Frequently Asked Questions
Starting the Baby Signs« adventure is a very exciting
experience for parents and caregivers. Please do not hesitate to
contact your instructor with any questions you may have. Below you
will find a summery of some of the most common questions the founders
have answered about
the Baby Signs« Program.
Q. Does Baby Signs«
use American Sign Language
A. Since the publication of the our book, many people have asked us how
using the Baby Signs« Program relates to American Sign
Language, the official language of the deaf community. The simple answer
is that the Baby Signs« Program incorporates the most useful,
"baby friendly" signs from American Sign Language and combines
them with signs that babies and parents have created themselves and found
When we first began our Baby Signs« Research, we feared
that parents of hearing babies would find ASL too overwhelming to learn in
the short time their baby would use signs as a bridge to speech. We also
knew that young babies, with their limited motor coordination, are not be
able to master many of the complex "hand shapes" of ASL. Since
for hearing babies using sign language is simply a temporary bridge to
speech, our goal has always been to do what is easiest for babies and
their parents. Our focus has not been to teach hearing babies a second
language but to provide them with the signs that they can use most easily
to express their needs, thoughts, and feelings until they have words.
Research has shown that signs are easiest for babies-and for parents-when
they involve simple gestures and when they resemble the things they stand
for (e.g. fingers to lips for eat, arms out straight like wings for
airplane). The signs featured in our books and products, whether from
American Sign Language or not, have been selected based on what has worked
best for babies and their parents.
In revising the Baby Signs« Dictionary, we asked parents to
help us make a list of 100 things that their babies need and want to
"talk" about. Using our knowledge of babies' motor development
and the advice of our colleagues, we carefully evaluated the motor
complexity of the ASL sign for each of these concepts. As a result, our
Baby Signs« Dictionary now includes many ASL signs that both
express important concepts and are easy enough for babies to do. In many
cases the Baby Signs« Dictionary itself includes more than one
sign suggestion so you can choose which works best for your baby. The Baby
Signs« Dictionary can be found in the revised edition of our
book, "Baby Signs: How to talk with your baby before your baby can
We strongly support the importance of American Sign Language for the
deaf community and certainly understand its value for hearing children who
will be communicating with deaf relatives or friends. Other parents of
hearing babies may choose to opt for signs primarily from American Sign
Language should they wish to teach their children this vital and rich
language. By clearly indicating in the revised Dictionary which Baby Signs«
are also ASL signs, we are providing these families, too, with an easy way
to get started on the road to successful communication.
Most important of all, however, is that you do what works most easily
and joyfully for your family. Using the Baby Signs« Program is
about communication, understanding, and intimacy between you and your
baby. In the end, whatever signs you use, you are opening the world to
your baby and opening your baby's world to you.
Q. Will baby signing discourage my baby from learning to talk?
A. Absolutely not! In fact, in a long-term Baby Signs«
study funded by the
National Institute of Health and conducted at the University of
California, we found the exact opposite to be true: Using signs actually
makes it easier for babies to learn to talk.
When we compared children who had been encouraged to use signs with
children from the same areas who had not, we found that the Baby Signs«
babies consistently scored higher on standardized tests of both receptive
language development (how much they understand) and expressive language
development (how much they can say).
Communicating requires thinking, planning, and decision-making (e.g.,
"Hmm, is that a bird or a duck?"). Each one of these
activities stimulates the developing brain in important ways that
benefit the child the next time around. Because signing enables children
to communicate at remarkably young ages, Baby Signs« babies
enjoy a "jump start" in the development of the neural
substrate of language.
|Baby Signs« babies "pull" verbal
language from adults
When babies use signs to call attention to things, adults quite
naturally respond with lots of appropriate words (e.g., "Oh! You
see a kitty! Thatﾒs right! That is a
kitty! That kitty looks just like our kitty, doesn't it!").
And we know that the more language a baby hears, the faster language
|Baby Signs« babies can pick the topic
We all find it easier to learn about things in which we are really
interested. With signs at their disposal, babies can direct their
parents' attention to objects they find fascinating rather than
just listening to labels for things their parents
think are important.
|Using the Baby Signs« Program is fun!
Just as learning to crawl is so exciting that it inspires babies to
learn to walk, signing whets a babyﾒs appetite for even better
ways to communicate. In other words, the motivation to learn to talk
actually increases rather than decreases when
you encourage your baby to communicate with signs .
Q. When should I start modeling
A. Whenever you'd like, but certainly by 8 or 9 months. Some families
begin as soon as their baby is born just to get into the habit, and that's
fine. After all, we talk to babies from the day they're born (or even
earlier); we just don't worry when they don't answer!
Q. When will my baby begin actually
A. The answer varies enormously from baby to baby depending on a child's
interest in communicating (some babies prefer climbing bookshelves to
reading books), development of related skills (e.g., memory, imitation,
attention), and the frequency with which parents model the signs. The most
typical age range for first signs is between 10 and 14 months.
It's important to keep in mind that the younger the child is when you
begin modeling - even within this age range -- the longer it will take for
those first few signs to appear. After that it's "off to the
Linda's son, Kai, for example, didn't produce his first sign until he was
12-months-old. However, once the proverbial "light bulb" came
on, he added new signs very quickly -- about 14 new signs within 3 weeks.
Eventually Kai had a repertoire of over 40 signs which he used very
productively until he hit his "verbal spurt" at 19 months (from
7 to 74 verbal words in a single month!).
Q. My baby is 20 months - is it too late to
start the Baby Signs« Program?
A. Even babies with 50 to 100 word vocabularies still find some words too
hard to say (e.g., hippopotamus, crocodile). As long as that's the case -
no matter what the child's age - we've found that sign equivalents are