How to Teach Sign Language To Your Baby (2023)

Every parent awaits the day their baby calls them mom or dad. Perhaps, the first time your baby refers to you may not be through words, but through sign language.

Babies communicate since the day they were born. They smile, frown, giggle, cry, scream, kick, and wave before they speak. We decode every expression, sound and movement they make to respond to their needs.

There are times, even if we try hard, we can’t seem to figure out what they want. They won’t stop crying no matter what we do. Oftentimes, we misconstrue them for throwing a tantrum. When they are simply frustrated for not having their needs met. Good thing we can teach them sign language while they haven’t spoken yet!

What is Sign Language?

Sign Language or American Sign Language (ASL) is a distinct, natural and formal language. In fact, people who speak English and sign are considered bilingual. It uses a series of hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate. Teaching sign language to babies dates as far back as deaf parents raised children.

Why should you teach sign language to your baby?

How to Teach Sign Language To Your Baby (1)

In 1975, Dr. Joseph Garcia, a baby sign language researcher, observed that babies with deaf parents could better express their needs as compared to babies with hearing parents. All because they used sign language to get their message across.

  • When we teach sign language to our babies, we provide them with a language suitable for their present abilities. Babies develop their larger hand muscles earlier than their smaller tongue muscle. Thus, they find hand gestures easier to learn than uttering words.
  • Everytime our baby cries, we know what they do not like. But only they can accurately express what they want. In the book, “The Baby Signing Bible,” author Laura Berg narrated how she managed to know the exact reason why her baby threw away the oats cereal she gave. Her baby did not want to eat sweets and preferred something salty. Berg knew about this after her baby signed these two things: “more” and “cheese.”
  • We get the chance to learn about our baby. It doesn’t matter how young they are. Our babies have their own preferences. And they possess cognitive and language abilities to express them. Teaching them sign language allows us to discover more about their individuality.

What are the Benefits of Sign Language?

Aside from being a fun and animated way of communicating with your little ones, sign language provides communication, emotional, cognitive, and social benefits to your baby.

How to Teach Sign Language To Your Baby (2)

Sign language paves way for better communication

Your baby has a lot to tell you. Whether they are happy, they need help, they are thirsty, they want some apples, or they are hurt. Sign language allows them to express their needs and desires while words are still at bay.

Contrary to the popular belief that sign language hinders speech, it actually supports vocabulary development.

Teaching sign language to babies gives them the opportunity to use this complex language on a regular basis. This significantly increases their ability to comprehend. Thus, when they learn to speak, they tend to have wider vocabulary.

On the other hand, babies who were not exposed to sign language tend to oversimplify their words and phrases, resulting in a limited vocabulary.

Related Post: 6 Easy Ways to Practice Pincer Grasp with Your Baby

(Video) TEACH YOUR BABY TO SIGN - BABY SIGN LANGUAGE BASICS + 5 EASY SIGNS

Sign language contributes to emotional stability

As babies learn to sign, they experience less frustration and more happiness. They tell you what they need and you understand them. No more wasting time and energy on guessing what they are asking for.

This allows you to focus more on giving them proper care and attention. In turn, they feel content and at ease. This also fosters your baby’s trust and confidence in you.

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Sign language boosts cognitive development

Babies who were taught sign language tend to have higher IQ levels than babies who were not, simply because sign language activates more parts of the brain than spoken language.

When we speak, we only use our auditory receptors. We simply hear and utter words.

During sign language, we use visual, auditory and kinesthetic receptors. We look at the hand gestures and facial expressions, we listen and say the words, and we use our body to perform sign language.

When we simultaneously activate more parts of our brain, we boost and reinforce cognitive development.

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Sign language promotes social skills

Babies who know how to sign can better relate with adults. They are confident with their ability to convey their thoughts and feelings. And they do!

There was once a story about a baby boy in a day care center who asked his teacher through sign language for cookies. His teacher gave him one while other babies cried helplessly without knowing how to ask. Sign language allows babies to gain the necessary skills in a social setting.

When to Teach Sign Language to Your Baby?

The ideal time to teach your baby to sign depends entirely on your and your baby’s readiness.

Raising your baby takes a lot of responsibility. You know you are ready if you have adjusted to tons of chores and managed to develop a routine with your baby. Then you can look for fun activities you and your baby can do.

Meanwhile, babies are ready when they can hold their gaze for a while and show signs of interest in you and the surroundings. They like staring, pointing, and holding things.

(Video) How I Taught my Baby Sign Language | Tips + 5 Basic Signs We Use Everyday

Experts say it is best to teach sign language to your baby around 4 to 8 months old. Expect that it will take a couple of months before your baby signs back.

How to Teach Sign Language To Your Baby (5)

Babies undergo five stages of signing:

  1. Observing your signs
  2. Realizing they are signs
  3. Imitating your signs
  4. Signing back
  5. Pairing signs with speech

Again, start teaching when you feel you and your baby are all good. It is never too early nor too late to begin. You can still teach sign language even if your baby starts talking. It is also okay to stop and restart when it feels more convenient.

Tips on How to Teach Sign Language to Your Baby

Babies learn signs for whole words and not individual letters. Now that we know about sign language, here are some tips on how to teach it to our babies!

1. Have fun with Signs. Gone were the days when learning meant dread and pressure. Many studies have shown that we learn faster and better while having fun. Relax and enjoy teaching signs and your baby will have a great time learning too!

2. Start with Simple Signs. We know you are excited to teach sign language. While it could be tempting to sign everything we see or say, it is best not to overwhelm your baby. Start with simple signs like milk, eat, mom and dad. After they learn to sign the basics, you can build from there and expand.

3. Say and Sign. Teaching sign language is as easy as saying the word while making the gesture!

4. Go slow while Signing. Whenever you sign, talk and sign slowly. Our babies take a little more time to process information. This will help them remember the sign.

5. Express and Sign. Sign language is not just hand gestures but facial expressions too! Let your face show feelings. If the sign doesn’t evoke sad expressions like hurt or help, then smile.

6. Sign, sign, sign. Repetition is the key to learning sign language. While we said earlier to start with simple signs, you can take every opportunity to repeat the signs to your baby. For example, make the sign for ‘milk’ every milk time.

7. Hold and Sign. For babies to realize that they could sign, parents should let them do it. Sit your baby on your lap, with her back in front of you. Hold their hands and guide them to gesture the sign as you say it.

(Video) How Do I Teach my Baby Sign Language? [CC] [AD]

8. Patience with Signs. Your baby is not supposed to sign back right away. All throughout your teaching sign, it is crucial to practice patience. Learn to accept and embrace your baby’s learning pace.

9. Follow and Sign. As you progress in teaching sign language, it is best to follow your baby’s lead. Sign the things that your baby shows interest in.

10. Wait for Signs. When your baby starts signing, always give them the chance to do it. The best way to make them sign is to let them sign to you what they need or want. This means you will step back in anticipating what their needs and wants are. So they can come and sign it to you.

11. Watch for Sign approximations. Sometimes babies sign but they don’t get the exact gesture. Pay close attention to the actions that your baby makes. It makes them happy and motivated when you recognize what they are trying to say. Be sure to still guide them to get the right sign.

12. Reward Signs. Rewarding your baby for their sign encourages them to do it more. You may compliment them with words, clap, hug or kiss. Or even give them the treat they want!

13. Sing and Sign. As you go beyond the basic signs, you can teach your child more signs with songs. Play music, sing and sign to emphasize words. The best songs to sing are itsy bitsy spider, row row row your boat and twinkle twinkle little star. You can replace the actions of the song with ASL signs.

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14. Toys and Sign. Playtime is probably the best time to teach babies ASL. They get to do what they love most as they learn. Show them the sign of their favorite toys. Or play the show and sign game. You can also increase the learning experience if you buy toys designed to help you teach sign language. In toysnotch.com, we reviewed the best toys to learn sign language.

15. Read and Sign. Storytelling could also be a great way to teach sign language. Get a children’s book and read it to your baby. You can show the sign of the pictures or what is happening in the story.

16. Color and Sign. Babies love to draw and color. Teach them the names of the color and the signs at the same time!

17. Role playing and Sign. Babies are highly creative and imaginative. You will notice that they like to create make-believe situations. We can take part in their stories and teach them signs about what is happening. We can also give them toys that encourage pretend scenarios like wooden dolls pram, as this helps improve their IQ and EQ.

18. Sign while walking. Walking is one of the most healthy activities for babies and adults alike. When we walk, we get to explore more about the life around us. Walk your baby outside and teach them the signs for flowers, dogs, clouds, rain, sun or whatever attracts them.

List of Signs You Need to Teach Your Baby

Perhaps now you feel more confident to teach sign language to your baby. If you are wondering where to start, here is a list of signs you can teach your baby.

(Video) Baby Sign Language - 5 Basic Signs

Begin with the basics:

  • Milk
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Mom
  • Dad
  • Sleep
  • Bath
  • Hungry

This video provides the 5 basic first signs:

After your baby learns these signs, you can now build from there. Combine more words related to the list above to increase your baby’s vocabulary and understanding.

For example, you may add the following words:

  • Milk: bottle, done, more, warm, etc
  • Eat: banana, apple, oats, bread, etc.
  • Drink: water, juice, cold, etc.
  • Mom and dad: help, hurt, i love you, etc.

Here is great video to teach many more signs for baby:

If your baby is already comfortable with sign language, you may expand to the following topics:

  • Alphabet
  • Colors
  • Animals
  • Weather

Should you need references for signs, we recommend the books, “The Baby Signing Bible,” and “Baby Signs: How to Talk to Your Baby While Your Baby Can’t Talk.” There are also tons of videos available on youtube.

Final Note For Parents

Sign language is an activity that you and your baby can both learn together. While you wait for them to talk, teach them sign language and make this moment memorable, worthwhile and easy.

About the Author

Diana Therese Non is a writer at ToysNotch.com – a platform dedicated to creating fun and educational toy buying guides and reviews to help parents find the best toys for their children.

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FAQs

What age is best for baby sign language? ›

When should I start baby sign language? Around six to eight months old is a great time to start teaching your baby how to sign. “Babies are typically at a developmental stage where they are curious to communicate and pay more attention to things presented to them,” says Steyns.

How long does it take a baby to learn sign language? ›

“Five months is the youngest I have seen personally,” says Rebelo. Other babies may not begin to sign back until around the first birthday, but then their sign language may take off rapidly. Sometimes it just doesn't click until after they turn one, but then it happens rapidly,” says Rebelo.

Can babies really learn sign language? ›

Babies can learn and use sign language as a life skill, enabling them to benefit from its communication advantages. In the first few years of life, development is happening rapidly. Children are growing physically and mentally, learning new things every day and gaining more control over their minds and bodies.

What is the sign language for milk? ›

The milk sign is a lot like milking a cow (or goat), but without the vertical motion - you are just squeezing the udder. You take your dominant hand, make it into a fist, relax, and repeat.

Does teaching babies sign language delay? ›

MYTH: Baby sign language delays speech.

FACT: Research has found, time and time again, that baby sign language does not delay speech. All you need to do is say the words while signing them. That way, your baby can still see your mouth movements and hear the words attached to the signs.

What does clapping mean in sign language? ›

Signs for CLAP

Meaning: strike the palms of (one's hands) together repeatedly, as in to applaud. Pronunciation (sign description): Related signs: APPLAUSE, CHEER. Deaf Culture and tidbits.

Do babies who sign speak later? ›

In fact, research has shown that using sign language actually increases a child's verbal skills. Research has shown that using sign language does not negatively impact a child's language development later on, and actually does the opposite up to about age four.

What are the disadvantages of baby sign language? ›

Cons of Baby Sign Language

Some feel that baby sign language can delay speech or halt language development, but there's no credible research that supports these claims. In fact, some studies show that it might increase language development, while other studies show no impact on language skills at all.

Do babies learn sign language faster than speaking? ›

"Really, a baby's brain is capable. They're capable of communicating by signing long before they can talk," said Briant. The more signs babies learn, the more it could reduce those tantrums that come with the "terrible twos" -- they're not as frustrated with communicating what's on their minds, Garcia said.

What is the difference between ASL and baby sign language? ›

Is baby sign language the same as American Sign Language (ASL)? Not necessarily. American Sign Language is a complete language with its own complex system of grammar and word order rules, where as the term “baby sign language” refers to using signs and gestures to communicate with baby.

Is sign language fully developed? ›

Sign languages are fully-fledged, complex, natural languages, with their own grammar, vocabulary, and dialects. There are over 140 recorded living sign languages in the world today. These sign languages have evolved naturally, just like spoken languages.

Can sign language help speech delay? ›

As for children with speech and language delays, using sign language will allow them to begin communicating before they are able to speak as well. For some children, this is the push they need to begin speaking. This is often true for children with autism.

How are deaf babies taught sign language? ›

This research shows that deaf and hearing children will learn sign language naturally if their parents and other people around them use the language. They will learn sign language in the same way as other children learn spoken languages like English 1.

Is it crucial for deaf babies to learn sign language early? ›

Research shows that children who learn to sign early do better across a range of measures, including academic achievement, than children who don't. It also suggests that children who begin to learn sign language at birth have more success learning to use cochlear implants to access speech.

What is the baby sign for banana? ›

The baby sign for banana looks like your index finger is a banana and you are peeling it. To start, take your non-dominant hand and make a fist, with your index finger pointing up toward the sky. With your dominant hand, make a peeling motion down the pointed finger, using your fingers all together.

What is the sign for potty in sign language? ›

To sign potty, make your hand into a fist, with your thumb peeking out between the bent index and middle fingers. This is the ASL letter sign for 'T' (as in, toilet). Hold the fist out and shake it around a little. It is like your baby is ringing a bell to let you know it is potty time.

What is the baby water sign? ›

To sign water, take your dominant hand and extend and separate the three middle fingers while holding the thumb and pinkie finger together. Then tap your index finger on your chin a couple of times. To remember the sign, it is simply the ASL sign for 'W', going near your mouth.

What age is considered language delay? ›

Common symptoms of a language delay include: not babbling by the age of 15 months. not talking by the age of 2 years. an inability to speak in short sentences by the age of 3 years.

Do daycares teach sign language? ›

The Baby Sign Language Kits & resources are currently in use in numerous accredited daycares and early childhood development centers around the globe. In partnership with motivated parents who want the best for their babies, they ensure each baby is well-equipped to communicate during the pre-verbal stage.

What causes delayed language babies? ›

Causes of language delay

boys. children who have a close family member with a history of a language delay or communication disorder. children who have a developmental disorder or syndrome like autism or Down syndrome. children with ongoing hearing problems and ear infections.

What does it mean when you touch your chin in Sign Language? ›

Thank You:

Touch the chin or lips with the fingertips of one flat hand, then move the hand forward until the palm is facing up. The hand moves out and down. This sign is similar to the gesture of kissing one's hand and extending the hand towards someone else.

What does thumb to chin mean in Sign Language? ›

The sign "NOT" (done as an "extended-thumb-A-hand" starting under the chin and moving forward) is well established in ASL. It is used to indicate or emphasize negation, denial, or refusal.

What does two waving hands mean in Sign Language? ›

In the Deaf community applause typically takes the form of waving both hands in the air (using a twisting movement). Deaf ASL Model: Maggie Mackey signing "Deaf Applause / Yay! / Hurray! / Bravo!"

Why does my baby look away when I talk to her? ›

When they feel that they need a break from too many sights and sounds, they may look away. As they get older, their whole head may turn from you. Do not feel rejected when your baby looks away; this is a normal part of your baby's development and one way for them to control how aroused or excited they become.

Do Intelligent babies talk earlier? ›

Where early talking is concerned, it may be linked to giftedness. The Davidson Institute cites a study showing that among 241 “profoundly gifted” children, 91 percent started taking early. On average, they said their first words at age 9 months.

What babies Say Before they talk? ›

Before babies learn to talk in a real language -- English, say, or Spanish -- they babble and coo, playing with sound.

What happens if a deaf infants parents don't use sign language? ›

More than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Without sign language, parents don't have a way to meaningfully communicate or bond with their deaf child. Without sign language, deaf children can experience language deprivation, limiting their potential for a lifetime.

What is the most common danger sign in the newborn? ›

Wheezing, grunting, or whistling sounds while breathing. Odor, drainage, or bleeding from the umbilical cord. Yellow coloring of the eyes, chest, or extremities. Crying, irritability, or twitching which does not improve with cuddling and comfort.

Why do parents avoid using sign language? ›

Parents are told that sign language will distract their child, or that it will take up space in the brain and not leave room for learning spoken languages.

What are the 3 types of sign language? ›

Not a Universal Language

Interestingly, most countries that share the same spoken language do not necessarily have the same sign language as each other. English for example, has three varieties: American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL) and Australian Sign Language (Auslan).

What is the earliest sign language? ›

The French priest, Charles Michel de l'Eppe founded the first public school for the deaf in Paris in 1755. Using the informal signs his students brought from their homes and a manual alphabet, he created the world's first formal sign language, Old French Sign Language.

Can sign language be self taught? ›

There are numerous ways to learn American Sign Language (ASL) outside the old classroom method. From free online lessons to video tutorials, a world of possibilities is open for those aspiring to teach themselves this hands-on language.

What is the most common sign language? ›

ASL, short for American Sign Language, is the sign language most commonly used by the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in the United States.

Is speech delay a sign of intelligence? ›

In short, speech delay is a fairly common condition that worries many parents. However, knowing how to speak sooner or later does not affect a child's intelligence but can also be a sign of some pathologies such as autism, Einstein syndrome,...

What are signs of speech delay? ›

What Are the Signs of a Speech or Language Delay?
  • by 12 months: isn't using gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye.
  • by 18 months: prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate.
  • by 18 months: has trouble imitating sounds.
  • has trouble understanding simple verbal requests.

Do speech therapists use sign language? ›

Speech therapists use sign language in therapy to facilitate communication in children who have not yet developed language. Sign language is a bridge for children who are unable to communicate effectively through spoken language.

Are deaf babies vocal? ›

She found that infants with profound hearing loss vocalized significantly less than hearing infants. However, when the infants with profound hearing loss received cochlear implants, the infants' vocalizations increased to the same levels as their hearing peers within four months of receiving the implants.

Do deaf babies learn to communicate earlier than hearing? ›

"Deaf infants exposed to sign language hit all of the same developmental milestones as hearing children" (Schupner Congdon, 2016). During the time frame of birth through age three, the brain is geared for language development, and it does not discriminate against a spoken or a signed language.

Do deaf babies laugh out loud? ›

Results showed that laughter produced by the deaf participants was fundamentally similar to that produced by the normally hearing individuals, which in turn was consistent with previously reported findings.

Do babies sign language delay? ›

MYTH: Baby sign language delays speech.

FACT: Research has found, time and time again, that baby sign language does not delay speech. All you need to do is say the words while signing them. That way, your baby can still see your mouth movements and hear the words attached to the signs.

Do babies who learn sign language talk later? ›

In fact, research has shown that using sign language actually increases a child's verbal skills. Research has shown that using sign language does not negatively impact a child's language development later on, and actually does the opposite up to about age four.

How much should a baby be talking at 4 months? ›

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most babies start to babble around 4 months. She'll use her voice to experiment with sounds, all of which will sound like gibberish to you. She'll also raise and lower her pitch, almost like she's having a conversation with you.

How do deaf babies learn sign language? ›

This research shows that deaf and hearing children will learn sign language naturally if their parents and other people around them use the language. They will learn sign language in the same way as other children learn spoken languages like English 1.

Does speaking 2 languages to a baby cause speech delay? ›

The idea that two languages causes language delays in children has been a long-standing myth in the United States. However, research has dispelled this myth. Children are able to learn two languages at the same pace as other children who are learning only one language.

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