Does teaching toddlers signing retard language development?

Day care is teaching my little girl gestures for ‘please’, ‘more’, ‘hungry’ and the like, she clearly uses them in context.

My parents wonder if it’ll slow her speech development and as an example every time I say something like, “Can you say please?” she’ll do the gesture for it instead.

What sayeth the experts?

I seem to remember reading a couple of studies that stated that no, it does not, but I’m having trouble locating those studies right now. I’ll keep looking for the citations.

Given that toddlers can learn two or three spoken languages simultaneously without slowing language development, I don’t see that learning a few words of a sign language would have any significant impact.

I’m very interested in what the Dope has to say on the subject.

My cousins all have little kids now and they’ve all been trained to sign. They are 2, 3.5, 4, and 6 years old and only one of them speaks well.

I think it does retard language development, probably not to a catastrophic degree but I think that hunger to learn words is visibly absent.

On edit: I find the first two replies encouraging. The little boogers will figure it out eventually. Probably. has a brief article that summarizes a study. It looks like signing babies tend to do better than average.

Gesture Development Enhances language development

Another study.

This, however, says that there’s not a lot of evidence that “baby sign” enhances language development, but it doesn’t say that it HURTS spoken language development.

Hope this helps.

There are a bunch of videos on YouTube about a little girl named Fireese whose mother taught her sign language from a very early age. Her language development has been phenomenal.

Anecdote: One of my daughters didn’t talk until way past her 2nd birthday. We would have been lost if we hadn’t taught her signing. She’s 9 now and has very strong language skills.

There is absolutely zero evidence that signing hurts spoken language development. It may or may not help with spoken language development. Your parent’s fears are baseless.

This thread looks more like a General Question than a Great Debate.

I am going to move it to that forum. If a real fight breaks out, the GQ Mods can always send it back here.

[ /Moderating ]

It’s my understanding that children learn to sign faster than they learn to speak (and learn to understand spoken language sooner than either), probably because it takes less motor control. I’ve seen it recommended that you teach your children a few basic “house signs” (like rubbing belly = hungry) so they can communicate their needs as early as possible.

She’s signing words, not using ASL. Either way, it’s not going to hurt. Tools that help her effectively communicate (and hello? manners? yes, please!) are helpful. She’ll be fine.

We did the baby signs thing with our daughter. About half the signs were “from the book” (or slightly modified) and the other half just whatever she made up that we understood and repeated. It was about communication and I think it was very helpful. Signs for “more” and “done/enough” were fantastic. It’s got to frustrating for the poor kid if they can’t communicate!

At 6 years old now she’s quite articulate. I don’t think it slowed her down at all.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between “speech development” and “language development”. Sign is language.

Worse case scenario I can imagine would be something similar to what happens with kids who have a close elder sibling to play “interpreter”: since the sibling is there to interpret the toddler’s babble, the toddler doesn’t bother learn to speak correctly - until he or she stops having that crutch available, for example when they join kindergarten. The speed at which those kids go from something only their eldest sibling (and parents, although never as well as the sibling) actually understand to complete sentences is amazing - they did have the mental structures in place, they simply didn’t have any motivation to use a widely-understandable code rather than the home code.

Further anecdote: I should have added to my previous post that for our second daughter signing was not necessary because she started talking at the time when communication was necessary.

Horses for courses.

So far we have been unable to detect a difference in language skills between the two.

My oldest daughter did this, at least for a few signs. She was able to talk around 10 months and now at almost 6 can hold very good conversations. About the only thing that it did do was she would not say the words she could sign for quite some time. So she say things like “I want” and then sign ‘more’.

Other then that she’s had no problems with language skills. I can’t see how teaching a child to sign can hurt anything and it might help as they can now tell you what they want instead of getting frustrated.

Um that’s news to me. Most studies about bilingual children say that they learn to speak later than monolinguals.

Of course, we also need to define terms: children start speaking a language at about age 2, but linguists consider them to have mastered the language around age 10. So all that time in between is spent learning the complex rules of grammar and stocking up vocabulary.

My niece did Baby Signing Time. She’s 2 and talks now - not as well as my one friend’s 2-year-old but better than my other friend’s 2-year-old. Neither of those kids sign.

So, I don’t think signing has a negative impact on speaking. Kids are all just different.

Using any language, whether spoken or signed, will develop the language center of the brain. This is good and very important for developing the other parts of the brain.

At what time a child starts to speak after listening and rehearsing (by babbling) depends a lot on the individual child, on how much and good language the child is surrounded with, etc.

Some kids are very shy and wait a long time, but then talk very well; some kids want to interact and start babbling, even if the make a lot of mistakes. Neither one is better or a problem to worry about, because in the many years to come (till age 10!) they will have ample enough time to learn the language, provided they don’t live in a language-poor enviroment (hardly any spoken language).

It sounds as if your parents believe in the Oralist school of teaching, which has been disproven as one of the worst ideas to do to deaf people.

Instead of you giving cites to disprove them, ask them to prove their view, because it’s contrary to most modern experts. After all, the people who run the childcare and came up with this idea are qualified and in touch with current child development research - what are the qualifications of your parents? How current is their child-rearing knowledge?

The reason baby signs has caught on because kids can learn making 10 or 20 simple signs much earlier than controlling the tongue, lips, and vocal chords to produce exact words. By making their problems (hungry, tired, tummy hurts) known to adults earlier, easier and with less misunderstanding, kids will learn the idea and concept of words and language much earlier. They will also be much happier because there’s less frustration to get an adult to understand that the diaper needs to be changed, but you’re not hungry right now. And happy children will learn better in general than unhappy, frustrated children.

There’s an old joke about this:

The kid hasn’t spoken for a long time. The parents are worried and don’t know why. Finally, one Sunday at lunch, the kid (think 5 years old or even older) says “The salt is missing”. The parents shout for joy, and then ask him “But if you can speak, why didn’t you ever say anything before today?” “Well, until today nothing was missing.”