Does using sign language with babies interrupt or delay their speech development?
Actually, research states the opposite is true. Using sign language with your child can accelerate their speech development. Since they are already using language in their heads and putting signed words together to communicate things, once their articulators are able to form the sounds, they quickly add speech to their signs. Gradually, they drop the signs and only use the spoken word. There has been no indication of a resulting speech delay. Click here (will be directed to the article I sent you named "Baby Sign Language and learning to Talk") for supporting documentation resulting from 20 years of research by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn.
Why should I sign with my hearing child when he is already developing normally? Signing with your pre-verbal baby can:
- Enrich your parent - infant bond.
- Accelerate verbal language development
- Increase his IQ.
- Increase her interest in books.
- Change the way you interact with him.
- Avert temper tantrums.
- Empower him to communicate at a younger age (6-8 months old), expressing his wants, needs, and feelings.
- Stimulate intellectual development.
- Reduce frustration.
- Build self-esteem.
When should I start signing with my baby?
You can start modeling signs from birth. After 6 months, however, babies are more likely to possess the ability to remember signs and the motor skills to produce them. Starting earlier will not hurt the process but it may frustrate you if your baby does not produce any signs in the first few months. On the other hand, some parents preffer to start as early as possible so they can devolp the habit of signing while speaking assoon as possible. A baby needs to develop memory, dexterity, and cognition adequate for recognizing, retaining, and producing signs.
You can consider the indicators of readiness below to determine whether your baby is showing interest in communicating.
An answer of "Yes" to any one of them means that this is a good time to sign with your pre-lingual baby or toddler.
Once your baby has started talking, I would recommend you continue to sign with him (this is still not too late to start, either) and introduce new signs since it will be at least another year before he can clearly pronounce all the words he'd like to say.
- Is your baby at least 6 months old?
- Is your baby bringing toys or objects to you and looking for more information?
- Is your baby beginning to wave bye-bye or clap hands?
- Is your baby beginning to shake his head "yes" or "no"?
- Is your baby beginning to take an interest in picture books or in finger play.
How long will it be before my baby signs to me?
That depends on several factors: how old your child is, how frequently the caregivers use the signs, and how interested the child is in communicating. Some parents get results in a few days and others wait several weeks. Consistently using a few signs on a daily basis is the key to making this program work.
If you begin signing when your child is 6-7 months old it is quite possible that by the time your child reaches 8-9 months he/she may be signing back to you. Some children do not start signing back until they are closer to 11 or 12 months old. Typically, they will start with the signs and gestures that involve facial expression (blowing, panting), then whole arm signs & gestures (i.e., bye bye, clapping), then hand signs (i.e., hat, milk) and finally signs involving various handshapes and more dexterity (i.e., cat, pointing) Once they have seem these signs modeled enough to internalize the meanings of them and have developed the cognitive and motor skills necessary to sign, they will communicate to you. This process is similar to how a child learns speech.
Do I have to learn an entire new language?
You do not need to learn the entire language if your goal is to facilitate earlier communication. You will be supporting spoken English by modeling signs for key words. Your child will then sign those key words which will become launching pads for language exposure. If your child would like to continue with learning sign language, they will have a great base to start from.
Baby Signs "pull" verbal language from adults
When babies use baby signs to call attention to things, adults quite naturally respond with lots of appropriate words (e.g., "Oh! You see a kitty! That's right! That is a kitty! That kitty looks just like our kitty, doesn't it!"). And we know that the more language a baby hears, the faster language acquisition proceeds.
Acredolo, L. and Goodwyn, S. Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk.
New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2002
When is it too late -- my baby already says some words?
Babies are usually close to three years old before they get wonderfully full vocabularies. Up until then, you can teach them signs to be able to communicate about the things they cannot pronounce yet. It may take awhile for them to say crocodile or hippopotamus but your child may like to be able to sign to you while you are reading a book to him/her and let you know that she knows what the picture is! So, even though your child may be pronouncing some words, it is not too late to begin signing with your child. They will likely pick up the signs for the words they cannot say. In fact, the older the child, the faster they will learn to sign back to you!
Well, my child is talking now and never really picked up signing. Should I bother to continue?
Most definitely! First, though - watch closely as you interact with your child on a daily basis. He or she could be signing to you and you may not recognize it! Babies will often improvise signs simply because they do not have the manual ability to form the signs exactly the way they "should" be signing it, so keep a close eye out for less obvious signs.
Even if your child isn't making signs at this point, it never hurts to continue. When children begin to speak they still have many words to learn so signing can help bridge that gap while it is still there. There are also a multitude of reasons for learning sign language which you may want to consider - such as learning about and interacting with the deaf community and improving communication and language skills.
What is the sign for such-and-such?
You are either going to have to consult a sign language dictionary, visit this online dictionary, or get to know a deaf friend!
Why is our baby not signing even after we have been using signs for a while?
The SIGN with your Baby method which Babygebaren draws from does not advocate teaching signs to babies. We advocate augmenting your spoken language with signs giving your baby the opportunity to draw from their inner resources. Babies should observe the physical dimension signs give to language and then produce the signs when they are ready to express themselves. Force feeding signs or housing grand expectations by the parents are counterproductive to the communication process. Over-anticipating your child's needs will also prevent your child from drawing on his/her inner resources to attempt to communicate with the you. Allow a few seconds or moments for your child to attempt to communicate with you after you have followed the correct process and age-appropriate timetable for signing.
What scientific research supports the idea of signing with babies?
The first SIGN with your BABY research was conducted in 1987 as part of Joseph Garcias' Masters Program at Alaska Pacific University. The process of learning and teaching signs was part of his masters and doctoral program. Additional Research in this area is continuing today at Ohio State University, see the following:
A recently released longitudinal study was conducted at the University of California at Davis by Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. The study, which followed babies through their eighth year, indicated that signing with babies has many benefits including a strengthened parent-child bond, increased interest in books, enhanced verbal language development and higher IQs. For additional research please visit our Link page.
Can we introduce signing in a bilingual environment?
Many families use signs as the common denominator for teaching several spoken languages. Initially, as speech begins, your baby may mix various words from different languages together in one sentence. Research indicates that eventually young children in these environments usually straighten everything out and become fluent in several languages. It is very unlikely that you will overwhelm your child if you blend the languages within the fiber of your day using experiential learning and teaching. Make the languages part of everything you do.
When is it too late to start using signs with my baby?
This is the good part about Babygebaren: you're never too late to start with it! At every age when a child is in the process of language development, learning and using signs is only enhancing this process. At an age where speech is already being used, starting with signing will only mean that a child will catch on the signs earlier and will start signing back faster than a very young child whose language development is still in it's pre-speech phase. One language 'triggers' another. Starting to use signs with your baby on a later age is no problem.