Baby Sign Language: How To Talk To Your Baby

Baby sign language is the key to communicating with your child. Babies need quite a long time before they really master oral motor skills. In contrast, they can handle their little hands very well from a very early age.

At around four months, they can grasp things purposefully, and at six months, they can move things voluntarily. So why shouldn’t babies be able to communicate with hand signals? Of course, you should also learn sign language.

After all, you want to understand your child and talk to your child at length.

Curious now? We explain what sign language is all about, how you can learn baby sign language and why it is good for your child.

Baby Sign Language: What Is It Actually?

Your child squeals, looks at you and holds up its little fist. The thumb points upwards, the fingers open and close. Again and again.

Slowly, the facial expression turns impatient, your child begins to smack and wriggles more and more. The corners of his mouth are already pointing down a bit. And you understand: your baby is hungry, it wants milk.

How did you know that so quickly? It’s simple: Your baby told you in baby sign language.

You can easily learn baby sign language yourself. The hand signs of the language are based on the sign language that even mute and deaf people use to communicate.

Of course, you don’t just replace everything you say with the signs. Baby sign language works in parallel with spoken language: you say something to your child, and you also show the most important words in baby sign language.

Your child will be able to imitate the signs from the age of about six months and will slowly learn more and more. Every day he will expand his “vocabulary” and soon have real conversations with you.

Baby Sign Language Does Not Replace Spoken Language, But Complements It

You can use baby sign language with your child from birth. There is nothing wrong with using the signs at such an early age. However, you should also use your voice for all your verbal expressions.

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After all, your child wants to learn to speak at some point. Spoken language is simply part of it. Baby sign language consists of many nouns, some adjectives and many verbs.

All the little words in between that make up language are usually left out.

This makes it clear: baby sign language cannot replace spoken language because it simply does not offer enough expressive possibilities.

Baby Sign Language Cannot Express Everything, But It Can Express A Lot

Sign language will only ever supplement individual words in your communication with your child. An example will make clear how exactly the hand signs work.

Imagine your child is uncomfortable, kicking, making sounds of displeasure. Before he or she really starts to cry, you want to know what’s going on. You ask: Do you want milk? You look directly at your child and stand so that he can see your face and hand.

You can also use baby sign language to show the word “milk” when you speak: You hold your fist closed in front of your face, with your thumb pointing up. Then you open your fingers and close them again, several times in a row.

This is the hand signal for milk. If your baby really wants to be breastfed or drink a bottle, he will fidget enthusiastically and repeat the gesture with his little hands.

If he does not show this consent, the displeasure has other reasons.

You can continue to ask: Do you want a fresh diaper? When you hear the word “diaper”, first slap your open right hand, then your left hand flat on your crotch, and leave your hands there.

Your child will either repeat the gesture and tell you that he or she wants to be changed, or you will continue to ask.

Whole Conversations With Your Child

Baby sign language isn’t just for the important hygienic needs, though. In fact, language can do much more. You can name many things that play a role in your child’s everyday life with the signs.

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There are hand signs for “house”, for “book”, for “doll”, for “car”, “tree”, “rainbow”, “fish”, “dog” and more.

Your child will love to “talk” to you about the things he sees while walking around town – sign language gives him the opportunity to do this even before he can speak.

Language Is Hard – It Gets Easier With Baby Sign Language

Today, it is assumed that even newborns can read tendencies from the tone of a voice. They gather information from the tone of voice, such as the speaker’s state of mind.

And they learn quickly. At four months of age, children already understand a lot of what their caregivers say to them. They associate the spoken language with their world of experience.

But children do not yet understand every word. This is because when we speak, we do not make clear word boundaries. Children, therefore, have to extract the little information that is really relevant to them from the “speech mush”.

The fact that children understand language at such an early age has been proven in behavioral studies.

Understanding language and speaking for themselves are two very different things. First of all, only the brain regions that are responsible for hearing and understanding what is heard are occupied with understanding language.

If you want to speak for yourself, you have to convert your thoughts into sounds, form these sounds by means of speech motor skills, and reassure yourself by means of your hearing that everything sounded the way you wanted it to.

It’s much more complex than that, and it’s mainly the speech motor skills that are involved. This is because speech involves the lungs, which have to release air into the larynx in just the right amount.

The glottis is involved, the entire oral cavity, the lips, the tongue, and even the teeth are needed. That’s a lot, a lot of muscles that not only have to do things themselves but also have to coordinate with each other.

The muscles are controlled by nerve pathways that are not laid out from birth. The nerve cells only grow in the first years of your baby’s life.

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The connections between each individual small muscle up to the brain and there between the different regions are slowly built up. And once the nerves are there, you can’t automatically control them consciously right away.

That also has to be learned first. It is therefore quite clear that children at the age of one year may tentatively form their first words, but cannot really speak yet.

Hand motor skills, on the other hand, are developed at an early age: From the age of four months, your child grasps, and at six months, he can specifically touch and move things. Then he is ready to learn sign language.

One Hand Signal At A Time

Even though your child may have been shown sign language by you for a few months, he or she will not suddenly start gesticulating wildly. Your child will learn one sign at a time.

And it’s up to your child to decide which sign is most important. Give your child time. If you want to help your child learn a new hand signal, use it yourself for a few days.

You can be sure that your child will be interested in the baby sign language. Because sign language gives him an important tool to make himself understood.

And, of course, grandparents, babysitters, and daycare staff will be grateful for the additional means of communication.

By the way, practical apps and books help to learn sign language for dwarfs, dwarf language or baby sign language.

The movement was founded by Vivian König, who has since compiled several German-language books on the subject.

In the literature, Vivian König explains why children can learn baby sign language at such an early age (even if they don’t actually speak yet), how parents use the signs in everyday life, and what it’s all good for.

With videos, pictures, and games, the app encourages extensive engagement with the child and the hand signs. Individual “words” in sign language can be called up via a QR code and thus used very quickly.

This also works when you realize at some point that you want to talk to your child but don’t know the appropriate hand sign right now.

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Baby Sign Language: The Criticism

As practical as baby sign language seems at first glance, it has been criticized for several years. What is supposed to promote communication between parents and children, to strengthen the relationship, is not really proven by studies.

If you rely on the positive effects of baby sign language, you have to rely on empirical values. Baby sign language comes from the USA and is taught therein courses for parents and children via baby singing.

The courses are connected with costs, appointments, and performance pressure for the parents. As an early learning concept, it is perceived in Germany just as critically as Early English courses for babies from three months of age or math classes for toddlers.

In fact, the Baby Singing courses are just another offering alongside baby gymnastics, PEKiP, baby swimming, baby massage, and others. The aim is to provide comprehensive support for the child as early as possible and thus make it ready for competition, according to critics.

But are baby sign language and hand signals for easier communication really just a ploy to pull money out of parents’ pockets? The experts are not in complete agreement.

But one thing is certain: If you take your baby to a course like this and don’t use the signs otherwise, neither of you will learn much and neither of you will benefit much from them in everyday life.

Even though there are no reliable research results yet, experts agree that learning sign language through play in everyday life promotes children’s brain development and makes them happier.

Sign language can be used to link action and language and thus help your child with language development. Especially children who grow up multilingual benefit from hand signs.

Because they connect the languages, so to speak: The “rabbit” is represented with two hands as rabbit ears behind the head just as “rabbit”, “konijn”, and “lièvre”. Hints of this have already been found, comprehensive scientific studies are missing.

So there are also no studies that would prove negative effects or complete futility of baby sign language.


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