Communication and Signing

The development of human communication is fantastic, fabulous... there aren’t enough superlatives to describe it adequately and yet we take it completely for granted.  We should be observing and celebrating every small development.  It’s a tremendous achievement in a very short space of time when all goes to plan.

Consider the new born lying in his cot; he reacts to body sensations whether he is hungry, too warm, cold, thirsty and so on by crying.  How his complaints are handled enables him to tailor his demands fairly quickly. 

His brain is pre-wired for communication. 

He prefers human faces more than anything else in his small world and his mother’s voice more than any other.

By talking to him and stimulating him the connections in his brain are re-inforced and will quickly develop.  By a few weeks he obviously listens when spoken to, a few more and he will turn and looks at your face when called by name.  By the age of 3 years most children are irritating all the adults around them by their constant ‘why?’ questions in an attempt to make sense of the world around them.

‘Babies only babble and babbling babies only become talkative toddlers if they receive the necessary interaction’, The Communication Trust 2011. 

Studies have shown that the first 12 months is the critical period for triggering the language areas. Some have asserted that it’s not possible to catch up without this in the first year.

Babies are sociable beings so will attempt to interact with their carers.  For many of us it is instinctive to make eye contact talk, sing..... But for many more it is no longer so readily natural. 

The main benefit of baby signing is that it gives parents and carers a reason to interact from very early on.  The sign is the vehicle for the enhanced interaction.  The more communication attempts are recognised and rewarded the more they will develop. 

Communication is a two way phenomenon, it needs a speaker and listener and signing can help tremendously by a twofold approach.  Parents who use sign are aware both of their communication with their babies and are also looking for cues and clues from their baby, every wriggle, hand movement,  jiggle of the legs can signify something e.g. excitement, displeasure: all the functions of communication by non-verbal means.  This heightened awareness strengthens the bond between the two and can only be beneficial to both sides. 

A parent who understands their baby will read the needs and wants of their child better which reduces frustration on both sides.

Babies learn in different ways e.g. auditory, visual and kinaesthetic. When they hear a word it’s a short auditory set of sounds, when this is boosted by a visual sign it capitalises on the babies visual strengths and so it helps the child to learn the words more quickly.

Good signing programmes, such as those taught by Little Signers Club,  have a core vocabulary so that parents don’t have to worry which words or phrases to use with their babies because the curriculum will let them know which words/signs come in which order.  They will use the key words which are important in a baby’s everyday life.  Babies respond best to short utterances with these key words.

There are other important ways to help such interactions such as singing nursery rhymes which are vital to help in phonological awareness skills by rhythm, rhyme and repetition.  These are essential pre-reading skills and will have an influence on rate of reading progress.

Signing with a baby gives an insight into what is important, why it is important and helps a parent to understand what brilliant achievement early language skills are.  All of these will mean that the interaction between the two is improved and perfected.

This gives a child the best start in life..... And we don’t get another chance!


Libby Hill

Consultant Speech and Language Therapist

Director of Small Talk Speech & Language Therapy

Online BabySign

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