Monday, September 19, 2011

From Signs to Speech—Inevitable!

Despite our federally-funded research evidence showing that signing babies actually learn to talk sooner (See Research page on our Baby Signs website for details), some parents still worry that their babies will be too content with signing to do the work of learning to talk. Below are four reasons why children are, in fact, eager to make the transition:

New Places to Go: As toddlers get older and more mobile, they are more and more likely to wander away from direct eye-to-eye contact with parents—around corners, behind chairs, up and down the slide. Signs, which require being able to see each other, are much less effective that words in such situations. You simply can’t shout a sign from around the bend!

New Faces to Meet: Greater mobility and maturity also mean that children are destined to meet more and more new people along the way—people who engage them in conversations and most likely don’t know signs. They may be new playmates at daycare or cashiers at the grocery store or friendly parents at the park. Conversing with these folks requires words.

New Games to Play: Getting older also means that children become increasingly attracted to activities that keep the hands busy—like finger paints, crayons, puzzles, ladders to climb, bikes to ride. Signing in such situations is much less convenient that words!

New Things to Say: To a 15-month-old, simply telling you that he sees a butterfly is a magnificent feat—and one easily accomplished with a simple sign. However, as children grow intellectually, gathering more and more information about the world around them, the ideas they want to get across become much more complicated. Except for children whose parents are capable of teaching them to be fluent in ASL, complex ideas and observations are beyond the power of simple signs to express. Words are the perfect substitute.

So, don’t worry about the transition to speech; your child will be eager to move on to words. In fact, if you’re like many parents, you’ll actually be a bit sad to see the signs slowly drift away one by one as an onslaught of words takes over!

(By the way, these two photos show my son, now 25 years old) signing "airplane" and "Where is it?" as a baby. He signed a ton and then, at 19 months, suddenly burst forth with 67 words!)

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
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