Language development for bilingual children

The gap between children’s ability to understand language and speech production (much later) can be easily bridged with sign language.

More and more children in the Netherlands speak multiple languages at home. In some families, children learn two languages at the same time, because parents have different native languages. There are many children who learn a second language at a later time. For example, if they go to a kindergarten or school. In both cases, it is important that in one situation one language is spoken. For example, speak a different language at home than at school, or make the appointment to always speak English with each other while eating.

When children learn a second language, it is normal that they are quiet for a while. This is also when babies learn sign language. Sometimes it takes a few weeks before your baby is going to use more signs after his first sign.

But that does not mean that they do not understand what you’re saying or gesturing. Children learn the language by listening and watching. So they learn sounds, words, signs and sentence construction.

Can we introduce signing in a bilingual environment?
Many families use signs as the common denominator for teaching several spoken languages. Initially, as speech begins, your baby may mix various words from different languages together in one sentence. Research indicates that eventually young children in these environments usually straighten everything out and become fluent in several languages. Baby signs can serve as a bridge, because it is a neutral language. It is even recommended to use Baby signs in a bilingual environment[1].

For example, dad is Dutch and mother comes from China. He can ask if your child wants to drink in Dutch, while he makes the sign for drink. And mother can say the same in Chinese while she makes the same sign for drink. That way your child learns right away that “drink” is the same as drinking ‘喝酒’in Chinese, in Turkish ‘içme” or ‘飲む’in Japanese.

Do you have multilingual children in kindergarten?
At school or at the kindergarten many children speak different languages. How nice would it be if you could speak together in one language so that all kids can understand each other. Then, children can also take the initiative to start a conversation. Baby signs can also be used here as a neutral language. For example, when they want to read a book or if they want to eat, they can make this clear with a sign. There are also many abstract words for young children still hard to understand. As the word “sorry” “help” or “please”. By using signs abstract ideas take shape and become more tangible.

Do you know a child who is 8 months old and can say please or thank you? Babies usually start talking around 1 or 1.5 years and then will thank you still a difficult word. Children can make the sign for thank you when they’re 8 months. Of course you’re very proud when your child can say thank you against grandparents.

When you want to start with Baby signs, you don’t have to learn a whole new language. Learning sign language is something different than Signs use in support of the Dutch language. We call this Dutch with Signs (NmG). You use the official signs from the sign language of the Netherlands, but the Dutch sign language used by the deaf community, has a very different grammar than Dutch spoken language.
For more information or join our lessons click here