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Brain Boost: One Scientifically Proven Way Sign Language Affects Hearing Children

Learning sign language has many proven benefits for both hearing and Deaf learners. While the language has been a game-changer for many in the Deaf community, American Sign Language (ASL) can also benefit hearing people—especially children with pliable developing brains.

Three children sitting side by side practice forming handshapes. Three children sitting side by side practice forming handshapes.  On the left, a girl holds up four fingers on her right hand. The girl in the middle holds her right hand with all her fingers close together. On the right is a young boy forming a flat “O.”Three children sitting side by side practice forming handshapes.  On the left, a girl holds up four fingers on her right hand. The girl in the middle holds her right hand with all her fingers close together. On the right is a young boy forming a flat “O.”
Three children sit side by side and practice forming hand shapes. side by side and practice forming hand shapes.

Whatever your reasons for learning ASL at ASL Picture Books LLC, we prize Deaf inclusion and dream of a future when sign language use is widespread and many spaces become more accessible for Deaf individuals. ASL is a beautiful language, and conversing with someone who signs is worth it in and of itself.

ASL offers multiple benefits for the brain. including improving memory, social skills, and vocabulary. Therefore, the hearing community may be keen to adopt it.

One outcome of learning ASL we’ll focus on in this article is improved logical reasoning in hearing children. 

Sign Language is Proven to Improve Reasoning

Research has shown that children who learned sign language had improved logic and spatial awareness test scores.

  • elementary school children who participated in a sign language–based curriculum 

  • and children in the same school who had no sign language exposure. 

The tests involved completing matrices with different color variations—essentially solving visual puzzles that became increasingly more difficult as the tests progressed. Later tests also measured spatial memory.

Over two years of testing time, the results clearly showed that “participation in a sign language program enhances nonverbal cognitive development” (Capirci, Cattani, Rossini, and Volterra 1998).

This same Italian National Research Council study questioned whether the cognitive benefits came from learning any second language, or if the benefits were specific to sign language learners (in their case, Italian Sign Language).

The researchers added another group of children to the study—this group consisted of native Italian children learning English. The groups of children studied all attended the same school program, with the only variations being whether they received sign language instruction, English instruction, or no new language.

The three groups performed similarly on testing at the beginning of the school year, and all children improved by the second test session at the end of the year—but the children studying and practicing sign language tested showed the most increase in their scores.

The English class students did show test-score improvement over the course of the year, but their improvement was equal to that of the control group, who experienced no language learning.

We can conclude from this and other studies that sign language uniquely enhances young brains. 

Because of the nature of sign language (be it Italian Sign Language, American Sign Language, or Auslan [Australian] Sign Language), signers must exercise their brains’ visual skills in ways that stretch them to new possibilities. 

Gestures must be interpreted, and signers must also be attentive to facial expressions and other nonverbal cues. These factors allow young signers to practice skills that will help them in many areas of life.

What This Means for Parents and Educators

In schools, it’s common for students to have several language choices. Spanish, French, or German are common options for students in the United States. Many schools are adding American Sign Language (ASL) to this list.

At this point, ASL instruction is still uncommon in US mainstream schools.

Ninety-two percent of young people surveyed in England in 2017 thought that sign language should be taught in mainstream schools (and those surveyed were both deaf and hearing) (Bowman-Smart, Gyngell, Morgan, and Savulescu 2019). 

Young students, however, do not have the power to change school curricula. Changes to the standard school curriculum, at least in the US, would involve changes at the state and school board levels.

ASL instruction is currently on the rise in US secondary schools but remains in the minority of foreign language options.

We can hope and take action to bring about change. If you’re a parent, you can always take matters into your own hands—consider teaching your children to sign, whether they are Deaf or hearing.

Ways to Get Started Teaching a Child Sign Language

There are many ways to start learning sign language. Your local community may offer classes—check your local library and event listings for any opportunities in your area.

My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me is pulled halfway out on a library shelf at the Graubner Library in Romeo Michigan.
My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me - at The Graubner Library

If you don’t have any nearby resources, all is not lost! We can offer many online resources to get started.

If ASL is your target language and your language learners are elementary school age or younger, consider the book My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me. This picture book contains thirty-two ASL signs integrated into the story. Each book also comes with bonus material with links to video demonstrations. 

Please see our suggested resources. There you’ll find organizations as well as classes. We also have a curated list of our favorite books. Digital downloads are available to supplement your learning, too.

It’s never too late to start! The most important step you can take to learn sign language is to start today. Whether it’s a book, class, or program—every day you expose yourself (and your family) to signing is another day closer to fluency.

If you liked this article, learned something new, or liked the science behind the benefits of learning sign language, please share it with someone!

At ASL Picture Books, we strive to promote Deaf inclusion and help families find the best accommodations for their children. Every share helps spread our message. Thanks for your support!

A large purple sidebar titled ASL RESOURCES reads, “American Sign Language is a beautiful and powerful language shared by passionate people for many different reasons. Whatever your interest in learning ASL, Congratulations! The benefits and rewards are limitless, it’s potential is untapped. So tap in and enjoy our journey learning to who knows where? In bold caps are the words ARTICLE REFERENCE. These letters are written vertically along the right margin. At the bottom of the page is the handshape “D” before the words DEAF History—a starburst of light, four hearts, and an arrow point right to the list of references.

Bowman-Smart, Hilary, Christopher Gyngell, Angela Morgan, and Julian Savulescu. 2019. “The Moral Case for Sign Language Education.” Monash Bioethics Review, 37(3-4), 94–110.

Capirci, Olga, Allegra Cattani, Paolo Rossini, and Virginia Volterra. 1998. “Teaching Sign Language to Hearing Children as a Possible Factor in Cognitive Enhancement.” Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 3 (2): 135–42.

GoReact. 2023. “4 Scientific Reasons Why Everyone Should Learn ASL - Video Assessment for Skill Development & Feedback | GoReact.” Video Assessment for Skill Development & Feedback | GoReact. December 6, 2023.

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Child reading My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me, There is Grandmas signing house, Mom and Dylan stand in front. the next page shows the blond boy character holding half a sandwich infront of his purple monster truck while looking at his Grandmother.
Child reading My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me.

American Sign Language is a beautiful and powerful language, an untapped resource with limitless potential.

Every child has a gift to give, ASL can help them discover and express it.

Thank You!


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