How Early Can Babies Sign Language

As a mother and teacher, my main objective is to communicate with the kids I work with. This can be challenging when they are still too young to talk. When I gave birth to my son, this was one of the things I was most concerned about. How was I going to know what he wanted, if he was hurt, if he was hungry, if he was tired, how would I be able to be the best mom I could be and make sure my new little life would have everything he needed and wanted if he wasn’t able to tell me?

Sign language was the answer. I did extensive research, went to classes, started to learn sign language, and started using it with my son. Now I teach sign language to most of my students and parents as part of my classes.

Most of the common questions I get from parents are how early they can start signing with their baby, will signing affect their speech or normal communication, and when will their baby starts signing back or using the signs.

Babies can start learning sign language from the day they are born. They may use the signs themselves as early as 6 months and intentionally sign as early as 8 months. However, it is never too late to start teaching your little one sign language. 

When teaching baby sign language, there has no magic button to press for them to learn the signs. It requires time and effort, and there are specific things to remember when signing with your baby. Here are some tips for signing with your baby.

Why use sign language?

My baby will eventually learn to talk, so why should I use sign language? I loved being able to know what my baby wanted and being able to communicate with him well before being physically able to communicate.

It was a wonderful feeling when my 8-month-old baby told me he wants milk without being able to speak physically. My Children still use sign language, and they are now able to sign and speak four languages by using the same signs in each language. There are multiple amazing benefits of teaching your baby sign language, and signing is a natural part of babies’ learning process.

In most cases, babies invent signs or register a sign their parents use all the time for a specific object and use this same sign every time. By using official signs, you are making it easier for yourself to understand your baby and easier for your baby to be understood. This will help reduce frustration, tantrums, and crying will be limited, and will make parenting an even more enjoyable experience.

Benefits of using baby sign language

Here are some of the amazing benefits of using baby sign language:

  • gives pre-verbal waysto communicate
  • aid’s your child’s understandingof language
  • increases communicationopportunities
  • decreases your child’sfrustration
  • decreases caregivers’frustration & confusion
  • strengthens social& emotional bond
  • helps your child learn thatmovements have meaning

Will Sign Language affect my baby’s speech?

Hearing children have been proven to have no issues at all with their communication skills as a result of learning sign language as babies. In fact, hearing children who sign have been scientifically proven to have, on average, 12 IQ points higher than non-signing children by the age of 8.

As long as you are saying the words while using the signs, it will not have any adverse effect on your baby’s speech but will have a positive impact instead. Children who sign use both the left and right sides of the brain, which helps improve their cognitive skills and abilities.

Children who sign have also been proven to have a more extensive vocabulary at a younger age. Their speech and communication are more advanced, and because they are using visual, oral, and cognitive skills, they tend to have an advantage when it comes to academic ability as well.

Signing with Special needs children

Signing has multiple benefits for children and even more advantages for children with special educational needs such as autism, dyslexia, down-syndrome, and speech delay.

Using sign language allows these children to communicate without causing them to get anxious and frustrated quickly. Being able to sign will enable them to gain confidence and has wonderful results in helping them to integrate into a normal environment and help them tremendously in their academics.

Teaching Baby Sign Language

Many parents show signs of distress when their baby won’t sign or don’t learn to sign, and they will start to complain that their baby will never learn, so it is pointless. These parents usually stop teaching their child, and these are the children who never learn to sign.

When a baby does start to sign, don’t be disappointed if they use the same sign for just about everything. The reason they do this is that when they use their very first sign and you respond by giving them exactly what they want, they get so excited that they will try to use the same symbol for everything, thinking that you will understand what they want.

Don’t worry, give them what they want and show them the correct sign for what they want, and encourage them to use the right sign. Soon enough, they will learn the correct sign and realize that each thing has its sign. Once they do, they will be signing for pretty much everything they want or need.

The most important thing to remember when signing with your baby is to be consistent, be persistent, and be patient. Don’t give up. Every time you do something, show the sign for it (Ex: baby is drinking milk – show the sign for milk and say “milk”). If you do this every time you do something, then your baby will eventually register the sign with the object or action.

There are only two reasons a baby will never sign. The main reason is that their parents give up and stop trying because the results are not fast enough. The second reason is very rare but is due to an underlying physical disability which prevents the child from forming the signs.

First signs to teach baby

The best signs to start with when teaching babies to sign are signs for words and items they will see or use on a regular or daily basis. The best first sign to teach your baby is ‘milk’ because milk is their primary source of nutrition from the day they are born until the age of 1. They are seeing, tasting it and smelling it constantly from the day they are born, so signing milk as their first sign is an obvious choice.

The next signs to teach a baby may be ‘mommy’ or ‘Daddy’ or any other member of the family they may see every day. Other good ‘first signs’ to teach baby are words like baby, toys, hot, cold, yes, and no.

How to sign some of the baby’s first signs in ASL (American Sign Language)

Milk: make a fist with your dominant hand, then open and close your hand as if showing the action of milking a cow.

Mommy: make a flat five hand with your dominant hand and place your thumb on your chin

Daddy: the same as mommy but place your thumb on your forehead

Yes: make your hand into a fist beside your head and shake it up and down the same way you would shake your head to say yes

No: With your closed fist at shoulder level, open your thumb, pointer, and middle finger. Bring your pointer and middle finger to your thumb as if trying to hold a string.

For more first signs to teach your baby, check out our post “first signs to teach your baby.”

Conclusion

Babies and children of all ages learn at their own individual pace. Don’t try to rush things. Have fun with signing, and try to enjoy it. Remember to be consistent and patient, and soon enough, you will see the great, positive results of your efforts. The first time your baby signs will give you such a feeling of joy that you will be on edge, anticipating their next one.

Article checked by:
Dr Binu George – Consultant General Pediatric
(MBBS, FRCPCH, Dual CCST (UK), Paediatric Neurodisability)
Head Of Department, Child Development Department at
NMC Royal Hospital, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates