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How To Learn Sign Language

Babies are language sponges — even with sign language – Science Nation


♪MUSIC♪ RAIN BOSWORTH: Hello! Hello! MILES O’BRIEN: It’s a typical
day at the Infant Vision Lab, which is to say a full house of
both hearing and deaf children, ready to take their turns in the
hot seat. RAIN BOSWORTH: Better! MOM: Thank you. RAIN BOSWORTH: There you go! MILES O’BRIEN: With support
from the National Science Foundation, psychologist Rain
Bosworth and a team at the University of California, San
Diego are putting kids like 5 year-old Julia, who is deaf, to
the test. [RINGING] RAIN BOSWORTH: So we are trying
to figure out what the impact of deafness is on perception and
cognition and what the impact of early language exposure,
specifically sign language exposure is on perception and
cognition as well. All right, we’re ready to start. So when
the puppies come up you can talk to her. MILES O’BRIEN: Eight month old
Wells is a hearing baby–part of the control group. They use an
eye tracker to monitor where she focuses her attention as she
watches a video. MOM: You’re doing great! RAIN BOSWORTH: So the eye
tracking tool is really powerful. We’ve been able to
collect a copious amount of data in a short period of time. We
get one data point roughly every eight milliseconds. While
they’re watching the screen, we are recording in real time where
the baby is looking. MILES O’BRIEN: Research shows
that deaf adults have more sensitive peripheral vision than
hearing people. Bosworth wants to know how early that enhanced
visual perception starts. RAIN BOSWORTH: So here you can
see that that face is changing. And this is a measure of
sensitivity to faces at a young age. We want to see what the
youngest age we can detect face sensitivity in deaf and hearing
babies, and see if it emerges earlier in deaf babies. MOM: There’s Elmo. MILES O’BRIEN: Using eye
tracking, Bosworth’s team has also shown that very young
hearing babies, even if they have never seen sign language
before can tell the difference between actual signed words and
other hand movements. RAIN BOSWORTH: For example, if
a baby were to see the sign for “cat” – and this is the sign for
“cat” – as compared to a gesture that’s more like this, a baby as
young as 5 or 6 months old would be able to recognize the
difference. They have the intuition of language for what’s
real language and what isn’t. RAIN BOSWORTH: Good job, you
lost a shoe! MILES O’BRIEN: Isaac, who is
not deaf, is six and a half months old, so still in that
early sweet spot for language exposure. RAIN BOSWORTH: By five months,
we think that babies are just like universal language sponges,
like language radar. They just want to find language in their
environment and that’s why they are really good at learning
languages as infants. MILES O’BRIEN: And what about
deaf babies who are getting cochlear implants at around a
year old and soon will be able to hear? Would learning signs
just slow them down? The answer is no. Bosworth says they
should still be exposed to sign language during those key early
months. RAIN BOSWORTH: Sign language
exposure would provide the critical language input at the
right time, the time when they need it the most. And
that can support learning a spoken language later. [POUNDING] MILES O’BRIEN: So the take home
lesson – all babies have innate sensitivity to all languages.
Whether you speak or sign, whether your child is hearing or
deaf, keep on with the baby talk. You can’t go wrong. For Science Nation, I’m
Miles O’Brien.

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