1 Jan 2009

Lámh - Linking Language and Communication

There has been a growing focus and debate on the contribution made by manual symbols (sign language) to the development of language and speech when introduced to young children and infants, including those unlikely to be at risk of language or speech impairment. Learning a manual symbol system for children who are already acquiring spoken language can be compared in some aspects to second language acquisition. De Houwer and Bornstein (2006), in their study of 31 bilingual French-Dutch children, found that all of the infants were capable of indicating some degree of understanding of concepts communicated through two different spoken formats at the age 13 months although there was significant variability in individual ability. It is therefore possible that children as young as 13 months may be capable of understanding a number of combined signed-spoken words when exposed to both systems as part of their natural communication environments.

Cyne Johnston et al (2005) conducted a meta-analyses of studies carried out in the period between 1980-2002, and concluded that caution was advised when attributing benefits of training infants, who were not at risk of communication or language impairment, to the use of gestural signing: many of the studies lacked sufficient scientific rigour to support claims of additional benefits of enhanced or accelerated language development linked to use of manual signs.

Natural gesture forms an important part of the typically developing communication system in infancy and there is currently a body of research evidence supporting the view that young children who are exposed to consistent use of gesture by their parents are likely to indicate accelerated development of spoken language development. Weitzman & Earle (2009) highlight the importance of encouraging parents to interpret all of their child’s non-verbal communications as meaningful. Citing recent research by Rowe and Golden-Meadow (2009), which indicates that the use of gestures contributes to the enhancement of children’s spoken vocabulary development, Weitzman & Earle stress the benefit of combining gesture with spoken words as part of an early language intervention programme. As an adapted sign system, Lamh consists of a number of basic signs directly based on natural gesture and incorporates elements of natural gesture in the production of many more. It is reasonable to infer that the use of the Lamh signing system (when used along with the spoken word) is likely to have beneficial outcomes for the enhancement of communication and language skills in general.

Lamh has consistently stressed the importance of learning manual signs through seeing them in use in the context of the everyday experiences by the important people in ones live. DeLoache and Chiong (2009) point out that young children learn best from active interaction with another person or from direct imitation rather than from video images. It is advised that, for optimum communication experiences, the Lamh-a Song DVD is used mainly as a shared activity with the child and/or as a reference source for the child’s communication partner with opportunities provided for the songs and signs to be used in face-to-face interactions.

What we know for sure about manual signs. Young children usually enjoy the fun and mystery associated with the production of manual signs.

Manual signs use different sensory channels than speech giving additional opportunities to receive the message.

Manual signs can help to slow down the rate of information exchange

Manual signs help us to ‘see’ ourselves sending out our messages as we can look at our hands.

Manual signs help us to ‘feel’ the experience of sending out the message as we make the necessary hand movements.

Everybody can enjoy the drama associated with communicating through manual signs.

References De Houwer, A., Bornstein, M.H and De Coster, S. (2006) Early understanding of two words for the same thing: A CDI study of lexical comprehension in infant bilinguals. International Journal of Bilingualism’ 10 (3) pp. 331– 347

Cyne Johnston, J., Durieux-Smith, A. and Bloom, K. (2005) Teaching gestural signs to infants to advance child development: A review of the evidence. First Language 25 (2) pp. 235-251

Weitzman, E. and Earle, C. (2009) Infant Gesture in the News: Early gestures predict vocabulary development Wig Wag Newsletter (March).

Rowe, M. and Golden-Meadow, S. (2009) Differences in Early Gesture Explain SES Disparities in Child Vocabulary Size at School Entry. Science, 323 pp.951-953.cited in Weitzman, E. and Earle, C. (2009) Infant Gesture in the News: Early gestures predict vocabulary development. Wig Wag Newsletter (March).

DeLoache, J.S. and Chiong, C.(2009) Babies and baby media. American Behavioral Scientist; 52 (8) pp. 1115-1135