It may be easier for infants to communicate in a visual method such as sign language as opposed to spoken language, but what difference, if any, is made in the long term? Teaching typically developing infants to sign as an aid has been known to be success

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From the earliest moments of a baby’s life, it is common for parents to want the best for their child. On the contrary, there are the parents who want their babies to be the best. In the 1981 book, The Hurried Child, author Dr. David Elkind warns that children were being asked to grow up too fast. This was the premise of the book, the fact that parents were pushing their children too far, and too fast. Dr. Elkind’s book became an instant classic, and it seems that recently the trend of “super babies” has only intensified (The Hurried Infant). There are various studies, theories, trends, products, and techniques aiming to expand the powers and abilities of the infant brain. The popular trend of brain enrichment practices for infants can be linked back approximately 15 years ago, when the parenting community started to learn about something called the “Mozart Effect” (Mitchell 28:3-4). The “Mozart Effect” was a conclusion of one study of college students who had listened to ten minutes of a Mozart sonata before taking a test, and appeared to score slightly higher marks in doing so (Mitchell 28:3-4). Through this conclusion, parents were encouraged to play classical music for their babies, to help enhance spatial-reasoning and memory. The “Mozart Effect” was controversial, as there were many attempts to replicate the results of the original test, but most were unsuccessful. Another controversial topic was the claim of a “window of learning” for infants. Scientists once believed that there was a window of opportunity from when a child is born until about the age of three, to learn certain skills and abilities proficiently. It was also believed that a child’s brain is fully developed by birth, and although most of the brain's cells are formed before birth, most of the connections among cells are actually made during early childhood (O’Connell). Recently, researchers have begun to recommend that normally developing infants be taught sign language within the first two years of life (Garcia). This recommendation is backed up by research that claims infants can obtain sign language earlier than spoken language. It’s claimed that learning sign language will promote the development of vocal language, as opposed to hindering it; a theory brought to popularity by the publication of Baby Signs (Goodwyn, Acredolo, & Brown). It may be easier for infants to communicate in a visual method such as sign language as opposed to spoken language, but what difference, if any, is made in the long term? Teaching typically developing infants to sign as an aid has been known to be successful in stimulating the brain and promoting language abilities, however due to a lack of consistent evidence, the misuse of brain science, and the trending “edutainment” industry, the actual importance and effectiveness has been misrepresented and exaggerated.

It is claimed by linguists, including Noam Chomsky that humans are born into the world with a natural knowledge of language referred to as the “language faculty”. According to Chomsky (p.13), this language faculty is seen as a biological system in the brain that “has an initial state which is genetically determined, like. . . the kidney, the circulatory system, and so on." In theory, the ideas of promoting language through teaching infants sign language seems legitimate, but are the results worth the time and effort? According to Stephen Pinker (p.15), everyone demonstrates very complex linguistic abilities, regardless of class or education level. So by stimulating an infant through sign language, are you simply “unlocking” these complex linguistic abilities early or are they actually being taught and understood? The thought of an infant being able to sign that they are tired or hungry as opposed to just crying is very fascinating, however can be unrealistic. There are advantages to teaching typically developing infants to sign, but there are can also be drawbacks both for signing and the way an infant may be taught to sign. One of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of a uniform language. There are various methods that are used to teach sign language to babies from American Sign Language, to commercial programs such as Baby Signs, or custom created signs. Without a uniform language, different signs can easily confuse infants. American Sign Language is made more “baby friendly” by commercial programs, leading to a more limited and disorganized language. Since language is a complex rule-governed system of sounds and words (CS212OC M1,L1, F, 2011), it is recommended that infants be taught proper ASL as an aid as opposed to a simplified system of gestures. Another major drawback is the lack of universal knowledge. While any sort of sign language can work very well between the infant and family or parents, the child will have no ability to communicate outside of that system. If you teach a child to speak a language, only other speakers of that same language will be able to understand them, same idea goes for sign language. If the child is in someone else’s care, they will not be able to effectively communicate, leading to frustration and even aggravation for the child. Lastly, there is controversial issue of delayed speech. Although there are conflicting reports regarding this, it is said that children who have a large vocabulary in sign language, may not be as inclined to speak unless signs are used in conjunction with words. Co-author Linda Acredolo, of Baby Signs, claims that parents who sign with their children must also use spoken language, to help with the child’s verbal ability. Linda Acredolo is also a psychologist, and several of her studies have shown that although sign language is often adequate to aid in communication on its own, when used in conjunction with speech, children are able to comprehend more proficiently. It is claimed that if this is followed, children with knowledge of signs may have better verbal and language capabilities than non-signing children. This is because signing children are able to obtain an earlier understanding of language, and it’s purpose. They then use this understanding and knowledge of language as to their advantage, when they are physically able to speak.

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Baby signing is very different from true forms of sign language, which involve complex linguistics. Sign language resembles spoken language in every major aspect, proving the universality amongst languages (Fromkin, Rodman, Hyams). A major issue of concern is that findings from studies of deaf children learning sign language cannot be extrapolated to hearing children learning baby sign language, which has been done by supporters of baby sign language (Doherty-Sneddon). A concrete example of this takes place on the website for a baby signing product (, in which they claim “increased brain activity” through a citation of a neuroimaging study ...

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