Scott Hanselman

Baby Sign Language 2.0 - Update at 14 months

February 18, '09 Comments [16] Posted in Musings
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If you're not interested in babies or baby sign language or hearing me gush about baby sign language, move right along, nothing to see here! (You're so heartless!)

This is Baby #2, codenamed "Mimzy" (he's a boy, don't ask), signing 'cracker' in ASL. He's 13 months old in the video. He's signing up a storm, and is speaking faster than I thought possible for a little dude. He's currently signing hard words and speaking easy ones, just as our older boy did. I suspect he's moving faster because he wants to be like his big brother.

His signing is a bit of an approximation, because just as toddlers don't pronounce words or "slur" for a while, who sign tend to "slur" for a while. Here's the actual ASL sign for "cracker" but he's really close. Most importantly, he can be understood.

Now, this isn't a "my baby is awesome and smart" post. Nor am I trying to say "push" your kid to do something earlier than is appropriate. I figure they'll all even out by the time they are 20 years old. ;) Not many college students live the house not speaking and still wearing diapers, so I don't push my kids too hard.

However, I'm just so passionate about the extra year of communication per baby that Baby Sign Language (ASL) gives us, and the quality of that communication, that I'll just gush and talk to anyone who will listen.

Baby #2 is now 14 months old and he's been signing for about 3 months. We've been signing to him since he was 7 months, so there was a 4 month people were he'd just grunt and point and look at us. From what I here, that's par for the course when you introduce signing to your baby. Most people say 6 months is the perfect time, but you should expect nothing for months. Stick with it.

It'll click one day, as it did for Baby #2. Out of nowhere he asked for a cracker. Then grapes, then an apple. If you've got young children, you're no doubt familiar with tantrums. If a kid doesn't feel understood or get what they want, they freak out. I can't tell you how refreshing and freeing it is for a baby (not yet a toddler, we're talking, a little wobbly baby) to ask specifically for grapes rather than apples. The benefits of avoiding the little freak-outs that are caused by simple misunderstanding or confusion are just joyous. To look at their face while they are saying/signing something - expressing their intent - clear as day, is such a great feeling. It's nice to find out that an 11 month old can do more than just grunt and point.

I really recommend the Signing Time videos if you're interested in signing with your baby. I am not affiliated with them, I just think they are awesome. Rachel Coleman and her husband have a deaf daughter and started Signing Time in 1996. Rachel blogs here and twitters as well.

Here's some resources from a previous post:

What do you need to do to start signing to your baby?

  • Check your local community center. They often offer Baby Sign Language classes. We took classes before #1 was born, and when he was 6 months old.
  • If Baby Sign Language is unusual or unused in your country, either find some Deaf Folks and learn your country's specific Sign Language, or use ASL (American Sign Language). The trick is to be consistent and have an illustrated dictionary to refer to.
  • Stick with it. Don't give up. We started when he was six months old and signed every day without a single clear response until he was a year old. We nearly quit a dozen times before that.
    • Then one day he signed "light" as clear as day in his bedroom. We turned on the light and our son lit up with a small as wide as his face. That's when we connected with him. I'm not talking about the standard Mom/Dad/Baby we-love-you connection. I'm talking about the baby's opinion matters kind of connection.
  • Get picture books, lots of them, and learn the signs for the animals. I highly recommend the Priddy Books series of books for baby.
    • Learn the signs for animals and common objects and use them every time you see one out in the world. We went for a walk on the Portland Waterfront today and our son was signing bird and dog and plane and sharing those discoveries with us. It's great when he sees something interesting and points at it, but it's something different when he signs about something we didn't see.
  • Pay Attention and prepare for the unexpected.
    • Example: The baby was frantically signing ball recently, gesturing wildly at a dog. We tried to correct him..."No no sweetie, that's a dog, not a ball." The dog lifted it's head and we saw that the dog was in fact playing with a ball that we hadn't seen.

I've blogged before (see below) at length about signing with your baby (or any non-speaking or slow-to-speak child) so I won't belabor the point, so here's some related posts.

If you've used Baby Sign Language, with or without success, I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Related Posts

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, 19 February 2009 01:01:43 UTC
Rachel from signing time is on Twitter @ST_Rachel

Her program has truly changed our life, and the ability to start communicating with our children well over a year before any words started. Courtney has just turned one and while she can't fully walk, she can perfectly sign that she wants a bottle of milk. :)
Thursday, 19 February 2009 01:42:11 UTC
Totally agree about signing, and about Signing Time in particular. We started signing a few things to Molly (milk, more, etc) pretty early, but it never really caught on until we got those videos. But once she got started, whew! She's close to the same age as "Mimzy" (16 months), and it seems like she starts signing something new practically every day, and at this point, the spoken word quickly follows (or a "slurred" approximation, anyway).

I have no doubt that all of us (mom, dad, and baby) would be a lot more frustrated at not being able to communicate if we hadn't tried signing. I would unequivocally recommend it to any new parent.
Thursday, 19 February 2009 01:49:41 UTC
This is so true - My wife started this with our second child. I remember how often I would get frustrated with our first kid because I couldn't understand what they we're trying to tell me. Baby #2 could communicate so much better and lowered my stress level!!

Anyone having kids should do this - you'll thank Scott later when you realize how much easier parenting your child is... at least, until they learn to back talk you... and when they hit their teens... and then college....

.... nevermind... just the first year or two will be easier....


HB
Thursday, 19 February 2009 02:24:50 UTC
Mimzy?
Thursday, 19 February 2009 03:43:11 UTC
It was due to you, Scott, that we ordered the Signing Time DVD's and used it with our daughter who is now 2yrs old. We started at 7mths too. What surprised us wasn't so much the signing, but the rate at which her vocab has improved.

Of course it's hard to tell how much of her vocabulary is due to the progress brought on by signing and how much is simply 'natural' progression. But we believe it's made a significant difference.
Thursday, 19 February 2009 04:30:30 UTC
Thanks for your Baby Sign Language series of blog posts! My wife and I are anxiously waiting for our daughter's first sign.
Thursday, 19 February 2009 10:54:24 UTC
We've been using baby sign with our second child as well, and it really is great when they can tell you what they want, even just the simple things - more, again, water, etc, it's all good.

Being based in the UK we're mostly using Makaton, based on British Sign Language, which is also used on the BBC's Something Special program - yay for public service broadcasting!
Thursday, 19 February 2009 15:53:56 UTC
The first word that my daughter signed was "Light", as well. It was one of the first words that she spoke as well. Here in the UK she attended a local baby sign class. We had a VHS video called "Sing and sign" that she was very fond of - I think she liked the signing and that drew her into the signing. At 18 months she was speaking brilliantly but mixing in the occasional sign - for example she kept using "like" well after she could speak the word.

It took us a little time to realise that some of her first signs were in fact signs. Great once we understood each other.
Thursday, 19 February 2009 18:22:59 UTC
100% agree that signing with your baby is awesome. We did it with our first daughter who is now 3 and very talkative, but will occasionally still throw in a sign with her speech (please, more, shot/doctor, yellow). We're starting it with kid #2.

Another tip: If you send your child to daycare, find one that heavily integrates signing with the curriculum -- our daughter would come home and use all sorts of signs that we had no idea what they were -- luckily they sent us flashcards for most of them!
Thursday, 19 February 2009 20:37:32 UTC
I had heard great things about teaching your baby sign.

Last month for my birthday, one of my brothers got me Dr. Joseph Garcia's "SIGN with your BABY" DVD. My Wife and I are eager to begin teaching our 4 month old son in 3 months.
Friday, 20 February 2009 20:37:58 UTC
Scott,
Great to see that the ASL has paid off. I remember being impressed when I heard that you were both learning before Z was born.

One question unrelated to the topic of the post. Did you use voice recognition software to write this post? It's accurate in many places but it seems as though similar sounding words were used in place of the intended words in a few too many cases for coincidence. Just curious if you did use VR for this which package you used as I'm currently hoping to move into transcribed blogging myself.

Cheers!
-- Stu
Saturday, 21 February 2009 03:02:30 UTC
And I though you where an intelligent man!

Why are you feeding crackers on a regular basis (assumed by need for sign) to your offspring?

A slice of home made bread would suffice, and be sustainable and somewhat more healthy
Monday, 23 February 2009 18:39:10 UTC
It's amazing how much they learn from it, we only did a few words with our first child and it was great, we're planning to try it with our second child when she's older(Just turned a month on Friday). I'm also hoping that our older child will help use teach his little sister, and maybe we will teach him a few more words in the process.
Tuesday, 24 February 2009 19:22:25 UTC
Just wanted to comment that these posts got me interested in trying to sign with my boy. The only problem is that my wife are incredibly lazy about doing it. Even so our son has learned probably 10 signs without us even trying. Even that small amount (covering the important things: more, read, please, help, eat, drink, thanks) have helped a ton.
Charles
Wednesday, 04 March 2009 17:07:24 UTC
More adorable signing babies: http://www.urlesque.com/2009/03/04/signing-babies/
Lindsey
Tuesday, 24 March 2009 15:03:09 UTC
Scott,

FizzBin

I was lucky enough to spend the first 18 months at home with my third son and, whilst I think your motives are without recourse - I know from experience that it is possible to understand what small children are expressing. Rather than them learning your language, it relies on you learning theirs. Having another child confirms that this 'ability' is transferable.

Make what you want of this but IMHO I think directed learning at such a young age may be counterproductive - I only say this because I was taught phonetic reading as a child which has caused repeated problems over the years.

I'll leave this with a quote 'There is no growth without challenge, and there is no challenge without change.'

Please in no way take this as derogatory - EVERY child is different and responds to different stimuli in individual ways.
G. Bailey
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.