Signing is often just associated with the hearing impaired, and while it would be excellent if everyone could know the basic signs to communicate to the deaf community, signing can also help you to communicate and bond better with your children. I know very basic sign language; colors, introductions and BSL (British Sign Language) finger spelling but I’ve never delved any deeper than that and I certainly couldn’t hold much of a conversation!
Many of you may not know that I am actually hard of hearing and partially deaf (probably because I haven’t written a post on it!) it’s not a secret but it’s also something I haven’t decided to discuss on here yet (let’s save that for another day). But, while on Instagram I came across Terry the Monkey and immediately followed because with daily signs and interesting tips and tricks for BSL and ASL signing for kids I thought it would be a great way to introduce my little chap to more signs and get him involved.
Joe Jacobs, (the mastermind behind Terry the Monkey) and I have a lot in common with regards to our attitudes towards signing and I couldn’t wait to ask him some questions about the concept and where he plans to take it in the future. Also because I spoil you all rotten, Joe has kindly agreed to do a promotion on the BSL eBook – How to sign Food (Because we know I love my food!)
Claim your free copy for the next 5 days only on www.terrythemonkey.com
A Bit About Joe:
Joe Jacobs is a writer and illustrator and the creator of Terry the Monkey, the star of a series of children’s books about a troop of monkeys that speak in sign language. Joe studied English Literature at UCL and lives in the south of England with his wife, son and daughter (aged 5 and 2.)
The How to Sign with Terry the Monkey ebooks have topped bestseller lists in the UK and US and Terry the Monkey has a popular website, terrythemonkey.com, where visitors can discover fun ways to learn sign language with their children.
*Onto the interview!…(everything in red is me, my notes and comments! )*
How did you come up with the idea for Terry the Monkey?
When our son was quite little, we visited Longleat Safari Park and watched the macaque monkeys climbing on cars, stealing windscreen wipers and number plates. Shortly afterwards, I re- watched School For Scoundrels, my favourite Terry Thomas film, and that night I had a dream about monkeys, one of whom had a little moustache and a gap between his teeth, just like Terry Thomas.
I started writing children’s stories about Terry the Monkey. I needed a realistic way for the monkeys to talk to their keeper and so I had Terry use sign language. When I read the stories to children, they responded strongly to the pictures of Terry signing and wanted to copy him.
The children loved the pictures of signing monkeys so much that I began to draw more and more of them. The animal signs were particularly popular and so I wrote How to Sign Animals.
(This is the first in a series of children’s books designed to teach children their first signs in BSL and ASL, and you can find these on Amazon)
Why do you sign?
I don’t have a hearing impairment myself, but I’ve always been interested in languages, including sign language. My wife read that sign language could reduce frustration in babies and give them a head start with their linguistic skills, so we decided to try teaching our children to sign from when they were babies.
I was skeptical at first then amazed when I saw my son sign ‘milk’ rather than cry for milk. Babies’ hands and arms develop much earlier than the body parts needed for speech – our daughter started speaking at eighteen months, but she was signing at just six months old.
My son is at infant school now and is learning sign language, even though it is not on the National Curriculum. Sign language is increasingly commonplace in schools and churches. Baby signing has been the norm in the US for decades and is just beginning to catch on in the UK.
Children love sign language and pick up signs quickly. I think that’s because sign language is a visual language and young children tend to think visually, rather than in linear English. My son’s vocabulary is astonishing for his age and I think some of that may be down to learning sign language.
We also found this to be true with the little man who was taught basic colors and foods as a baby and he found communication much easier!
Can sign language help adults too?
I think sign language can help anyone, irrespective of whether they have difficulties with hearing or speech, when sign language is vital. If we all learn at least some sign language, it will make for a more inclusive society [BSL is the first language of 70,000 people in the UK and is used by millions more], plus it’s a brilliant skill to have when, say, you’re trying to talk through a closed window or in a noisy environment. Trying to make ourselves understood is always frustrating to some extent and sign language helps us to express ourselves, from when we’re very young to when we’re very old. I think everyone should learn the basics and pass them on to their children.
How much do your children sign?
They’ve picked up quite a few signs. If you manage to teach a baby even one sign, for example ‘milk’ or ‘hungry’ or ‘hot’, then I think that’s an achievement. My daughter is talking now, but she still loves to sign. Her favourite signs are ‘friend’, ‘hungry’ and ‘monkey’ (which she pronounces ‘minky’). With my books, I started with signs for animals because children love to learn how to sign words like ‘pig’ or ‘cat’ or ‘dog’. How to Sign Animals was so well received that I immediately wrote a sequel, More Animals, with twenty more signs from shark to panda to mouse to dinosaur. I think animal signs are a good place to start with toddlers.
Well I definitely want to learn how to sign dinosaur!
Do you have any tips for parents who want to teach their children to sign?
When you sign, you should try to say the word as you sign it. Experienced signers will watch your lips as well as your hands. You’re not playing charades, so it’s not cheating if you talk. Be expressive.
Where do you recommend parents start?
If you want to be fluent in sign language, you’ll need to have face-to-face lessons with a teacher, but if you just want to try out some basic sign language, Justin Fletcher’s Something Special on Cbeebies is excellent, and so is the Let’s Sign series of books.
The resources on my website (www.terrythemonkey.com ) are fun and free and I’d love you to check out my books. You can also find my Terry the Monkey pictures and videos on Instagram and if you follow me you can learn a sign a day.
What are your plans for Terry the Monkey?
I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a series of story books. More How to Sign books and flashcards are on the way (How to Sign Christmas, Halloween, Emotions, Family, Weather etc.). The dream would be to see Terry as a cartoon.
Available eBooks from Amazon (Amazon Prime members can borrow them!):
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Instagram: @officialterrythemonkey and @signlanguageforchildren