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What is Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language is keywords in Auslan (Australian sign language) used to communicate with babies. Babies can communicate using baby sign language before they can talk. Using baby sign language, you can take advantage of your baby’s natural ability to communicate sooner and reduce the level of frustration that your baby feels when unable to tell you what they want.

Babies crawl before they walk, and sign before they talk!

Baby sign language is becoming increasingly popular in Australia with hearing babies, as parents are realising that it really does work and has many benefits for their parenting experience and for their little ones development.

What are the benefits of sign language?

A recent study in the US, by Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development); found that there is “a clear advantage to using baby sign language with pre-verbal children”.

There are many benefits of teaching your baby to communicate using baby sign language:

  • Reduce tantrums by knowing what your baby wants. With baby sign language, babies and toddlers can communicate their needs and wants clearly, without the frustration typical of the “terrible twos”. 
  • Baby sign language gives you a window into your child’s mind and personality.
  • Teaching your baby sign language may accelerate speech development. Research shows that babies who use baby sign language usually start to talk sooner and develop larger vocabularies than non-signing babies. Baby sign language reinforces verbal language by adding kinaesthetic and visual emphasis to auditory input.
  • Many babies and toddlers who use baby sign language show a strong interest in books and begin reading earlier than their peers.
  • Baby sign language builds on baby’s natural tendency to use gestures such as “bye-bye”.

When can you start signing with your baby?

You can begin between 6 and 9 months when your baby starts interacting. There are some things you can look for to determine if your baby has enough long term memory and motor skills to reproduce a sign, such as:

  • your baby can wave “bye-bye”,
  • your baby can hold a rattle,
  • your baby drops something and then looks to see where it went.

Of course, you are not looking for perfection, but your baby has to be able to at least approximate the baby sign so you can identify it. In general most babies are ready at around 6-9 months. If your baby is older it’s never too late to start learning baby sign language together.

How to sign with baby?

It’s easier than you think! Here are a few tips to help you get started with baby sign language.

  • Start with just a few signs for things you do together frequently. The most common signs to start with are ‘Eat’, ‘More’, and ‘Milk’. Add new signs as your baby masters old signs.
  • Repeat the gestures to your baby, in context, as you go about your day. For example, when you breastfeed or give your baby a bottle, say “Do you want some milk?”, emphasising the word “Milk” and signing ‘Milk’.
  • Be patient. It takes babies time to learn baby sign language, but they can recognize the signs long before they can make them. For example, babies will often show their anticipation when you sign ‘Milk’ by becoming visibly excited.
  • Always make teaching your baby sign language an enjoyable activity
  • SAY the word, clearly and naturally, when you make the sign
  • Praise and encourage your baby, even if his attempt to make the sign is not “spot on”
  • Your baby will learn through repetition/association just as they learn verbal language
  • Be patient!

Does signing delay speech?

No, quite the opposite actually!  A number of people have voiced their concerns to us that signing would delay their children’s speech but we certainly haven’t found that to be the case at all in our own experiences. Also, the research done by Dr Acredolo and Goodwyn has shown that signing actually accelerates speech development.