Baby Hope uses New Zealand Sign Language to chat away with me and when people see this they often ask, "will using sign language slow down her speaking?" I'm so stoked that the research backs me up when I respond that the opposite is in fact true! Babies who use sign language learn to speak at the same rate if not slightly better. But even more amazing, is that they understand how communication works from a younger age so they are less frustrated because they know how to make their world work for them. This is why I was so interested in creating resources that empowered parents to communicate effectively with their child by using sign language alongside Te Reo Māori and English. Hope is now 20 months old and she is using NZSL, LOTS of English words and even some Te Reo Māori words. She is definitely speaking, but more importantly at this young age, she is communicating her needs effectively.
My mum was one of these people who asked if Hope's speech would be delayed. She asked in a genuinely caring and inquisitive way, not in a way that made me feel criticised for choosing to sign with Hope. Mum is a psychologist and recently retired from the Ministry of Education. So in true scientific fashion, she went to the research to find the facts about using sign language with babies. To read the full summary of research, click here. But to summarise the summary...here are the highlights!
The Positive Outcomes of Using Sign Language with Babies
By Dr Rosemary Lyons © 2017
(Psychologist – Ministry of Education – Rotorua – New Zealand)
Signing babies showed increased interest in books
Signing babies frequently talked sooner than non-signing peers
Word comprehension was enhanced
Parents spoke to signing babies more than non-signing peers
Language development was accelerated compared to non-signing peers
Toddlers who had signed as babies had larger vocabularies than same age peers who did not use baby sign
Children who used signing when babies, show a greater understanding of language and syntax (i.e., the way in which words are put together to make a grammatically correct sentence), because of their experiences in, and practice of language long before they were able to talk
Signing babies showed enhanced understanding of their world
Confidence, self-esteem and trust were enhanced due to adults responding appropriately to baby’s signals and requests
Emotional expressions of frustration were decreased
Emotional acting out/tantrums were decreased
Episodes of crying by signing babies were decreased
Calmness was increased
Toddlers, who had used signing as babies engaged in more sophisticated play than toddlers who were non-signing babies
Relationship were enhanced through more responsive, reciprocal, supportive and encouraging interactions with adults
Connection to important adults was enhanced through more successful and positive interactions
There were more positive emotional experiences during communication, e.g., fun, enhanced child-adult relationships
Learning to baby sign will enhance your interactions with your baby. Baby signing is fun, reduces baby’s frustration, reduces the guessing you have to do about what baby wants and increases relationship quality between you and your baby. Baby sign is full of advantages for you and your baby.