Posted by: learnsignlanguage | April 16, 2010

How do children learn sign language?

The Aquisition of Sign Language

Most Deaf children are not born into families where BSL is the first language of parents and siblings. This is because approximately 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, approximately 5% have one hearing and one deaf parent and only around 5 % are born into a family where both parents are deaf.

Most children of Deaf parents will acquire BSL naturally within the context of the family. This applies to both deaf and hearing children. However, the extent to which the hearing children develop and maintain competence in BSL varies considerably according to individual circumstances, experiences and attitudes. Once the hearing child begins to develop English this may influence the manner and extent of BSL usage. However it would be unusual for hearing children of Deaf parents not to make some use of BSL.

Deaf children who are born into hearing families will not usually acquire BSL or indeed English at the normal age of acquisition. Hearing parents have usually had little or no contact with the Deaf Community before the birth of their deaf child. Professionals such as medical consultants, teachers of deaf children, psychologists and audiologists have typically counselled parents to aim primarily at the development of spoken language skills in their deaf children.

Sign systems are sometimes developed within a single family. For instance, when hearing parents with no sign language skills have a deaf child, an informal system of signs will naturally develop, unless repressed by the parents. The term for these mini-languages is home sign (sometimes homesign or kitchen sign). Home sign arises due to the absence of any other way to communicate. Within the span of a single lifetime and without the support or feedback of a community, the child is forced to invent signals to facilitate the meeting of his or her communication needs. Although this kind of system is grossly inadequate for the intellectual development of a child and it comes nowhere near meeting the standards linguists use to describe a complete language, it is a common occurrence. No type of Home Sign is recognized as an official language.

Recently the more widespread recognition of the existence of the Deaf community and an increasing understanding of the nature of BSL has brought about some changes in both professional and family attitudes. A number of professionals now attempt to facilitate early access to sign language and some parents now actively seek to learn BSL and to provide an environment in which their children can develop signing competence.

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