Communication Matters

Learning Sign Language Does Not Mean Children Will Not Learn to Talk

Rebecca Mental, Ph.D., MPH, CCC-SLP | Posted on October 24, 2023

Many parents who have a child who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) hope their child will learn to talk. These parents are often hesitant to introduce American Sign Language (ASL) into their home. They may worry that learning ASL will discourage their child from talking. However, a recent study published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research by Pontecorvo and colleagues* shows that this worry is not necessary.Video label-1 The study is titled Learning Sign Language Does Not Hinder Acquisition of a Spoken Language. This is a very important study because it found that learning ASL does not mean a child will not learn to talk!

The study included 56 children who were DHH. The children had hearing parents and were between 8 months and 5 years of age. All the children were learning both ASL and spoken English. The researchers found that the children had total vocabularies (ASL and spoken English combined) similar to same-age hearing children. It was also found that as ASL vocabulary size increased, spoken English vocabulary size increased.Video label-2 This suggests that for children who are DHH, learning ASL may actually help with learning to talk.

Introducing ASL to a child who is DHH also protects against language deprivation (LD). LD occurs when a child does not have full access to language during the critical period of language learning from birth to 5 years of age. LD is a serious issue and can lead to a child having a hard time in school, trouble making friends, and difficulties succeeding in adulthood. Children who DHH and are only exposed to spoken English are at risk for LD because of their hearing loss. ASL protects against LD because it is a visual language and fully accessible to children who are DHH.

Parents of a child who is DHH should not be concerned that introducing ASL will discourage their child from talking. Instead, parents should take a positive attitude toward ASL because it can help build stronger language skills and protect against LD. Research has also shown that family use of ASL helps promote healthy social and emotional development. This is because it allows children who are DHH to fully participate in social interactions with family members. Using ASL with a child who is DHH, even if it is just a little bit or very simple, is a great way to make sure that child gets as much language exposure as possible!

Parents who are interested in learning ASL can reach out to Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center’s ASL Coordinator, Todd Smith, at or 216-325-7607.


Tags: Speech, Communication, American Sign Language, ASL



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