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Baby Sign Language:

Advantages in Signing with Babies

by Doug Haskin
November 10, 2006

            In recent years, the growing trend of teaching hearing babies sign language has become increasingly popular. The benefits are many, even for hearing parents and children.  The natural inclination for children to gesture in attempting to express themselves is almost innate, and the expression of needs and wants through sign language has become the next step for many families, hearing or not, through out the world.

            The need for babies and small children to communicate is undoubtedly important.  Often times during the first few years of a child's life, great frustration is created by a child's lack of vocal ability and limited vocabulary.  Unlike adults, children are "left with few alternatives but to scream louder and cry harder (Acredolo, 2002)." In fact, often times when listening to a baby of nine or tens months, one can hardly distinguish his sounds from those of chimpanzee! At the same time during this developmental phase, a parent will notice that the need to gesture also arises.  Its usefulness abounds, as baby begins to point, play patty cake, and create a world based simply on motion and touch.

            It is during this time that beginning with a few basic signs can become invaluable.  ASL signs for "drink," "eat," "more," "all gone," and others are commonly used to alleviate the communication gap and reduce potential frustration.  What's more, many parents who begin teaching their children to sign at an early age notice a reduction in tantrums, increasing quality time between parent and child.  By using sign language, a child is not only improving his ability to be understood, but may also be encouraging his development of spoken language as well (Nee 2002)."

            In many recent studies, research has indicated that babies who sign early may have a head start not only with sign language, but in speaking and vocabulary growth as well.  In one study, two year olds who signed as babies appeared to have, on average, a larger vocabulary than babies who did not sign.  This may stem from the idea that in being understood, a child can gain confidence in all areas.  The idea that signing early on raises self-confidence is not a new one.  A baby can learn a great deal when he feels important, which not only creates a "more confident person, but a more confident communicator (Murkoff, 2003)."

            While ease in communication and language development may be the most obvious advantages to teaching babies sign language, additional (and perhaps more heartfelt) reasons for signing with babies exist as well.  This type of activity creates a special and invaluable bond between parent and child.  During this time, caregiver and child are talking, laughing, touching, and recognizing their attempts to see the world together.  Further, it fosters interest in other important activities because baby feels he is able to comment on that which is around him (i.e. book reading, grocery shopping, etc).  Learning to sign with your baby opens a "window to your child's thoughts and feelings" which many parents have to wait much longer for by simply using verbal communication alone (Briant, 2006).

            In short, the growing trend of baby signing has several advantages in the growth and development of verbal and non-verbal language skills.  The ability for a baby or small child to communicate decreases frustration (and tantrums) while increasing their ability to recognize the world around them.  Research suggests that children who sign early have increased vocabulary and verbal skills and that the ability to be understood may also greatly increase a child's confidence and self-esteem as well. In addition, the important bonding between parent and child, along with the increased interests that signing can develop, make this activity highly recommended by experts and parents alike.  While it is certainly possible to attain similar goals with out the use of sign language, baby signing can create a way to communicate and further express your love, joy, and pride with your child.



Acredolo, L. and Goodwyn, S. (2002). Baby Signs New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Briant, M. (2006). sign, sing, and play! Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.      

Murkhoff, H., Eisenberg, A.  and Hathaway, S. (2003). What To Expect The First Year New York, NY: Workman Publishing.

Nee, Tekla. (2002). The Everything Baby's First Year Book  Avon, MA:Adams Media Corporation

Also see: "Baby Signing"

In a message dated 1/21/2007 6:22:39 AM Pacific Standard Time, radmom8992@ writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,
... I have a question.  Once, while reading about language and language acquisition, an author stated that humans have a capacity for language, no matter what form that language takes, i.e. spoken or gestural or whatever.  The author said that babies of signing parents tend to "babble" in sign rather than verbally.  This makes sense, but I have always wanted to confirm this.  Did your children babble in sign? 
Lynn Rafferty
Oakton, VA
Oh yes!  My kids sure did.  It was a constant source of entertainment--keeping a lookout for their first signs and always saying, "LOOK, LOOK, she's signing MILK!" And then debating whether or not they were just babbling or if they had indeed "signed" the concept with intent.
One of my son Logan's first signs was the sign for "daddy."  I was holding him in my arms sitting in a big reclining chair. I kept showing him the sign for "dad" and he scooted up a bit and stuck HIS thumb on MY forehead.  Soon after he learned that the way it was done was to touch your own forehead, not the other person's.


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