Questions and Answers About Sign Language for Your Baby and Toddler

Sign Language vs. Verbal Communication

I would like to use signing, or sign language with my daughter, but I am afraid she won’t talk later on if she learns to talk to us through sign language.

The baby who is exposed more and more to the outside world soon finds that verbal words are readily understood while sign language is not understood. Sign language naturally gives way to verbal communication.

A group of researchers studying sign language with infants and toddlers at The Ohio State University’s Infant-Toddler Laboratory School agree. Dr. Kimberlee Whaley, an associate professor of human development and family science says, “What we found is that their first spoken words are usually words they had already learned to sign. As the babies learn to speak more words, their use of signs fades away.”

You will eventually find your child gradually abandoning sign language if there is no reason to continue it–such as your encouragement or a need to communicate with the hearing impaired.

Son Prefers Sign Language

Teaching our baby sign language was wonderful. We usually knew what he meant well before he was a year old. Now we have another problem. My son is able to say many words. But he usually won’t without trying sign language first. That is fine within the family–we know what he means. But it is not fine in the outside world. How do we get our son to switch from sign language to words now?

Try this. Don’t immediately reward signing. If you feel that he could just as easily use a word or two for what he is communicating, simply say to your signing baby, “Use your words.” Be consistent and this will start the process of switching to verbal communication.

However, you mentioned that he tried his sign language first, then used a word when he was not understood. He will gradually replace sign language with words in the outside world, anyway.

Keep Communicating in Sign Language?

We have very good results with communicating with our infant daughter through signing and sign language. Now she is 28 months old and is beginning to replace signs with words almost entirely. Is there any reason to keep up the sign language?

Many experts think there is a good reason to keep babies using sign language. The obvious one is that they will always be able to communicate with deaf of hearing impaired people. Other experts think that the baby who is learning two or even three languages will learn both (all) of them better. And for years research has shown that it is easier to learn multiple languages as a toddler or young child. There may be other benefits. Read the research here before encouraging your baby to keep or give up sign language.

American Sign Language vs Family Sign Language

Help. We are really confused. Which sign language should we teach our baby–our own “made-up” sign language or American Sign Language?

There are certainly two schools of thought on the matter. Whenever I am confused, I try to look at both sides closely. The two best videos are Sign with Your Baby Complete Learning Kit by Dr. Joseph Garcia (American Sign Language and Baby Signs (some American Sign Language and some made-up signs) by Drs Linda Acredolo, and Susan Goodwyn. If you have the money plus the time and/or the motivation to make your own decisions, buy both videos and study both systems. We bought both (and a few others I would not recommend) and then decided to use American Sign Language in teaching our son. In looking back I can say we used American Sign Language. Our son did create a few of his own signs though, primarily because his own signing was not perfect. We were so excited that he was signing that we used his signs, too.


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