After reading an online research-brief about the benefits of teaching children Fingerspelling alongside a visual form of communication, I was compelled to share the information with a number of friends and relatives who have often asked me about baby signing. Their intrigue and questions that followed were so enthusiastic and gave me the idea that the concept should really be more accessible to anyone looking for ways to improve communication, literacy, and vocabulary for their children- hearing or deaf.
The brief article, The Importance of Fingerspelling for Reading- by Sharon Baker, is a summary of key points made by a number of scholarly articles (authors in reference) focusing on the importance of incorporating fingerspelling into a child’s early language development. The purpose for this particular research brief is to bring light to the importance of fingerspelling and lexicalized hand signs that aid in the education process for deaf and hard of hearing in the realm of developmental literacy.
A critical developmental schema for the introduction of fingerspelling to an individual’s mode of language acquirement is age of implementation. DID YOU KNOW… Children begin absorbing fingerspelling and lexicalized finger signs as early as eight months old. As the brain develops and expands for the ability to acquire language, early stages of using fingerspelling as an expressive mean of communication can be seen in children as young as 13 months old. The first comprehensive words formed via fingerspelling are usually evident by age two. Even at this age, fingerspelled words are expressed and received as a whole unit sign, known to researchers as “movement envelope”.
Fingerspelling plays a huge role in the individual’s ability to form competent literacy skills. In a study conducted on school-age children between 3rd and 7th grade, results showed knowledge of structures like fingerspelling correlates with advanced reading achievements. These students also have what researches coin as dominate “Associative Skills”, that is the ability to write down words that were fingerspelled to them as well as translate initial signs and transfer them to print. The study also confirmed that more successful readers were usually those with better fingerspelling comprehension.
A final point of conclusion based on these studies encompasses the correlation between fingerspelling and the expansive vocabulary accumulated by a certain age. The study confirms that a person’s total expressive vocabulary is impacted by the age of which the language acquisition begins, not the age in which they reach schooling. The most successful readers had a larger vocabulary with the assistance of lexicon, the indirect vocabulary learning through unit signs. Also, the retention of new vocabulary words increased when lexicalized spelling was introduced to create a connection between units and individual letter-word construction.
The article (YOU CAN READ IT HERE) sheds light on a topic that supports fingerspelling as a supplement to effective education for improved literacy as well as greater vocabularies for any one person, hearing or deaf. The ability to fingerspell so early in life is a skill that will give people an upperhand in the ring for reading and spelling. It is a compelling research-brief that caught my attention as I work with fellow colleagues who are interested in using sign language and fingerspelling to begin advanced communication with their young children.
I encourage anyone who is thinking of introducing fingerspelling into their children’s education, especially at an early age, to check out this article and many more out there to support this very crucial decision. And… did I mention it’s fun? So, win-win!