It’s Not All Mary Poppins


Emma and I are taking an ASL course. Emma found a Basic Signs book around the house, and – how’s this for random? – her friend Lina had the same book lying around her house, as well! The girls started memorizing their way through the books, but it didn’t take them long to realize that you can’t learn to speak a language by memorizing a dictionary.

We can now spell our names. Heck, we can spell anything! But spelling… Well, no one wants to do that as a regular thing.

“Hey, honey,” says mom, to dad who is driving, “I’m not sure I’ll have time to make D-I-N-N-E-R. How about we stop at M-C-D-O-N-A-L-D-S?”

“It’s not exactly on our way. How about S-U-B-W-A-Y?”

I’ve done it, you’ve done it. It’s good for emergencies, but efficient? Not so much. Emma and I have sufficient signed words that we can communicate the basics. We’d not starve, and we’d always be able to find the toilet. But it’s very, very basic. I figure we’re at the level of the average, oh, 19-month-old.

Nigel (who is now 26 months old) speaks English as I can only dream of speaking ASL. But 19-month-old Anna? Anna, who is at the “telegraphing” stage of language development?* She and I are probably at the same level in our respective new languages. Witness her skill…

My sweetie is home sick. Not really, really ghastly ill, just weak and tired. Anna, however, doesn’t see a sick man, she sees a warm lap.

“Up! Up! Up!”

He’s in a bit of a zone, and doesn’t register. Anna picks a board book from the floor.

“Book! Book!”

He looks at her. “Yes, you have a book, don’t you?”

Yes, he is indeed a bit spacey today. Fatigue has fuddled his brain, made him a bit slow on the uptake. Anna gives him a sharp whap in the knee with the book. That should help him focus!

“Book! Book! Up! Up!”

“You want to come up? You want me to read you this book?”

“Up! Up!”

“You sure are hard to resist, pumpkin. Here you go.” They snuggle in for yet another read of “Max and Ruby and the Rainy Day”.

Gee. How long do you think it’ll be before I’m doing so well in my second language?
* I just googled “speech development toddlers telegraphing” to find a good link to define “telegraphing” – and the first hit was my very own blog. Heh.

February 20, 2007 - Posted by | books, Developmental stuff


  1. We sign with our 16 month old and we find this site really great! They have conversational phrases and all sorts of stuff. They have a video of a person doing the sign, very helpful.

    Might be a good addition to your course.

    Very fun that you are both taking the course.

    Comment by Chelsea | February 20, 2007 | Reply

  2. Aw, precious. I love how your whole family is involved with the kids!

    Comment by SassyStudent | February 20, 2007 | Reply

  3. I think signing is an awesome skill to have in your arsenal. The daycare that Jeffrey attends is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology (where daddy goes to school)and part of their campus is the National Technical School for the Deaf (NTID). I think it’s great because daycare incorporates a lot of sign and many of the student helpers are deaf or hearing impaired. I think it will be a good environment for him to be exposed to.

    Comment by Dani | February 20, 2007 | Reply

  4. I’ve been trying to sign the basics to my little fellow. (i *think* maybe he signed milk the other day – he’s been clenching his fist on my shirt over and over while he nurses for a while now, but he was fussy the other day while I had him in the sling and I could feel his little hand start clenching and unclenching – and sure enough, he was hungry.) (Of course, he’s been recognizing the words “are you hungry? do you want to eat?” for about a month or more now – I don’t know if the milk sign was that or not – it could have been pure association. But I’ll take it!)

    Comment by Heath | February 20, 2007 | Reply

  5. I would love to take an ASL class, I keep trying but they don’t fit well into my schedule. K and I sign A LOT, enough that a first year course would probably cover things I already know, but it would still be worth it. Last week, K was at a birthday party with the local ASL teacher (who was signing with all the little girls, as the birthday girl is deaf) and she commented on how much K knows!

    Comment by Angela | February 20, 2007 | Reply

  6. Who needs to learn words when one can slap someone with a book and get the message across!? 🙂

    For a while, Q would translate for us – English, Mandarin, and Baby Signs. He doesn’t use many signs now though, usually just “more.”

    Comment by Lady M | February 20, 2007 | Reply

  7. Anna and my Thomas would get along great.

    Comment by Peter | February 21, 2007 | Reply

  8. Chelsea: It must be a good site! Someone in the class found it and was giving the URL to everyone else. I need to check it out.

    Sassy: Stephen loves babies. He’s very good with them. They love the extra set of hands and the extra laps, and I love the way he loves them, so it works all round!

    Having the family touch is one of the perks of a home daycare, for sure!

    Dani: A second language is always a good thing, I believe. The advantage of this one is that it’s silent – so you can talk during class, or talk across a busy street! (Emma told me that one. A friend of hers has a deaf sister.)

    Heath: A lot of words start by association. If you think it was, and reward it as if it was – if it wasn’t that time, it probably will be next time!

    Angela: True signing has a grammar and syntax all its own. If you’re signing using English word order, that’s not true signing, only a kind of pidgen. Effective, but primitive. (I learned that last week!)

    LadyM: That’s the idea of baby signs, of course, to bridge the gap between comprehension and verbal capability. Now that he can speak the signs fade out.

    Peter: A book fan, is he? Or just loud and insistent? (And cute!)

    Comment by MaryP | February 21, 2007 | Reply

  9. I wonder if your basic signs book is the same one Michelle has that I occasionally find lying around. I’ve seen her use a combination of signing gestures and lip-reading to transmit volumes of information to her mother and sisters across a large, noisy, crowded room. I can’t do it, and I’m crestfallen every time she tries it with me. I can’t ever understand what she’s saying!!!!! 😉

    Comment by Michael (a.k.a. Snaars) | February 21, 2007 | Reply

  10. We’ve signed with the kids since they were about six months old. It’s so cool when they start signing back. We show them videos from that they really love. It’s so cute to see them sign E-I-E-I-O along while singing Old McDonald.

    I also happen to LOVE it when my son does the sign for Daddy.

    Comment by Matthew | February 21, 2007 | Reply

  11. I’ve taken courses a couple times in college, but only remember a little. It was handy teaching though ‘cuz another teacher knew a little and we could communicate across big, noisy auditoriums.

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | February 23, 2007 | Reply

  12. there is plenty of asl courses online for those who don’t have time to go out the door and learn in a classroom. the trouble with “learning” ASL is use it or loose it so knowing sign to talk as a baby is not the same as using ASL to communicate as a language like English.

    google ASL and you will find more resources to learn online than in a book.

    Comment by sayonaratosilence | February 25, 2007 | Reply

  13. I think that the “telegraphing” stage you are refering to is discussed in language-acquisition contexts as the “one word stage” (scientists can be rather boring). This follows “babbling” and is followed by the “two word stage” and then the “multi-word stage” (or 3, 4, 5. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone count past 5).

    This may lead to more successful googling. 🙂

    Comment by parodie | March 3, 2007 | Reply

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