In the last two decades, there has been a quiet revolution in the way that infants learn language. Citing historical studies about the academic success of hearing children born into deaf families, a sign language interpreter began to teach babies to sign words like “more,” “milk,” “all done,” and “play” in the early 1990s. Babies tend to sign their first words three months before they speak them, and early acquisition of signed language can allow for greater communication at an earlier age.
Grammatically speaking, babies who sign tend to produce their first “sentences” at about 18 months of age; the time frame is similar for spoken language. Toddlers typically produce their first spoken sentences around the same time. But being taught to communicate hunger, thirst, and sleepiness through the use of American Sign Language typically allows infants as young as eight months old to make their needs known in a more consistent fashion.
Language acquisition is a natural process among young children. Neurologically hard-wired to accumulate vocabulary and to internalize grammatical rules and exceptions, young children may become fluent in several languages before they reach elementary school age. Early exposure to a homeschool or preschool Spanish curriculum, for example, may set the stage for adult fluency.
In a global economy where bilingual professionals typically earn 120% of their peers’ salaries, an elementary Spanish curriculum may begin as early as preschool. Toddler education often depends upon songs and play, and preschool Spanish lessons can be delivered in engaging and memorable ways. Young children’s brains are geared toward deciphering the rules of the languages they hear and see, so learning Spanish can help them uncover the rules of English as well.
Where adult foreign language study often depends upon rote memorization of grammar and vocabulary, preschool Spanish lessons may incorporate Spanish story books, rhyming and clue-based mysteries and puzzles, and songs. As millions of children who spoke their first words in American Sign Language continue to summit through their academic careers, long-term studies may continue to reveal that second language acquisition is second-nature to toddlers.