Does teaching toddlers signing retard language development?

Worst ideas for the pre-lingually deaf, but yeah. (children who are deaf before the brain learns language are pre-lingually deaf; children who become deaf after language learning occurs, are post-lingually deaf).

I didn’t get the sense the OP’s child is at all deaf, however. If the child is not deaf, teaching sign may slightly slow the initial expression of verbal language, just like raising a child bilingual can slow the initial expression of either spoken language. In the long term there is no deficit and often a benefit to language skills (a benefit aside from bilingualism, which is a HUGE benefit these days).

If the child IS deaf from birth then forbidding the child from signing is borderline cruel and will likely deprive the child of the ability to properly develop the language pathways in the brain, leading to lifelong learning deficits, as well as social isolation.

Yes, I was to short. What I meant is: I assume that the OPs child is not deaf, too. But the experience with pre-linguically deaf children has shown how important learning any language is compared to learning oral language.

This can be used as analogue when teaching simple signs to hearing children: it will advance language learning.

Aside from deafness, we need to remember that humans communicate with far more than just the spoken word, too. (I think it was Desmond Morris who in one of the culture books joked that an alien observing Italians talking with each other would conclude that Italian is first a sign language with some sounds for emphasis or clarification, not the other way round).

Inflection and facial expression go a long way towards understanding (and is part of what children are learning in the 10 years, along with cultural context to what topics or words are not considered approriate under what circumstances). At what age the child starts talking orally is really a small part of overall language competence.

Just for another data point, my daughter is two and speaks full sentences with incredible articulation. And, it’s not just me being biased because I’m her dad, most people are surprised at how well she speaks. We started signing to her at around 4 months. She started responding with simple signs at around 7 months. It really was nice for her to be able to tell us she what she wanted at such an early age - instead of her just crying and us trying to figure out why.

FWIW, I attribute her language ability more to her love of books than sign language. I’ve been reading to her consistently from a very young age. She loves it. And I think that constant exposure is the biggest reason she speak well. It’s also the reason I can recite “The Lorax” word for word beginning to end from memory.

We started signing with our son around 6 months I think. It was great that he could let us know he wanted more to drink or that he was all done. He’s almost three now and he has totally dropped it. He still knows them (just the other day my wife silently prompted a “Thank You” out of him from across the room, another reason to do it!) but it just easier to tell us things than sign them. He talks fine too.

We are thinking of starting signing with our daughter soon, she’s about 4 months. It should be interesting to see if our son does it with her too.

My aunt was months old when the family moved from Barcelona to Saragossa. Both of her parents are from bilingual Barcelona, but when they met, Grandma didn’t speak Spanish and Grandpa didn’t speak Catalan - the two languages are similar enough to be mutually intelligible if the two parties want to understand each other, as was the case here. In Saragossa, they used Catalan at home so their daughters would grow up bilingual.

They moved back to Barcelona 3 years later, into his parents’ home, and his father, hearing the kids speak Catalan, exclaimed “in MY house, I won’t have anybody speak foreigner!”

Aunt simply didn’t say a word at home until they moved out again, when she was 6.

Years ago, I was meeting for the first time a dozen groups from different factories, including one in Spain and one in Italy. The groups were in a large room, and I could observe them through a glass. Two groups looked like they had to be the Spaniards and the Italians, but which one would be which? Easy: the ones who spoke with their hands were Spaniards; the ones who used their whole arms, Italians.

I still haven’t met an Italian who didn’t laugh at the story and say something along the lines of “that works!”
And I once met a Sottish deaf university professor who said she loves going on vacation to Greece because people there speak so much with their hands that she can have conversations with them. I can attest to that, having had my share of gestual conversations with Greeks.

Widget is headed for two and a half. We did a handful of signs with her from very early on - not a lot, just stuff like ‘milk’ and ‘more’ and ‘please’ and ‘done’. We didn’t do it to help with speech development, we did it because we figured she’d be happier and less easily frustrated if she was able to communicate some basic needs, but I did a little reading because I’d also heard the rumour that it would slow down her speech development. I found zero studies that backed that up; just a couple saying that signing babies spoke earlier than others, and one saying there wasn’t much difference.

Widget’s way, way ahead on speech at the moment, and has been since well before her first birthday.

I don’t know about signing, specifically, but studies generally indicate that bilingualism (i.e., growing up learning two different languages as one’s ‘first’ language) has very little if any downside for cognitive development, and some upside, even beyond the obvious benefits of knowing two languages. (Sorry this is vague and I do not have a cite. I can’t get at the relevant book now.) Teaching a baby to sign is likely to do them good, not harm.

We did baby sign language with my daughter. The book we used is based on ASL, and is based on the theory that learning sign language can actually help language skills development. I can’t find the book right now, but IIRC it theorised that it helped small kids learn the power of communication - a specific call and response - which forms the basis of conversation. The key is to use the sign along with the appropriate word, as they can much more quickly learn a hand sign than they can learn how to say a word.

Not sure how accurate this is, but in our experience we found it reduced her frustration to a huge extent - and ours. She was able to sign things like milk from around 7 months (around about the same age she said her first word, cat), and in the middle of the night, a pre-12 month old being able to tell you why she’s awake and what she needs to go back to sleep is really helpful.

Compared to others in my mums’ group, she was not an outlier in terms of speech to either extent, and she’s pretty chatty in full sentences now at just 2 (in English and somewhat in Italian), so I don’t feel this has delayed her, and we’ll do the same with #2.

We taught our daughter to sign, especially since she was growing up in four languages: Japanese, Mandarin, English and Taiwanese, so we figured that having a consistent sign across the languages would be helpful. She picked ups signs readily. By about 18 months, she was getting advanced enough with her spoken vocabulary (her spoken English as her *third *language was better at 18 months than my niece in America with English-only parents) that she gradually stopped signing.

With my 13-month-old son, he’s a little slower picking up the signs, but is still able to sign a few. Since Grandma isn’t up from Taiwan, he only has three languages to deal with, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue.

All that I’ve read about raising kids up in multilingual environments shows that there aren’t any real delays in kids leaning speech.

As others have said, it’s easier for kids to make the hand motions rather than put everything together for speaking, and I’ve never heard of any studies which show that signing delays the eventual learning how to speak.

Kids have their own paces. It’s not a race to see who is the fastest, and they will eventually learn to talk. Having signs for toddlers helps them communicate, and I don’t see a downside for that.

“Horses for courses.” :confused:

It’s even in context and I don’t get it.

I gotta get some coffee and wake up.

“Horses for courses” means (roughly) “What works for one person might not work for another” - because a horse that runs well in one racecourse, might do poorly at another racecourse.


We have used baby sign language in small amounts with our baby and it has worked well. We limited it to a few signs. He is now two and has great speech with little delays. FWIW my youngest brother was born hearing impaired and is now in his 30’s and communicates well with his family.

I have 2 friends who live in Miami and they have 3 children who sign, speak English and Spanish… perfectly. Oh, the parents are both deaf.