Learning sign language to songs is a sure-fire way to keep older children challenged as they learn an actual new language, and engage younger children’s busy fingers as they learn signs that teach gospel concepts. For example, it’s very hard for me to make the sign for Jesus Christ (4 second video) without humbly thinking of “His hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt” (verse 3, “I Stand All Amazed,” Hymns, 193). Learning sign language is particularly valuable for kinesthetic learners – children who learn best by using their bodies (see “Teaching to a Child’s Whole Body“).
But recently, children in the Cardenas Ward, Panama City, Panama shared another benefit of learning sign language. Their ward is truly bilingual, with sacrament meeting conducted in English, the opening hymn in Spanish, the opening prayer in English, Sunday School in Spanish, Relief Society/Priesthood meeting in English — then next week the reverse. Headphones abound.
But in Primary, with some Spanish-speaking children and some English-speaking children, the language that they have in common is the language of images and pictures. ALL children, regardless of their native language, can learn a sign that spans language. Even though it’s called American Sign Language (ASL), the images are relevant. In fact, learning a sign with a familiar image can help them learn a new word.
When the Cardenas Ward children sang in sacrament meeting and did the signs to the song, all the children participated, regardless of their fluency in the language of the song (whether English or Spanish).
Besides, one day your children may meet a deaf person, and they will be surprised to already know the beginnings of phrases and words to communicate. It will mean a great deal to that deaf person to see them try to be their friend. See “Hands That Talk,” March 2012 Friend magazine.
Check out these useful resources to help you on your way:
- Learn ASL to some of your favorite Primary songs: Videos of songs with ASL
- Dictionary of Church Terms in American Sign Language – a series of 4 second clips of videos of signs for church words