Confused signs

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
OPPOSITES: A BEGINNER'S BOOK OF SIGNS. HAPPY BIRTHDAY: A BEGINNER'S BOOK OF SIGNS. By Angela Bednarczyk and Janet Weinstock. Signs illustrated by Emma Illiffe. Star BrightRagged Bears Pounds 3.99 each

There are too few illustrated books available to people wishing to use sign language with young children. These two may be useful as supplementary materials, but need to be used carefully.

It takes an ingenious child to make the mental leap from looking at the pictures to understanding the sign illustration. It is a good idea to have illustrated books using selected signs, but the good idea has not been followed through.

The books are certainly attractive. Beautiful, clear photographs of small children illustrate activities or objects with which small children will be familiar. They are small enough for children to hold and to turn the pages themselves. However, although at first glance they appear to serve a need - providing charming pictures enhanced by illustrations of appropriate signs - they could confuse some children unless an adult is reading along.

For example, Opposites uses pictures of white and red shoes to illustrate the concept of old and new. The idea that the white shoes depict "old" and the red shoes "new" is difficult, particularly when you look at the sign illustration for "old" - "crook two fingers and pull down in front of nose" - or the sign illustration for "new" - "one hand behind the other lifts as if growing".

In the same way, a green ball is used to depict "big" and a yellow ball to illustrate "little". Perhaps if the authors had used balls of the same colour - and also written in the text "big green ball" and "little green ball" - children would have more chance of understanding these concepts.

Adults who are already skilled sign users would find these books useful starting points to give children an interest in sign, but they could not stand alone or, as the blurb promises, enable parents to "share this book with your child and learn a new language together".

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