoken and later written language as children have a visual cue to associate a spoken concept with. It also leads to a larger vocabulary in older children as these visual cues help to retain more words. Having visual cues helps children to build their knowledge of language and studies have shown that older children who know Sign Language lean to read and spell faster and easier. Teachers who use Sign in their centres and classrooms report that behaviour is much more positive. Less interruption and frustration over communication leads to a much more calm learning environment. This success in turn leads to a boost in self-esteem and confidence in learning for children along with a desire to learn more and do better.

While all these developmental benefits are of course very important. I believe one of the greatest benefits for children is to learn about the differences in people that make up our society. To understand that we are not all the same, but that we all deserve to be treated in the same way. The concept of discrimination is learned, passed down from ignorant people afraid of differences. I want to teach children inclusiveness, acceptance of all those that make up our community and wider society. Knowing about Deaf Culture and learning NZSL is a way to do this and is a valuable tool for anyone to have.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Check out our course – Introduction to Sign Assisted Language – via the Online Learning Hub.

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