Toddler recognizing and naming colors in ASL

Recognizing colors is somehow a mystery among toddlers. It has been known that toddlers can name many objects and all correctly but had a difficult time identifying or naming colors.

Some parents report that their toddlers can recognize or identify colors correctly. Many other parents report their toddlers can name or point at objects correctly but not colors until much later.

The earliest color recognition

Several weeks earlier, Juli first used red when identifying a red car. For past weeks from the first time she pointed to the red correctly but also named other colors (e.g. black) as "red". At first it puzzled me.

Eventually it dawned on me when one day out for a stroller walk, Juli pointed at the black SUV and asked red?. I realized she probably asked this way "What color is it?" because she didn't how to produce the ASL word color yet. This is one sign.

Another sign was that while Juli couldn't not sign some other colors with a more complex phonological production, she showed something that she could recognize colors.

For example, she brought the whiteboard into my office. She asked for the crayola markers on my desk. I hesitated since those crayola markers were not designated for a whiteboard. But, Juli persisted.

I offered her a couple of the crayola markers; she rejected and kept pointing. I handed her other different colors, rejected. I handed her the crayons, rejected. Finally, I offered her a full range of the colors of the markers. She picked out the blue one.

It dawned on me that the only whiteboard erasable marker that came with the whiteboard was the blue. So, that was the one Juli wanted. Quickly, I took the crayola-blue marker back and gave her the blue whiteboard erasable marker.

One early morning (1;5,4), Juli pointed to a book lying nearby, uttering penguin. She got off my lap and picked up the book. She pointed at the colored shoes in the picture. She produced red (distinct movement of the "red") and yellow(?) ("A" handshape twisting).

Sometimes Juli pointed to the colors correctly, often incorrectly that week. But, Juli sometimes produced red.

Identifying colors

One day, 17-month-old Juli was in the bathtub playing with the cups, I asked her where red cup?. She pointed to the pink cup in her hand. The red cup was floating right next to the pink cup. I thought, okay. Pink and red are grouped as one color in many cultures.

I asked another question, Where blue cup?. She pointed to the blue cup correctly.

Next, Where orange cup? The orange cup was behind her. She looked around and turned around. She pointed to the orange cup. I applauded.

Finally, I asked Where yellow cup? She looked around and hesitated. Yellow seemed to be the weak area lately.

I had been sporadically asking Juli to identify colors as well as observing her naming colors by herself.

What I observed was that Juli named the water pen with red part red. Juli identified red the most correctly, usually by uttering herself without me asking a question.

One evening in the crib, 18-month-old (1;6,2) Juli herself named a yellow cup "orange". When I asked her "where is the orange cup?", out of three cups, she correctly pointed to the orange cup. However, she pointed to a black car or a blue car and uttered "red car".

Toddler identifying more colors

Since then, Juli at 19 months identified orange, most of the time correctly. A few other colors were gradually added. Naming colors was not always consistently correct, unlike objects.

One day, sticks of various colors were spread out on the floor. I asked Juli in ASL (translated as), "Where is orange?" Juli pointed to the orange stick.

Further in this activity, I held three sticks of different colors in my hands: red, blue, and green in my hands. I asked, "Where is orange?" Juli glanced about and pointed at the orange stick on the floor.

Another time, Juli opened the rocket/science book and came across a drawing of five astronauts for the first time. Each astronaut's spacesuit in the picture wears a different color. She herself named the orange spacesuit "orange" correctly (not captured on video). Then I asked her where the orange is. She pointed at it correctly. And the rest of it, see video.

A few weeks later at the end of 19 months, she continued to recognize some colors and name them.

Juli opened the page where showed five in different colors of spacesuits. By herself, she pointed at the orange one and uttered orange. Then she pointed at the red and uttered red. Next, she pointed at the blue and produced blue.

Juli stopped. I was amazed by her identifying the colors correctly. I decided to continue by asking her, "Where is the yellow?". She pointed at the yellow. I asked, "Where is the green?" I think she hesitated.

I took the camera and returned to the scene. I asked the questions, "Where is the color X?". She pointed at some correctly and some incorrectly.

Later that day, Juli opened a page that showed a picture of three kittens. She pointed at the middle black cat and uttered black cat (her first production of "black").

Then, she pointed at the gray-white kitten and uttered red and pointed at the other identical gray-white kitten and uttered red.

Later that day, two markers had their caps switched. Juli was able to notice and rearrange the caps to match the colors.

Next day, when asked "Where is the yellow?", Juli pointed at her sunny smiley on her shirt. Later that day, there was a preschooler wearing an orange shirt in the park. Juli pointed at her and uttered girl.. orange.

Toddler naming colors

At twenty months, Juli had expressed a great interest in colors. That all started when she pointed at the black color pen and uttered black in a new context.

This new context and new production indicated something. I began to ask Juli which color and she pointed at each of them. This time, it has been consistent which showed her recognition and understanding of the most colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, and even purple.

Except for the gray -- when she came across the gray car, she produced "red", the usual. Was it because she couldn't "pronounce" this color in ASL, so she chose the other color? When she produced "red" for a non-red color, did it mean that she recognized it as a color rather than red? We don't know for sure how her thinking was.

Other than the color "gray", she understood the colors and identified them correctly and consistently when asked. She was able to utter some of the colors: orange, red, blue, yellow ('A' handshape), and, in no time, purple.

ASL language development

Asking a question

Grandparents were catsitting the cat (Elliott) for the weekend and they wanted to show Juli the cat on videophone.

They invited Juli to come over to play with the cat the next day. I told Juli, "We will drive to grandparents' tomorrow and you can see the cat." I didn't mention about another plan for grocery shopping.

Next morning we got up and the first thing we needed was to go shopping for food. I told Juli, "We will be driving to the food store soon." I didn't mention about going the grandparents' after grocery shopping.

Juli looked at me with a quizzical look and asked grandparent [what-happened]?. The production "what-happened" was the open hands upward.

Usage of "bitter" in broader contexts

Juli used to refer the ASL word bitter to a lemon indirectly. I suspected she knew the ASL word for a lemon as she did produce lemon before but she seemed to prefer the former. Maybe it was a fun expression.

Recently she used the word bitter in reference to other food that was either sour, bitterly sweet, or bitter.

For example, she could eat a poached egg but not that with some black pepper. She would often spit it out. Whenever she spitted out, I wasn't sure why but figured out it might be the black pepper.

Sure enough, when she spitted out a piece of the poached egg this early week, she explained bitter.

Another time, she spitted out some hand-picked raspberry with yogurt. With squited eyes, she explained bitter.

Language expressive skills

At breakfast, I pointed at the picture of a hamburger in the science/rocket book and signed hamburger.

Juli pointed toward the side door and uttered father cook. I replied, Yes, father cook burgers ix-loc BBQ. She described hot, hoooot, then one more in a perfect production. She added, father work.

Juli produced doctor in referring the male doctor in a picture book. She pondered for a moment and she asked about the female doctor, mother (alternatively referring to a woman). I helped her search a picture of the female doctor.

Juli pointed at me and uttered mother with mouthing "mama".

The following referential words and phrases that Juli had used this week: cat poops (referring to the cat in the litterbox in the picture book), dog barks, pineapple yummy, fire hot (referred to the smoke coming out of the BBQ and also referred to the orange glowing clouds at sunset), circle (crop-like circle in the rug) some more shown in the video above, and some reguarly used ASL words.

Language comprehension

Juli understood every "Where is.." question, such as (translated as) Where is the box? key? your hat? the other shoe of yours? and so on. She picked up and brought the item what was asked for.

Juli also responded to the questions or requests such as (translated as) Please take your shoes off. She sat down and reached her shoes. Hey, you forgot to turn off the piano. She came back and turned it off.

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.