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Baby sign helps your child learn how to talk.

Find out what the latest research says about the benefits of using baby sign language with your little one.

  • Baby sign language is a great way to help your child communicate before they can talk.
  • Research is starting to show that parents who use baby sign have toddlers that talk earlier and have larger vocabularies.
  • Baby sign language will not stop your child learning to speak. As they learn to speak, their use of hand signs will gradually fade.
  • Children with language delay typically use fewer gestures. Baby sign language is a great way to help them understand concepts and learn new words.

Why use signs?

You may have heard the phrases baby sign language, natural gesture, key-word signing and even Makaton (now Key Word Sign Australia) being used when talking about using sign language to help your child learn to communicate. I use the term key-word signing to mean all of the above. Put simply, key word signing is using a hand sign at the same time as you speak a word. This technique is used by speech pathologists all over the world as a way to help children learn new words.

Although there is limited research on exactly how key word signing helps children learn language here are some of the key theories:

  • Children will begin to use signs and gestures to communicate before their first spoken words. This is because it is much simpler to make the hand signs than it is to coordinate the complex movements of the lips, tongue, cheeks, palate, vocal cords and lungs necessary to create speech sounds. Your little one may already be using signs, such as pointing and waving. They may have even made up a few more of their own.
  • When you use key word signing you always speak the word at the same time. In a way, using signs helps to emphasise the important words for your child. They are visually drawn to what you are doing and are more likely to pay attention.
  • Signing while you speak engages both the auditory and visual parts of the brain. Children find it easier to process what they see than what they hear. Hand signs are a visual representation of the words you are saying and therefore help children to understand concepts more quickly.
  • Signs last longer than spoken words and give your child more time to process what you are telling them.
  • Using signs will not stop your child from learning how to speak. In fact research suggests signing with your child actually helps them learn to talk.
  • Signing will help you to understand what your child is telling you. Remember that when your child learns their first words they may be very unclear. If they use a sign when they talk then you will know exactly the word they are trying to tell you. Imagine your child says ‘tar’, do they mean star, car, ‘ta’, baa, guitar? If they sign and say the word you will know exactly what they are trying to tell you. You will repeat back the correct word and reinforce their learning.
Lederer, S. H., & Battaglia, D. (2015). Using Signs to Facilitate Vocabulary in Children With Language Delays. Infants & Young Children, 28(1), 18-31. doi:10.1097/iyc.0000000000000025

Millar, D. C., Light, J. C., & Schlosser, R. W. (2006, 04). The Impact of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention on the Speech Production of Individuals With Developmental Disabilities: A Research Review. J Speech Lang Hear Res Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 49(2), 248. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2006/021)

Tan, X. Y., Trembath, D., Bloomberg, K., Iacono, T., & Caithness, T. (2014, 01). Acquisition and generalization of key word signing by three children with autism. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 17(2), 125-136. doi:10.3109/17518423.2013.863236

Wright, C. A., Kaiser, A. P., Reikowsky, D. I., & Roberts, M. Y. (2013, 06). Effects of a Naturalistic Sign Intervention on Expressive Language of Toddlers With Down Syndrome. J Speech Lang Hear Res Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 56(3), 994. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2012/12-0060)