When Did We Start Teaching Babies Sign Language?

Learning sign language

Learning sign language (Photo credit: daveynin)

Both my grandchildren were taught to sign as infants and toddlers.

They learned simple words, like “Milk”, “More,” “Hug,” “Teddy Bear,”  and “Sleep.”

Modern parents believe that early language training with sign language reduces a baby’s frustration and speeds up and enhances their language ability.

How Did This All Get Started?

A graduate student, Joseph Garcia, an interpreter in American Sign Language, reasoned in his 1986 graduate thesis that even hearing infants and toddlers would benefit from being taught sign language before they were able to speak.

His reasoning was that it would reduce a baby’s frustration if they could ask for what they wanted before they were able to form words.

And, he believed, it would enhance subsequent language acquisition.

Subsequent studies have shown that a baby, on average, can understand a sign at 6 months.

They can produce a recognizable sign at the age of 8 months, while their first word will be, on average, at 11 months.

Children can produce 10 signs at, on average, 13 months, where 10 words are known by 15 months. Two-sign combinations come at 17 months, whereas two-word combinations come between 18 and 24 months.

Does Signing Slow Down Learning to Talk?

My son informed me when his daughter was a toddler that walkers are now considered death traps.

My own subsequent research confirmed they are not only dangerous around stairs, but harmful to a baby’s hip development.

So, instead of helping a baby get ready to walk, they slow it down.

The natural question about signing, then, is does it slow down an infant’s urge to talk because they have another means to communicate?

A 2000 study, “Advances in the Sign Language Development of Deaf Children” puts this concern to rest.

The increased gesturing and eye contact between infant and adult improves the infant’s ability both to understand and to express language.

So, Does It Work?

Studies are mixed. A 2005 literature review found benefits in 13 of the 17 studies reviewed.

But, there are few studies that have the rigor scientists prefer to be convinced.

Thus, it is partly the fact that pleased parents are strong advocates and partly the fact that it is well-known that communication skills are central to a child’s development that support efforts at further research.

How Do You Get Started?

My daughters-in-law got books from the library to teach their infants sign language.

Of the four parents, at least one had studied American Sign Language already, simply from an interest in foreign languages.

One of most popular books is available from amazon.

Click here to order Teach Your Baby to Sign: An Illustrated Guide to Simple Sign Language for Babies.

There Are Also Videos.

The toddlers, Spencer and Bradley Pickren, who played Robert De Niro’s one-year-old grandson, Little Jack, in Meet the Fockers, learned sign language from a video series, Signing Time!

The video series was developed by a mother whose daughter is deaf.

In 1996, when Rachel Coleman learned that the reason her daughter could sleep through her concerts was because she was deaf, she set about to teach herself and her daughter sign language.

Two years later, when their second daughter was born with spina bifida and cerebral palsey, they thought she would never speak, nor sign since her hands were rigid.

Instead, she learned to sign and later talk, and entered kindergarten at the age of five.

Signing Times! is the video series that came out of this family’s effort to teach friends and family how to communicate with their deaf daughter.

Click here to order Signing Times!

Do your grandchildren know how to sign? Do you?

Did you know that many parents are now teaching their infants to sign?

Are you teaching your grandchildren any other foreign languages?

To you and the delight of talking with your grandchildren.

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Click here to order the book described in this post, Teaching Your Baby to Sign

Click here to order the video series described in this post, Signing Time!

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