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TESOL Thailand: Using American Sign Language to Teach English to Young Learners

I will always remember the time my 4-year-old Thai student, Queen, shouted “one more time!” when she wanted to sing the “If You’re Happy and You Know It” song again.

If I hadn’t been searching for an interesting way to teach vocabulary, I may never have stumbled on the American Sign Language method.

 -Jenny completed the 120-hour TEFL certificate course with TEYL specialization

Using ASL For Classroom Management

When you are standing in the front of a room of 30 three-year-old with all eyes on you, it’s good to have somewhere to direct their energy and attention. “Hands up! Fingers together.

One hand on top of another. Good! Now, pinkies out. Look! A turtle. Can you make your turtle swim? Sure you can! Just wiggle your pinkies and thumbs.” A room full of 31 happily swimming turtles.

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Why ASL is Perfect for Thailand!

Sign language is a great technique for teaching very young learners because in addition to strengthening motor skills and exercising different parts of the brain, incorporating the gestures into English language lessons stimulates and engages the students, anchors the new word or sentence in their memory, and provides them with a tool to recall the newly acquired vocabulary.

Sign language is the common denominator between their native language and the English language.

Easy, clear, and descriptive, in their mind, they learn the sign with the English word so the sign is connected with the word in English, not in their native language, or in Chinese, which

Thai students also begin learning as early as age three. They are learning three languages at once, they need some help! Gestures are just the help they need.

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Use ASL to Teach Vocabulary

I started incorporating sign language my second year and the results have been great! I taught vegetables using sign language.

Words like onion, pumpkin, potato, and tomato have similar phonemes and aren’t easy words to remember.

A few weeks later, my second-grade student, Tui, was struggling to tell me what he had had for lunch.

Then he made a fist, tapped it with two fingers, and immediately produced the word, “potato.” I nearly heard the gears in his brain turning.

Something I taught stuck! It was immensely gratifying. The gesture sparked his brain and triggered the vocabulary.

This is why I teach. This is why I enjoy teaching. To connect with my students and to help them learn and, more importantly, to communicate.

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Here’s a video that inspired me to try American Sign Language in my Thai classrooms. Check it out! Maybe it’ll help you and your students, too.

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