What is sign language?

Sign languages have their own defined grammar and syntax.  Mexican Sign Language (LSM) is distinct from American Sign Language (ASL) and French Sign Language (LSF) and so on.  Just as speakers of English would have a difficult time communicating verbally with speakers of Spanish, users of American Sign Language would have difficulty communicating with users of Mexican Sign Language.  There are 500-600 known sign languages in the world, and 3,000-6,000 spoken languages.

What is baby sign?

Baby sign is derived form a standard sign language like ASL or MSL, but with modifications to make it simpler.  You can think of it like baby talk or motherese of the hands.

Will using sign language help my baby talk sooner?

The shorter answer:  no.  Signs can be developed before verbal language and give your child the opportunity to communicate before they have real words.  Babies can use signs consistently right around the time they start reduplicated babbling (e.g., “babababa”, “dadadada”), usually at around 8 or 9 months.  This is typically about 3-4 months before a child’s first word.  At this point there is no scientific evidence that using sign helps promote language development in typically developing children.  However, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) might recommend signs for children who are nonverbal or who have language delays as an alternate way to communicate.  Evidence may suggest that using sign with children who have difficulty communicating may be beneficial for them.

If sign language doesn’t help my baby talk sooner, what does it do?

Using sign language could help you bond with your baby.  One study found that mothers who signed with their babies appeared to be more in tune with their non-verbal cues.

How should I introduce sign?

The following are some tips you could use for introducing sign to your baby.  Parents who are deaf often use these techniques with their children:

  • Sit your baby in your lap to do hand over hand modeling.
  • Sign on your baby’s body to give some additional tactile input.
  • Sign during daily routines so your baby can associate the sign with the context.

Did you know you can use your own signs? You don’t need any formal training or to follow a program.  Just be consistent with whatever you choose.  If you’re interested in learning some simple signs to use with your baby check out Baby Sign Language.  They’re a great resource!

How can I continue to encourage language development?

Even if you use sign with your baby you can still use the tried and true techniques for stimulating language development:

  • Notice and respond to your baby’s non-verbal cues like gestures or where they’re looking.  Listen and respond to their sounds.
  • Interpret their actions when they look at something, reach, point, or make sounds.  Put words to their actions.
  • As always, if you have any concerns contact an SLP.  An SLP can help you determine if your child would benefit from therapy.  As a parent, you are the best judge of your child’s development!


About Baby Signing

Is Baby Sign Language Worthwhile?

Does Baby Sign Make a Difference?