Families Can Communicate Quite Successfully Without Using Formal Baby Signs
For example, consider this snapshot of a baby making the sign for more, borrowed from ASL.
Its a perfectly useful sign, and many babies have learned it. But what happens if you dont teach your baby this sign?
Will your baby be incapable of letting you know that he wants more applesauce? Will your baby somehow fail to get across the message that she wants to play another round of peek-a-boo?
When parents pay attention to their babies and engage them in conversation, one-on-one they learn to read their babies cues.
A baby might pat the table when he wants more applesauce. A baby might reach out and smile when she wants to play with you. They arent signs borrowed from a language like ASL, but, in context, their meaning is clear.
When we respond appropriately to these spontaneous gestures, we are engaged in successful communication, and we are helping our babies build the social skills they need to master language.
That doesnt mean there is no reason to teach formal signs. You might find that some signs are helpful that they allow for communication that is otherwise difficult for your baby.
But its wrong to think of formal signs as the only gestures that matter. From the very beginnings of humanity, parents and babies have communicated by gesture. And research suggests that gestures matter. A lot!
Tips For Teaching Baby Sign Language
Whether you opt for the spontaneous, do-it-yourself approach, or you want to teach your baby gestures derived from real sign languages, keep the following tips in mind.
1. You can start early.
Babies begin learning about language from the very beginning. They overhear their mothers voices in the womb, and they are capable of recognizing their mothers native language distinguishing it from a foreign language at birth.
Over the following months, their brains sort through all the language they encounter, and they start to crack the code. And by the time they are 6 months old, babies show an understanding of many everyday words like mama, bottle, and nose.
Many babies this age are also babbling repeating speech syllables like ma ma ma and ba ba ba.
If a 6-month-old baby says ba ba after you give her a bottle, could it be that shes trying to say the word bottle? If an infant sees his mother and says mama, is he calling her by name?
Its entirely possible. And as noted above, research suggests that many babies are speaking their first words by the age of 10 months.
So we might expect that babies are ready to observe and learn about signs at an early age even before they are 6 months old.
2. Introduce signs naturally, as a part of everyday conversation, and dont try to drill babies.
3. Keep in mind that its normal for babies to be less than competent. Dont pretend you cant understand your baby just because his or her signs dont match the model!
What The Research Says
The good news is that there are no real drawbacks to using signs with your young children. Many parents express concern that signing will delay the expression of verbal communication.
No studies have ever found that to be true, and there are some that suggest the exact opposite effect.
There are studies that suggest the use of sign language doesnt help infants and toddlers acquire verbal language earlier than usual, but even these studies dont show that signing delays the ability to talk.
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But Surely There Are Situations Where Signing Is Easier Than Speaking
I think thats very likely. For example, the ASL sign for spider looks a lot like a spider. Its iconic, which may make it easier for babies to decipher. And it might be easier for babies to produce the gesture than to speak the English word, spider, which includes tricky elements, like the blended consonant sp.
The same might be said for the ASL signs for elephant and deer.
But most ASL signs arent iconic, and, as I explain here, some gestures can be pretty difficult for babies to reproduce just as some spoken words can be difficult to pronounce.
So its unlikely that a baby is going to find one mode of communication easier across the board.
Babies Learn Words Faster When We Label The Things They Point At
Most babies begin pointing between 9 and 12 months, and this can mark a major breakthrough in communication.
But the impact of this communicative breakthrough depends on our own behavior. Are we paying attention? Do we respond appropriately?
As psychologists Jana Iverson and Susan Goldin-Meadow have noted, a baby who points at a new object might prompt her parent to label and describe the object.
If the parent responds this way, the baby gets information at just the right momentwhen she is curious and attentive. And that could have big implications for learning .
Experiments have confirmed the effect: Babies are quicker to learn the name of an object if they initiate a lesson by pointing. And if the adult tries to initiate by labeling an object that the baby didnt point at? Then there is no special learning effect .
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The Only 8 Signs You Need To Teach Your Baby
Introducing a few hand signs can encourage babies to communicate, as well as improve parents ability to understand what they’re trying to say. Plus, baby sign language can cut back on frustration-related crying, which is good for everybody.
OK, is your baby saying dog? Or is it Dad? And how do you know if theyre trying to tell you they want more mashed sweet potato or want to get down from their high chair? Trying to decipher your babys first words and early communication cues can be tricky. Enter baby sign language:
What Is Pidgin Signed English
PSE is not a true language and lacks rules. Sign linguistics experts view it as a way to “bridge” the gap between native ASL speakers and native English speakers. Native speakers can be either deaf or hearing. It contains a mix of ASL rules and English grammar. The signs used in PSE come from ASL, but they are not used in an ASL’ish way, but rather in a more normal English pattern.
To speed up communication, PSE speakers may not utilize certain elements of the English language such as the definite and indefinite articles “the” and “a.” They may not use the endings of words, such as not signing “ing,” or not always signing or fingerspelling the past tense. For example, a person might say “I finish clean” instead of “I cleaned.” PSE is quite individualistic and users communicate in whatever way they feel is comfortable. PSE use is more like a continuum between ASL and English.
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Are There Any Cons
Not really! Baby sign language has not been found to cause speech or language delays, just to give children another way to communicate during their speech development, which reduces everyones frustration.
And thats the beauty of baby sign language. It facilitates communication between you and your child, helps with speech development, and can be discontinued once the words start coming which will typically become your childs preferred means of communication.
One word of caution with baby sign language: dont forget to keep talking! The signs are not meant to replace words, but to represent spoken words used naturally along with the signs. Baby sign language itself doesnt cause a speech delay but failing to talk to your baby might. Sometimes parents get so focused on the signs and making them properly, they forget to speak to their child. Thats defeating the purpose! If you find yourself fixated on the signing, slow down and refocus on speech development. Refer back to Ten Simple Strategies to Help Your Baby Develop Speech and just make baby sign language another strategy!
References: Baby Sign Language
Acredolo, LP and Goodwyn SW. 1988. Symbolic gesturing in normal infants. Child Development 59: 450-466.
Acredolo L and Goodwyn S. 1998. Baby Signs. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
Anderson D and Reilly J. 2002. The MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory: Normative data for American Sign Language. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 7: 83106
Bonvillian JD, Orlansky MD, Novack LL. 1983. Developmental milestones: sign language acquisition and motor development. Child Dev. 54:1435-45.
Cartmill EA, Armstrong BF 3rd, Gleitman LR, Goldin-Meadow S, Medina TN, Trueswell JC. 2013. Quality of early parent input predicts child vocabulary 3 years later. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110:11278-83.
Crais E, Douglas DD, and Campbell CC. 2004. The intersection of the development of gestures and intentionality. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 47:678-94.
Fenson L, Dale PS, Reznick JS, Bates E, Thal DJ, Pethick SJ. 1994. Variability in early communicative development. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 59:1-173.
Fitzpatrick EM, Thibert J, Grandpierre V, and Johnston JC. 2014. How handy are baby signs? A systematic review of the impact of gestural communication on typically developing, hearing infants under the age of 36 months. First Language. 34 : 486509.
Goodwyn SW, Acredolo LP, and Brown C. 2000. Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. 24: 81-103.
Oller DK. 2000. The emergence of the speech capacity. Lawrence Erlbaum.
Content last modified 1/2019
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What Baby Signs To Start Teaching
The most important thing to remember is to teach baby signs that are functional and motivating. It might be fun to teach your baby the sign for platypus but how often will they use it? Unless they have a favorite stuffed animal that happens to be a platypus, I would instead focus on signs that help them to communicate wants and needs.
If you have a pet , definitely consider teaching these signs. Or if they love a book with farm animals, thats a motivating way to teach animal signs as well.
How To Teach Sign Language To Infants And Toddlers
So how do parents teach these signs to their children, and which signs do they teach? There are several ways to teach babies how to sign.
One way thats been described is to follow these rules:
- Start at a young age, like 6 months. If your child is older, dont worry, as any age is appropriate to start signing.
- Try to keep sessions teaching sign language short, about 5 minutes each.
- First, perform the sign and say the word. For example, say the word more and perform the sign.
- If your baby performs the sign, then reward them with some sort of positive reinforcement, like a toy. Or if the session occurs during mealtime, a bite of food.
- If they dont perform the sign within 5 seconds, then gently guide their hands to perform the sign.
- Every time they perform the sign, give the reward. And repeat the sign yourself to reinforce it.
- Repeating this process for three sessions each day will quickly result in your child learning basic signs.
For more detailed information, there are websites with books and videos that offer instruction for parents, but theres usually a fee.
One website, Baby Signs Too, was started by the researchers who published the groundbreaking studies on infant and toddler sign language. Another similar website is Baby Sign Language.
Each of these websites has dictionaries of signs for words and phrases to use for infants and toddlers. Some basic signs can be found below:
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Baby Sign Language Vs American Sign Language
Used by babies to communicate with caregivers
Derived from ASL
Language used in the deaf and hard of hearing community
Includes grammar rules
ASL is a language used by the deaf and hard of hearing community. It is a comprehensive form of communication complete with grammar rules and usage conventions. BSL is adapted from ASL, but it has a different purpose.
BSL is a supplement to spoken word designed to help infants who can’t yet form words orally communicate their needs with their caregivers. Babies generally stop signing when they develop the facility to articulate.
Some baby signs are modified or simplified to make them easier for infants to repeat, and there are no grammar rules.
List Of Sign Languages
There are perhaps three hundred sign languages in use around the world today. The number is not known with any confidence new sign languages emerge frequently through creolization and de novo . In some countries, such as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, each school for the deaf may have a separate language, known only to its students and sometimes denied by the school on the other hand, countries may share sign languages, although sometimes under different names . Deaf sign languages also arise outside educational institutions, especially in village communities with high levels of congenital deafness, but there are significant sign languages developed for the hearing as well, such as the speech-taboo languages used in aboriginal Australia. Scholars are doing field surveys to identify the world’s sign languages.
The following list is grouped into three sections :
- Deaf sign languages, which are the preferred languages of Deaf communities around the world these include village sign languages, shared with the hearing community, and Deaf-community sign languages
- Auxiliary sign languages, which are not native languages but sign systems of varying complexity, used alongside spoken languages. Simple gestures are not included, as they do not constitute language.
- Signed modes of spoken languages, also known as manually coded languages, which are bridges between signed and spoken languages
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How Do You Say Yes In Sign Language
Yes, yes, occasionally ASL signers do use the MY CAR? WEEK-PAST I WASH format. Remember I told you that ASL has more than one sign order. The point here is that we dont sign every sentence using object-subject-verb order. If you do youll look like an unfortunate graduate of an ASL program in which the teachers dont know the difference between “topic-comment”.
Manual Codes For Spoken Languages
When Deaf and Hearing people interact, signing systems may be developed that use signs drawn from a natural sign language but used according to the grammar of the spoken language. In particular, when people devise one-for-one sign-for-word correspondences between spoken words and signs that represent them, the system that results is a manual code for a spoken language, rather than a natural sign language. Such systems may be invented in an attempt to help teach Deaf children the spoken language, and generally are not used outside an educational context.
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Baby Sign Language Improves Communication
Infant sign language really does deliver on its promise of improved communication. This is particularly appealing for new parents, given that theres a well-recognized gap between what babies and toddlers want to say and what they are able to say. Sign language can help ease frustration between ages 8 months and 2 years when children begin to know what they want, need, and feel but don’t always have the oral motor verbal skills to express themselves. Basic sign language can help babies better express themselves as early as 8 or 9 months and it can mean decreased frustration , promote earlier language skills and enhanced bonding with those who sign.
Research from the National Institutes of Health compared two groups of 11-month-old babies. One group was taught baby sign language and verbal training. The second group was given verbal training only. They concluded that the signing group became more advanced talkers than the group given verbal training only. The signing group exhibited verbal skills three months ahead of the non-signers at two years old. Even at three years old, the signers were still ahead.
Signing Smart Diaper Bag Dictionary: First Signs Baby Sign Language Flashcards By Michelle Anthony
Mom, Dad and baby can learn to sign together with this engaging, educational Signing Smart Diaper Bag Dictionary: First Signs Baby Sign Language Flashcards by Michelle Anthony. The ring-bound cards depict images of little ones signing a word on one side and parents signing the same expression on the other. These flashcards are an excellent learning tool for parents and teachers.
5 of 6 Image Credits: Amazon
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What Research Does The Nidcd Support On Asl And Other Sign Languages
The NIDCD supports research on ASL, including its acquisition and characterization. Funded research includes studies to understand sign languages grammar, acquisition, and development, and use of sign language when spoken language access is compromised by trauma or degenerative disease, or when speech is difficult to acquire due to early hearing loss or injury to the nervous system.
Teenage boy having a conversation using sign language.
Study of sign language can also help scientists understand the neurobiology of language development. In one study, researchers reported that the building of complex phrases, whether signed or spoken, engaged the same brain areas. Better understanding of the neurobiology of language could provide a translational foundation for treating injury to the language system, for employing signs or gestures in therapy for children or adults, and for diagnosing language impairment in individuals who are deaf.
The NIDCD is also funding research on sign languages created among small communities of people with little to no outside influence. Emerging sign languages can be used to model the essential elements and organization of natural language and to learn about the complex interplay between natural human language abilities, language environment, and language learning outcomes. Visit the NIH Clinical Research Trials and You website to read about these and other clinical trials that are recruiting volunteers.
Does This Mean That Abstract Non
Thats a reasonable question, given that baby signing programs feature signs that are non-iconic. Could the difficulty of learning such signs be a roadblock?
Studies havent found that babies trained to use signs suffer any disadvantages.
So if you and your baby enjoy learning and using signs, you shouldnt worry that youre putting your baby at risk for a speech delay. In essence, youre just teaching your baby extra vocabulary vocabulary borrowed from a second language.
Still, its helpful to remember that iconic gestures are easier for your baby to figure out.
For example, in one experimental study, 15-month-old toddlers were relatively quick to learn the name of a new object when the adults gestured in an illustrative, pantomime-like way.
The toddlers were less likely to learn the name for an object when the spoken word was paired with an arbitrary gesture .
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