Baby talk, first language acquisition

Videoclip: The mother categorized the colors and showed Juli (age 0;6,2) a group of objects of the same color.

Toddler recognizing and naming colors in sign language

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.

Video clip: Crystal named colors of the hands in an artwork hanging on the wall. Juli (age 0;6,0) listened.

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.

Language development

The 20 month old toddler Juli (age 1;8,3) continued to identify and name colors of things. When I introduced another color to her repetorie, Juli recognized and uttered brown.

New to sign language? "Where do I start?" or "How do I start learning sign language?" This ASL Rookie guide lists some selected links to the tutorials for ASL beginners to get started and keep rolling. It may be a useful review for intermediate-level learners and ASL students as well.

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Expressing needs and wants

  1. Making commands or requests

Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

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Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.