Research shows that babies can learn how to count or learn an abstract concept of counting at about 18 months, though not necessarily verbally counting. A number of videos show the toddler Juli making a count before sliding down last year at around 18 months old.
Toddlers begin to count sometime after age two and their skill builds over the next few years.
I had been wondering whether the toddler Juli (age 2;1,1) could count from one up to five or beyond. And, occasionally I thought about how to figure out how she could show me her count.
It was a possibility that Juli knew how to count with ease. But, phonologically producing the handshapes "2", "3" and "4" as well as controlling the thumb was difficult for infants and early toddlers at this stage.
However, I figured that vocally speaking the numbers from one to ten in English should be phonologically relatively easier to pronounce than producing numbers in American SIgn Language.
An answer surprised me one morning that week. Juli got up and briefly hanged out on our bed. She pointed to each of the toes of her foot, counting. I watched her mouth very closely.
Juli was counting from one to five! As she pointed to each of the toes, she spoke the numbers in English from one to five. She had been acquiring English as a second language.
Phonologically acquiring most of the numeral handshapes would be a very long process for Juli and toddlers, despite the fact that she could count. For example, the handshapes "7" and "8" are ones of the last handshapes to phonologically acquire, probably down the years.
Recently I learned from her father that Juli (age 2;6,3) had learned to count numbers up to ten in spoken English a while ago. Though, Juli skipped the number six.
Because, producing the ASL numeral handshapes is much challenging on the phonological level (handshapes). Juli could count but couldn't form the handshapes: 3, 7, 8, and 9. It would be a very long process to phonologically acquire some these handshapes, especially 7 and 8.
The handshape "4" just emerged now. The handshapes "1", "5", and "10" were too easy for Juli. The handshape 6 was somehow easy as she already formed the handshape for the alphabetical letter "W". But, her brain probably separated two processes for these two different meanings -- the number 6 and the letter W (even though both are the same handshape).
Whenever Juli (2;6,3) would ask for some chocolate pieces, often I'd ask her how many did she want. She'd reply one or sometimes two (with the vague handshape but I could tell).
Earlier in the past few weeks, she'd ask for a unreasonable request. Five. It was the easiest handshape to form. After all, one was so much little to ask for. What else choices did she have between one and five? At least, she was being reasonable that she didn't ask for ten. :)
Lately, she more often replied one or two. But, she asked for another one and another one.
The other days, Juli pointed to two cherries on the table and uttered two.
Juli asked ix-me want bottle-baby (she never used it before and recently newly got attached to it).
I replied in ASL (translated as), "You're not a baby anymore."
She repied back ix-me baby (I'm a baby.)
I told her ix-you before (You were.)
She mumbled before ix-me baby
Juli wanted to watch "Curious George" videos on our iPad. She couldn't type in the query to pull out a list of the videos. She asked me ix(screen) name what? ix name monkey?
Juli imagined herself to be something else sometimes or she'd joke herself, ix-me dog (I'm a dog).
As I unbuckled Juli in her carseat the other day, she asked if she could use the iPad to watch Curious George. I nodded. She told a story, monkey funny, monkey fell hurt.. doctor. I double checked, "Doctor?" She nodded with smile.
Some of the following random words and phrases that Juli used this week: ix-me baby drawing, i want [insert here] (a common phrase; also used to persuade me), tomato, understand, Thelma (a friend's signed name), come-here, downstairs, get-up, pants, some more shown in the video above, and other ASL words mentioned in the past months.
Got a story to tell your experience and share it with others? Send an email to Handspeak. I'd love to hear about it, too.
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.