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Elementary mathematics in American Sign Language (ASL)

My earliest memory of multiplication in my childhood was my father teaching me a concept of multiplication in sign language on our day-long train ride between a residential school for the deaf and our home. (Note: all conversations translated in this post were in sign language only.)

My Deaf father took me to the kindergarten school by train. In the train, to keep us away from boredom, dad taught me some basic math in additions. He wrote on a piece of paper, "1+1". I replied 2. "2+2" "4" "1+4" "5" and so on.

Somehow I ended up asking him a question about multiplication's symbol (dot) that I saw somewhere, "What's that symbol?" Dad shook his head, telling me that I was too young, not yet ready to learn. But, I persisted.

Dad took a deep breath, figuring out how to teach his six-year-old kid multiplication. He wrote down on the paper, explaining "1 * 1 = 1". Ok. Then, he explained further, "1 * 2 = 2" and so on. He explained more, "2 * 2 = 4". I looked at the paper, astounded, "But, it's the addition!" Dad nodded. I asked, "Why the same?" He explained the comparison between addition and multiplication for 2 and 2. This was the reason it stuck to my mind for decades.

introducing multiplication to kids

Fast forward to 2017, at dinner time, when my six-year-old child Juli brought up about multiplication, I introduced her to the concept of multiplication (of course, in ASL). On paper (above), I explained her how to multiply. My father and I used a different approach but we both used signed languages.

introducing multiplication to kids

A week or so later, as Juli turned 7th, she eagerly asked me to teach her a few multiplication problems on a tiny paper lying around.

Another week later, one early morning on our way to her grade-two school, I asked her a few multiplication problems in ASL: 0x3, 8x1, 4x4, 3x2, 5x4, lastly 5x5. she replied them all correctly.

Related posts

Related post: Learning basic math in kinder.

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.