Extraordinary Benefits Result when you Teach Sign Language To Your Hearing Baby
By Diane Ryan
Speech and Language Therapist and Founder of KinderSigns
Infants are born with an instinctive need to communicate. But learning to
talk takes time – plus it requires the type of motor skills that babies
only begin to master around their first birthday. Studies have shown that
while babies may lack the motor skills, they do have the ability to
understand and use language well before they can speak. And given the
right guidance, they have much to say - with their hands!
Until recent years, sign language was used as a method of communicating
only with the hearing impaired. Research now shows us that signing is also
an effective way to communicate with hearing babies. And even more
remarkably, signing enables babies to “talk” back.
What can a signing baby communicate? Let’s look at 10 month old Amanda,
whose parents are “graduates” of KinderSigns’ “Baby Sign Language
University,” an internet-based resource that offers information and online
courses on the topic. (See
http://www.kindersigns.com) After several
months of being shown a few simple signs, Amanda was able to “tell” her
parents that she was hungry, thirsty or wanted another story read to her.
But even more remarkably, Amanda had the ability to tell Mom and Dad when
she was in pain - and even where it hurt!
If you are skeptical, you are not alone. Many parents are - until they
read the research. Once they realize that the extraordinary benefits of
“baby signing” are scientifically proven, they can’t wait to begin.
What are the benefits of signing with your baby?
Research has shown that babies who sign are less frustrated since they
have a way of expressing their wants and needs. Simply put, they cry less.
But even more amazingly, babies who are taught a few simple signs not only
speak earlier than non-signers but have larger vocabularies and become
better readers. It has to do with stimulating more synapses of the brain.
Signing babies have IQ’s that are 10-12 points higher.
To sum it up, babies who sign…
Speak earlier than non-signers
Experience less frustration
Develop larger vocabularies
Become better readers
Have IQ’s that are at least 10-12 points higher
Teaching a hearing baby to sign is a simple and natural process. Think of
it as an extension of natural baby gestures. Without being taught, a baby
will point at something he is interested in or raise his arms to be picked
up. Teaching a baby sign language capitalizes on that natural tendency.
How it is accomplished? Parents begin with one sign, the sign for “more,”
always speaking as you sign. Remember that your ultimate goal is verbal
language development so you must always say the word as you sign. Then you
follow with the signs for “eat” and “milk.”
When you introduce a sign to a baby, it must be in context. In other
words, it has to mean something to the baby. Let’s take the sign for
“more,” for example. You might give your baby a few spoonfuls of cereal
and then stop. Then you would ask, “MORE? Do you want MORE?” (making sure
to emphasize the word as you sign) Do it enough and your baby will catch
on. You can use that same technique to teach that same sign in other
contexts. For example, “more” of a book… “more” tickling. Just start the
activity and then stop, always asking your baby if he wants “more.”
Once a baby understands the meaning and association of one sign, you
introduce a few others. A parent only needs to use five or six signs for a
baby to benefit from the signing experience. Others can be taught, of
course, but it’s not essential. You may find, however, that once you
start, you won’t want to stop. Signing with your baby is really lots of
When will you see progress? Like anything else, repetition is key. The
more you sign, the faster the baby will catch on and make the signs
himself – provided that he is ready to sign. The older the baby, the
faster he will catch on.
One word of advice. Don’t start too early. While it won’t do any harm if
you start to sign when your baby is too young, the danger is that you will
become bored if you don’t see any results. And once you are bored, you are
less likely to follow through.
How will you know when your baby is ready to begin signing? There are some
things you can look for to determine if your baby has enough long term
memory and the motor skills to reproduce the sign. Of course, you are not
looking for perfection. But your baby has to be able to at least
approximate the sign so you can identify it. In general, most babies are
ready at around 7 months. But remember, all babies are different. Some
babies aren’t ready until 9 or 10 months.
How to know if your baby is ready to sign…
If your baby can wave “bye-bye”
If he can hold onto a rattle
If your baby drops something and then looks to see where it went
If you are interested in signing with your baby or would like to learn
more about it, we encourage you to visit our
where you will find a wealth of research and resources on the subject. In
addition, there is a section containing the questions that we are asked
most frequently plus e-books and online courses so you can learn at your
own pace. If you want to sample a course, the courses, the first 3 lessons
About the Author:
Diane received her undergraduate degree in Speech and Language Pathology
from Nazareth College of Rochester and worked with children with
communication disorders in New York State schools for six years. In
addition to post-graduate study in language development, she received
parallel accreditation in marketing and public relations from the State
University of New York, skills she finds useful in spreading the
extraordinary benefits of teaching sign language to pre-verbal infants.
In the summer of 2001 Diane founded KinderSigns, an Orlando, Florida based
practice devoted solely to teaching parents how to communicate with their
babies before they can speak. Since that time she has been a frequent
lecturer at area colleges, hospitals, libraries, community centers and
child development conferences. In addition, she has conducted training
workshops for parents, grandparents, teachers and community organizations
as well as providing in-service training for childcare providers.
For more information, visit KinderSigns at
write firstname.lastname@example.org. To reach Diane Ryan, write
Other Reading Resources:
Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk
Linda Acredolo, Susan Goodwyn, Douglas Abrams
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