Myths and Truths about Baby Sign Language

Myths and truths about baby sign language

You may be asking: What is the hype about baby sign? Surely our children can learn language the typical way? Why does this generation have to supersize everything? Won’t sign language discourage verbal talking?

Here are some answers for you.

As a mom and Speech Language Therapist / Pathologist I can tell you that in my experience, there has been a terrifying increase in communication delays in children. Communication delays meaning pronunciation difficulties, language and grammar difficulties, vocabulary delays, poor listening skills, weak understanding, auditory and language processing difficulties as well as limited written language skills (reading and writing).

Our visual, screen obsessed society has played a major role here, among other environmental factors. This means essentially, that our babies have been “wired” for looking rather than “wired” for listening and language.

Here’s where baby sign comes in. Baby sign is a visually based language, using our baby’s predisposed love for all things visual, as a method of encouraging communication skills, thereby working towards preventing common, widely spreading communication disorders from impacting your baby.

As babies develop in their first year, before talking starts, they receive language input (providing that they are kept away from screens) and they actually learn to communicate. Your typical baby will communicate successfully with gesture, facial expression, noisemaking, eye contact and body movements. Not only that, but they listen and learn to understand language, non- verbally. For example, a baby younger than twelve months may understand “where’s you shoes” even though they cannot say it.

In other words, children already use non- verbal communication in normal development, before they learn to talk. Unfortunately, with our current society functioning as it does, screens steal this “Language time” away from our babies, and this natural non- verbal communication occurs much more slowly.

In this way, baby sign language not only uses a baby’s natural affiliation for visual input, but also utilizes their need to communicate non- verbally. This gives them a rock solid foundation for developing communication skills, which so many children in our current society are missing out on!

The very next natural developmental step is verbal communication. This will occur because babies’ oral motor (mouth) movements typically become easier for them to control around a year of age, and they will be using their hands for a range of other things like crawling and reaching etc. Naturally, non- verbal communication encourages verbal communication. Furthermore, with the other full body development happening simultaneously, it becomes easier for typical children to speak verbally while using their hands for other things.

On the other hand, if you do find that your child finds speaking difficult (due to a communication disorder) he / she will already have an expressive vocabulary to utilize, preventing frustration and behavioural difficulties that go along with difficulty communicating.

So how do we start? As a parent, you begin using sign consistently as you talk, along with the verbal words we use everyday. Generally, “requesting” is the first communication act that a baby learns, so we start with requesting, because it’s motivating.

Baby signs to start with at 6 months:

  • More
  • Finished
  • Eat
  • Have
  • Open
  • Play
  • Bye bye

Google “baby sign language” for YouTube videos of how to do these signs. Stick to your region and country as sign often differs from country to country.


Written by Joanne Ravell – Speech Language Pathologist (BCP -SLP) UKZN


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