Fingerspelling and reading development in bilingual preschoolers

Fingerspelling, reading, and writing are interrelated.

The video discusses the importance of an early exposure of fingerspelling to children, especially for ASL-speaking deaf children who develops reading and writing skills at kindergarten.

A study case: Juli's reading and fingerspelling development.

At age 1;2, Juli pointed to the correct alphabetical letter when I fingerspelled a manual letter. At age 1;9, she identified most of the alphabetical letters by pointing at them when I fingerspelled an alphabetical letter.

At age 2;2, Juli looked at the advertising card showing the brand name of my Acura and uttered mother, yours. I took Juli to my car with the advertising card and showed her the brand name "Acura" shown on my car.

To my surprise, Juli began to fingerspell each of the alphabetical letters for the first time by herself. Juli read the alphabetical letters from left to right, A-R-U-C-A. Reading from left to right was an natural phenomenon as one can find in Asian writing.

Lately, every time I read a book to three-year-old bilingual Juli in American Sign Language (ASL), I picked out a few words, usually the titles of the book for her to read and recognize letter by letter by fingerspelling each alphabetical letter.

For example, the book "Bibi and the Bull" was one of the most read books. When asked her to fingerspell the girl's name and the bull, Juli fingerspelled B-I-B-I and B-U-L-L by herself.

Another common name was "Peppa" because every time Juli wanted to watch videos on our mini-iPad on YouTube, I'm not a big advocate of children watching videos. I encouraged her to type "peppa" herself in the YouTube search field.

A month later in May, Juli learned to type "peppa" in the YouTube search field by herself but she usually would double check with me. She was very close to type it all by herself. In no time, she was able to type "peppa" in the YouTube search field by herself.

On a few occasions, I caught Juli fingerspelling letters when reading her book. For example, the moment I entered her classroom at preschool, I caught Juli fingerspelling I-R-E -- the last part I only caught. Then I noticed her book titled, "FIRE".

At other times, I partially caught Juli fingespelling a book's title and ipad app (word game) by herself. I asked her to fingerspell a word with the lower case. She recognized both capital letters and low case letters.

Another common reading book was the "Belly Book". She fingerspelled these words B-E-L-L-Y B-O-O-K. Then I asked in ASL, "What does "belly" mean?" And, "book"? Juli replied in ASL signs.

This is the beginning of a long journey of developing skills in translation between two primary languages.

Fingerspelling the alphabetical letters in order

One night in bed, out of blue sky, Juli (age 3;5) manually fingerspelled the alphabetical letters in order from A to Z. It completely surprised me, because I had never taught her the alphabetical letters in order from A to Z. Thus, it must come from her preschool. I only fingerspelled real life English words with her. Though, she usually missed the L, M, and/or N (the middle part of the set).

Another thing, it must be come from an English-speaking culture, because Juli used a distinctive part in her fingerspelling the alphetical letters in order. She used and between Y and Z. In our ASL culture, we never do "and" between Y and Z.

Fingerspelling and fingerspelled loans

An interesting phenomenon I observed that there is a difference between a fingerspelled loan as in ASL sign (like producing a signed word or a spoken word) versus a fingerspelled word as in producing a series of the letters of a word (whether writing, fingerspelling, or speech-spelling).

That is, there must be a different process in the brain between producing a word (whether signed or spoken) and spelling a series of the letters of a word (whether fingerspelling, speech-spelling, or writing).

Interestingly, I found that Juli (age 3;5) remembered and used these fingerspelled loans (as ASL signs, not fingerspelled English words) somehow more solidly than fingerspelling a word the same way one read a letter by letter.

For example, it was easier for her to produce an ASL fingerspelled loan #DOG than fingerspelling an English word D-O-G. It's the same way it's easier for an English-speaking child to speak "dog" than spelling "D-O-G". Right? Same for ASL.

Juli now fingerspelled #off with a perfect production (before handshape "6", now "F"). Then she fingerspelled #LY for "fly". She learned to spell D-O-G but sometimes forgot how to.

At age 3;4, Juli pronounced #ok as #K (subtly omitted O). Eventually, she fully produced #OK by age 4.

Fingerspelling her own name completely

One day, Juli (age 3;5) asked me to write her name on a paper. I printed the alphebtical letters of her name. She fingerspelled it. Curiously, she asked for my name. For the first time, she learned about my name. And, then her father's name.

Then at night in bed that same day, Juli told me, ix-me name j-u-l-i-a-n-n-a. Wow! It was the first word that she remembered beyond any four-lettered word. She remembered this relatively difficult, long name the most, more than any simplest words, such as DOG, OFF, or TV. Well, it's her own personal name, worth and important enough to remember for herself.

From this night on, I decided that in addition to bedtime reading book, fingerspelling was a wonderful bedtime soothing activity that helped her become tired quickly. So, it became a new addition to the bedtime routine: reading book, then fingerspelling activity, and finally sleeping.

In fingerspelling activity, usually it's a chat time. We'd chat about some stuff but also I'd randomly ask her, fingerspell eye and helped her fingerspell E-Y-E. Or, I'd ask you remember how-to fingerspell belly?, or what b-o-o-k mean?. And such.

Fingerspelling a word

People have told me that there is a big language development between age three and four. In just one year gap, it's sure a leap.

Sure enough, as Juli was about a month away from her 4th birthday, her language acquisition in ASL noticeably spurted. Her ASL language was at the point where she could express and communicate her memories and about anything. It includes fingerspelling an English word or an idea.

For example, Juli had been rejecting oranges and I asked why. She didn't answer. But, now she could. When I asked why, she replied ix-this orange fs-seed. Ah! She actually fingerspelled S-EE-D. It was on her very own. She remembered it from a long while ago and she could use it to express now.

This "seed" fingerspelling was a powerful, symbolic mark of her mature language acquistion. That last month of age 3 was about the end of my documentation on her language acqusition from birth to end of age 3 as she reached a full-fleged language acquisition that she could express without limitations.

Language development

The three-year-old preschooler Juli has a new reading habit. In addition to nighlty bedtime reading in ASL, Juli expected me to read her a few books every morning I dropped her off at preschool.

That created a new strategy -- to be there at preschool 10-15 minutes earlier than usual. Every time I dropped Juli off at preschool, she picked up a few books for me to read to her in ASL. Then she would tell me, you go now ("You can go now.")

Some of the following examples that Juli had uttered during this month in April: ix-det firefighter wash car rh-why car dirty (we saw a firefighter crew having a car wash fundraising event at the grocery's parking lot), ix-me told girl bug cl-scrampering, and some more.

Related posts

This documentation project follows a baby's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, week by week from gazing at birth to manual babbling, to first words just before the first birthday in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.

The second-year and third-year documentation continues to follow the same child's language and phonological acquisition and literacy development in ASL on a weekly basis from the one-word stage to two-word and multiple utterances.

The documentary continues to follow the same child's ASL language and literacy development on a regular basis from age three to four. It surveys ASL phonological acquisition and more complex utterances.

These posts on ASL-English bilingualism, language acquisition, and bilingual education may be of an interest for parents who raise a bilingual-bimodal child in ASL (or another signed language) and English (or another written and/or spoken language of its respective) as well as informative and educational for ASL specialists, educators, and professionals.