Monday, November 13, 2017

The Baby Signs® Program: A Helpful Tool in Bilingual Settings

The Baby Signs® Program:  
A Helpful Tool in Bilingual Settings

By: Linda Acredolo, Ph.D. & Susan Goodwyn, Ph,.D.,
Co-Founders, Baby Signs, Inc.

  As more and more parents learn the value of exposing their children to second and even third languages early in life, the number of babies being raised in “bilingual homes” is rapidly increasing.  Just what does this mean? In many cases it means that one parent speaks one language to the child while the other parent speaks a second.  In other cases, both parents may speak the same language to the child while a trusted caregiver (grandmother or nanny) speaks another. 

  So, what happens if we add signing to the mix? Will it just add to the child’s confusion?

 The answer is a strong and resounding “No!”  The truth is that, no matter what form bilingual input takes, adding signing to the mix actually makes the child’s job easier, not harder.  Here’s why.

When children first start learning about language, they quite naturally look for one-to-one correspondences between words and the objects (or actions) they label. For example, babies in an English-only environment, upon hearing the word “milk” in the presence of white stuff in their bottle, will eventually learn to associate the two together:

CHILD:  “Hmmm....I get it! The white stuff in my bottle = ‘milk’“

However, life gets more complicated in a bilingual household.  In this case babies consistently hear two words in association with the white stuff in their bottle, a situation which can be very confusing.

CHILD:  “Hmmm….Sometimes I hear “milk,” sometimes “leche.” What’s going on?”

Clearly, what children hearing two languages need to figure out is that both words are equally important labels for milk. And that’s where signing comes to the rescue.  By adding a sign to the mix so that the same visual symbol (sign) accompanies both words (“milk” and “leche”), parents make the job of connecting the object with the meanings of both words much easier for babies. In other words, when the baby hears “leche” paired with sign and then also hears “milk” paired with the sign, the pieces fall into place:  

CHILD:  “Aha!  These words mean the same thing!   
=    ‘leche’    =   ‘milk’ 

In summary, rather than confusing your bilingual child, signs will help smooth the road to understanding and speaking both languages.

Of course, signing has another advantage in bilingual settings, especially in child care classrooms where teachers and families speak different languages: The signs provide a common language so that toddlers who are learning the family language can still make themselves understood. Just such a situation exists at the Center for Child and Family Studies at the University of California, Davis, where graduate students from all over the world routinely enroll their infants and toddlers. In the 18 years since the Baby Signs® Program was first introduced, teachers and parents alike have been amazed at how much more smoothly daily life in the classroom proceeds, with data specifically showing that the teachers are more responsive to the needs of the children.  In addition, the signs have enabled children who speak different languages to communicate with each other.  In one case, for example, a toddler from Israel and a toddler from Taiwan were observed reading a picture book together—with the first girl turning the pages and pointing at objects while the second girl made the appropriate signs!  

Bottom line? Signing is clearly a boon to children facing the challenge of hearing multiple languages, whether at home or in the classroom.

Visit for more information about Baby Signs® resources to help you and your baby enjoy all the benefits that signing can bring.   

© 2008 Baby Signs Partnership. ( 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Linking the Baby Signs® Program and Literacy Development

Read All About It:

Linking the Baby Signs® Program and Literacy Development
Catherine Brown, M.A., CCC-SLP

The buzz word is literacy. All around we hear about the importance of literacy. Parents are told to read, read, read to their children – without much instruction on the “do’s and don’ts” of doing so. We hear about the “No Child Left Behind” program and how government funding these days usually means proving that your program relates to literacy development. We hear more and more about dyslexia and the hope that neuroscience will be able to identify new remedies. With all this emphasis on literacy, it seems particularly important to review the connection between literacy and the Baby Signs® Program.

Although we traditionally think of literacy as the ability to read, it is now recognized that the skills needed in the technologically advanced world that we live in go beyond reading. The National Institute for Literacy actually defines literacy much more broadly as “an individual’s ability to read, write, speak in English, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society.”  Somewhat more narrowly, the “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001 defines reading skills as “a complex system of deriving meaning from print that requires all of the following:
The skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print
The ability to decode unfamiliar words
The ability to read fluently
Sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension
The development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print
The development and maintenance of a motivation to read.”

Whether defined broadly or narrowly, literacy is now recognized to start well before the school years. In fact, there is growing appreciation for what are now referred to as emergent literacy skills. These include a variety of behaviors that research has shown predict success in learning to read. And many of these, it turns out, are helped along by signing. Some examples:  

Verbal language skills 
Research shows that children who are strong in verbal language skills have an easier time learning to read. Reasons for this relationship include the following: Knowing lots of words helps children comprehend what is read, guess at words that are difficult to decode, explain problems they are having, and understand explanations and instructions teachers provide. And how does the Baby Signs® program figure in all this?  The NIH-supported research published by Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn showed that infants exposed to signs during infancy had better receptive and expressive language vocabularies by the time they were two and three years old. In fact, the infants who learned to use signs as infants had verbal IQ scores that remained high well into the elementary school years.

Familiarity with print and enjoyment of books
Ask any Baby Signs® family and you are likely to hear that their children love books. The reason is because the ability to use signs enables babies to take an active role in book-reading. Instead of simply listening passively as their parents name things on the page, signers can provide the names themselves long before they would be able to do so with words. And the praise they receive in return makes them eager to keep exploring new books. In fact, parents even report that their toddlers sit down and read their books by signing to themselves!

Phonological Awareness
This term refers to recognition of the fact that words are comprised of separate sounds (or phonemes)that “cat,” for example, is made of “c” + “ah” + “t.”  Because individual letters stand for individual sounds, it’s easy to see why knowing that words are composed of separate sounds is important to learning to read. And one of the best ways to help children develop this awareness is through the use of rhymes. When a child becomes familiar with a rhyme (e.g., Jack and Jill when up the hill), he or she learns that words can differ in how they begin but be the same in how they end. This realization, by definition, involves recognizing that words are made up of individual sounds. Voila! Phonological awareness.

And what’s the role of the Baby Signs® Program in developing this skill?  One of the most popular ways that parents teach signs is through rhymes and songs, like Twinkle Twinkle, Itsy, Bitsy Spider, and the many songs and rhymes created specifically for the Baby Signs® Program. These rhymes and the rhythm that we expose children to while we are singing and signing help children develop this crucial emergent literacy skill. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Late-Talking Toddlers

Late-Talking Toddlers: 
How the Baby Signs® Program Can Help
Catherine Brown, M.A., CCC-SLP

Speech-language pathologists refer to children as “late-talkers” when they are slower to develop verbal/expressive skills than their peers even though they have very good receptive (language comprehension) skills. This pattern distinguishes them from “language-impaired” children who have significant deficits in both language comprehension and production.

In contrast to language-impaired children, most late-talkers do eventually catch-up to their peers in language skills, often without intervention.  However, the frustration that late-talkers feel before they catch up can lead to negative interactions with others that leave lasting impressions.  For that reason, helping late-talkers overcome their problem as quickly as possible is in everybody’s best interest.

To find out if the Baby Signs® Program would help such children, I completed a Masters Thesis using a research design parallel to that used by Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn in their NIH study.  The fifteen children in my study all fit the formal criteria for “late-talkers”—being significantly behind same-age peers in expressive vocabulary but not for receptive language. Of these fifteen families, five received training in the Baby Signs® Program, five received traditional training emphasizing verbal interaction only, and five received no intervention at all. 

Over the course of the 8-month study, all three groups of late-talkers were compared with two other groups of children: (a) children of the same age who were developing normally (Age-Matched), and (b) younger children who were at the same level of expressive vocabulary (Language-Matched) as the late-talkers. 

When comparing the expressive vocabularies of the groups four months after the study began, the results provided support for the utility of the Baby Signs®  Program as an intervention with late-talkers. Specifically, the signing group was the only group whose average expressive vocabulary score was no longer significantly behind their age-matched peers.  In contrast, the group experiencing the traditional verbal intervention and the group experiencing no intervention at all both remained significantly behind their same-aged peers with scores much closer to the younger, Language-Matched children at both the 4-month and 8-month follow-up.  

In addition to helping boost their expressive language skills, the availability of signs also helped the families in the signing group deal with frustration and worry about their slow-to-talk children.

Once these parents were able to see how much about language their children did know, they were reassured, and once the children were able to use signs to get their needs met without tantrums and tears, family life was better for everyone.  

In the years since completing my thesis project, I have used the Baby Signs®  Program with many children in my clinical practice who show early language delays. I continue to find it an invaluable tool for families. However, I want to emphasize that any parents who have concerns about their child’s language development, or any other aspect of development, should consult a speech-language pathologist, developmental specialist, or their pediatrician for professional advice. Every state has programs available to provide services for families who would like help or information.

An especially useful resource for parents specifically concerned about their child’s language development is the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). They have a wonderful brochure called “How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?” that includes a developmental chart with yes/no boxes at each age. It helps parents decide when the time has come to seek professional help. Not only does the chart indicate when parents should seek such help, it also provides information to help them find an appropriate professional.

To obtain a single copy of this brochure, visit or contact the ASHA Action Center at 1-800-638-8255 or email

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Keeping the Bough from Breaking: Signing and Attachment

Keeping the Bough from Breaking:
Signing and Attachment

By Linda Acredolo, Ph.D
The Baby Signs Partnership

What do you think is the optimal age for a child to be adopted?  If you’re like most people, your answer is “at birth.”  It just seems like common sense to us today. 

Unfortunately, however, for centuries of adopted children that was not the typical answer.  Even as late as the 1930s and 40s, well-known developmental psychologists argued that adoption at age 2 made the most sense—in order to ensure that the adoptive parents knew what they were getting!  What no one knew then, but we know now, is that by waiting until age 2, adopting families were quite likely to be getting a child whose future emotional development had been put at risk.  As hard as it is to believe today, no one thought it mattered what happened to a child during the first two years as long as his or her physical needs were taken care of. 

Recent research has drastically changed this early view of infancy.  We now know that a secure emotional bond with loving parents during infancy lays the foundation for future emotional development, including whether children view themselves as loveable, trust other people, and are capable of feeling empathy. Research has also provided clues as to what factors determine whether a child will develop a “secure” vs. “insecure” attachment with a parent. Specifically, we now know that the most important ingredients are sensitivity and responsiveness on the part of the parent—in other words, the ability to read the baby well (know what he or she needs) and the willingness to meet those needs in a timely fashion. 

The bottom line of the attachment relationship, in other words, is very sensible:  Children fall in love with those who meet their physical needs for food and warmth, comfort them when they are hurt, protect them when they are frightened, and, in general, make them feel respected, understood, and loved. 

And here, obviously, is where the Baby Signs® Program enters the picture.

  • Because signs make the task of “reading” the preverbal baby so much easier, they help parents provide the baby what he or she needs to feel secure. 
  • Second, parents who are intently watching for signs are automatically paying closer attention to whatever the baby does, thus increasing the chance that even non-sign signals will be detected. 
  • Third, because they reveal to parents how much smarter their baby is than he or she looks (after all, babies do drool a lot!), signs convince parents that there’s truly “somebody home in there,”  somebody who is capable of feeling loved and secure or anxious and rejected.  That leads to the understanding that it really matters what a parent does.
  • Finally, signs enable babies to share their worlds with their parents, thereby increasing the joy that each takes in the other’s company. 

For all these reasons, signing increases the probability of a secure attachment. That’s the formal way of saying (as we often do!) that the Baby Signs® Program helps forge bonds of love and affection that can last a lifetime.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Baby Signs® Program Introductory Video

Learn more about the Baby Signs® Program!  

Watch this introductory video.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Free Baby Signs Poster "Halloween Signs"

Click on the poster or on the link below to download this free Baby Signs poster that features 7 fun signs for Halloween: Costume, Spider, Pumpkin, Afraid, Black, Cat and Candy.

Happy Signing!
Baby Signs Too, LLC

 Baby Signs Halloween Poster