Ways Sign Language Can Help in Multilingual Preschool Classrooms

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10. American Sign Language (ASL) is a true language and it can be a great addition to a teacher’s repertoire. ASL can be easy to learn. Some teachers start with basic survival words or illustrative words to enhance classroom communication – and there are many websites, books and videos to help with that, such as www.sign2me.com or www.babysigns.com. Other teachers may choose to develop ASL fluency by taking a class at a local community college. (Just remember – it is OK to learn some signs to enhance your spoken English, but ASL has its own sentence structure so true ASL is not just replacing English words with signs.)

9. Many ASL signs for the beginning words used in preschool really look like what they represent – so they can help you show your non-English speaking children what you are talking about. For example, the sign for ball looks like you are literally holding a ball in your hands – so you can use that sign to ask an ELL to bring you the ball or play with the ball. Always use signs along with spoken words. The goal is to build and enhance oral language – not to replace it.

8. Experts ask us to use gestures to enhance our communications with ELLs. If all of the staff agree to use basic ASL signs in your program – then you can be sure that the child will see the same signs consistently to mean the same things no matter who is talking to them.

7. Knowing a little ASL will also be helpful if you encounter a child with hearing loss in your classroom – or in your community.

6. Many therapists in the U.S. use ASL in early intervention programs to assist children with language delays – even if their home language is English. When those children arrive in preschool, their experience can be so much better if they find a class full of friends and teachers who know what they are saying with their signs.

5. ASL can help children from different language backgrounds play together. The clear, visual nature of signing makes it a natural tool to help friends overcome language barriers.

4. More experienced children can be very helpful in welcoming their new peers to the classroom – because ASL signs make it easy for one child to teach words to another child.

3. Preschool teachers that use ASL in their classroom report a quieter, calmer environment because children from different language backgrounds and abilities all have a way to communicate and to get their needs met.

2. Because ASL is a visual language, you will find yourself taking the time to make eye contact and that helps you connect with each individual child even when you don’t speak the same language.

1. With a room full of children and a room full of different languages – ASL can be the unifying language that brings everyone together with shared understanding.

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