How Babies Sign

Learning to sign is similar to learning to speak

Signs that cross arms

Preference for index finger over thumb

Initial movements

Signing in reverse

First signs may look similar

Creating categories with signs – over and under generalizations

Is your baby signing?

Will my baby continue to sign after she is speaking?

Combining words



All Done or All Gone

Other Words





How Babies Sign

Learning to sign is similar to learning to speak
The way in which your baby learns to sign is very similar to the way in which she will learn to speak. Your baby will first understand a sign before she uses the sign. This distinction is referred to as receptive versus expressive language (or passive versus active vocabulary.) Older babies will move more rapidly from receptive (passively understanding) language to expressive (actively using) language.

Signs that have similar hand movements will start out looking very similar. For example, the signs for the words more and shoes will look very much the same in the beginning especially if your baby is very young. This is similar to a baby saying "ba" to refer to a bottle, ball and balloon. As your baby matures and gains more control over her hands you will then begin to see a marked difference between previously similar signs.

Just as babies begin speaking at different ages, so to will babies begin signing at different ages with some starting as early as six months. The more control your baby has over her hands and the more interest she has in communicating with you, the more likely she is to begin signing back to you.

There are two milestones in baby education of sign language that most babies will pass through in learning. The first milestone is the first time that your baby signs to you. This moment will be as thrilling to you as your baby's first spoken word. Once your baby learns a given sign, she will notice the object that represents the sign everywhere. Your baby may also use this first sign to refer to many different objects and actions. This is similar to a baby saying "da" to refer to everything in her world because she finally has a way to communicate.

The second milestone or education is often referred to as a signing explosion or signing cluster. This usually occurs after your baby has learned her first five to ten signs. At this milestone your baby has assimilated one of the most powerful symbolic actions that distinguishes our species from all others on our planet - the link between abstract symbol (the sign) and the experience it represents. Once this monumental achievement is in place, she is likely to learn additional signs very rapidly. The ability  of the baby in learning additional signs will most likely only be limited by your ability to provide her with the signs.


Thank you for visiting the My Baby Can Talk baby sign language how to section of our site. Our early language development products will help your baby learn to sign, learn to speak and begin to recognize the written word.

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