Sunday, March 17, 2013

What Exactly Does “Ba” Mean?!

I recently ran into an old friend who was out shopping with her 20-month-old granddaughter. I was delighted to hear that little Laney had taken our Baby Signs® Sign, Say & Play® class and been a great signer since age 10 months, and equally delighted to hear that words had started to appear in her repertoire as well. According to Grandma, however, most of these words sound pretty much the same, and although Mom and Dad can often figure them out based on context, it's a real challenge for Grandma. For example, she told me, Laney currently says something like “ba” for “baby,” “ball,” and “bottle.” What helps enormously, Grandma, said with a smile, is that Laney almost always combines the sign for what she's talking about with the word, thereby clarifying her message! So the sign for BABY accompanies "ba" in some cases, while the sign for BALL does so in others, etc.

Aha! A great example of how signing still has a role to play even when words begin! Instead of looking at their babies in frustration and listing all the possibilities, adults can correctly interpret these early words ( “Oh, baby! You see the baby!” ). Using signs in this way to clarify what they are trying to say is an advantage of baby sign language that is often overlooked—until a parent or grandparent very gratefully sees it in action. It turns out to be important because receiving positive attention for trying to talk is an important incentive that motivates children to keep working hard to add new words.

Just think how discouraging it is to be struggling to be understood in a foreign country when you can’t say the words quite right. It’s enough to make you want to retreat in silence to your hotel room! Having signs to help them clarify their messages keeps babies from feeling this way so that instead of retreating into silence, they become more and more excited about learning to talk.

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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