Monday, April 16, 2012

How Long From Sign to Word? It all depends….

A question I often get from parents—and from my professional colleagues interested in language development in general as well as baby sign language in particular—is how soon after a baby learns a sign will he or she start trying to say the word? The answer, as usual, is that it all depends. If the sign is substituting for a relatively easy word like ‘ball” or “more,” the word may appear quickly. On the other hand, if the word is long and complicated, like “elephant” or “butterfly,” the sign is likely to stick around longer.

But it also depends on a baby’s choice of strategy. Some children use signs to free them up to work on learning words for other things. These babies tend to hold on to their signs for quite a while, using them to increase the total number of things they can talk about. Other babies seem to use signs to speed up learning the word that a specific sign stands for. In these cases, the word appears relatively quickly. The logic lies in the fact that the more frequently a baby uses a specific sign, the more often adults respond by saying that specific word, thereby providing more opportunities for the child to learn it.

And, of course, some babies use both strategies. All this variety is what makes studying babies so fascinating! Can you figure out what your baby is doing?

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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