What is baby sign language? Why should you learn and teach it? How to start?

© Learning Sign Language with a Baby or Toddler

Full-fledged natural languages

There is not one sign language, there are many. Contrary to what I was first thinking, sign languages are not universal.

There are different sign languages all over the world, just as there are different spoken languages. They are full-fledged natural languages with their own grammar and lexicon.

When exploring baby sign language I noticed that “mom” was indeed said differently when using American Sign Language or French Sign Language.

These differences make sense, for example “eat” is represented by handling sticky chops in one hand in Japan.

Baby Sign Language

Baby sign language is most of the time taught as a transition language.

Some studies put into light that kids of deaf or hard of hearing people were able to communicate from 9 months old. Whereas kids of hearing people were able to communicate using speech with short sentences around 2 years old.

Babies acquire the skill to make intentional gestures around 4-5 months old. The development of speech is related to the descent of the larynx. Until 6 months old, the larynx is in a high position in the baby’s neck, like the chimpanzee (and probably like Australopithecus). This explains why babies can drink milk while still breathing and use less sophisticated sounds.

Then, during childhood, the larynx goes to a lower position allowing the child to articulate sounds. The larynx settles to its final position around 4 years old.

Long story short, kids first acquire skills to move, then to speak. This is one of the reasons why sign language is very appealing. Your baby can express himself or herself when being hungry, scared, dirty and so much more, way before they can actually speak.

Baby sign language can be taught for accessibility purposes as it’s the same for babies as for deaf or hard of hearing people.

How to start

Little Bun Bao advises starting from 6 months old. It’s expected to have a sign back from 8-9 months old. It requires patience. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get results right after starting.

It’s recommended to pick 2-3 words to start with. No need to put a pressure on yourself to learn the whole dictionary, and it would be very discouraging.

The most important is to use conscientiously the spoken word when signing, and vice versa. Always use sign language when telling them out loud.

I haven’t started yet really, but I already picked these words ⇒ Eat, Sleep, Change (and Bath) as his days are mainly organised around these activities.

Resources

As I am a french speaker, I will use the French Sign Language. So I won’t have great resources to recommend for other languages. But if you’re french, I use the courses of Marie Littlebunbao (she’s also on Instagram)


Sources