I agree that understanding your own baby is not difficult. What I mean is, as a mom you know when your baby is hungry, tired, sick, thirsty, bored, and so on. Even without words, you just know if your baby is happy or not, and you know right away if some thing is not right. It is in our nature as mothers to have that kind of instinct. Instinct and common sense help us mom to give our newborns what they need such as love, food, comfort, and stimulation. But as our babies grow, they would also want to convey a whole lot of other things to us, and it is important that we understand them.
This was the reason why we encouraged a two-way communication between C and us. We believed that as C grows older, the things he would like to communicate to us broadened and unfortunately, his capability to put these things into words was not yet there.
So I taught him how to sign.
Many parents would say that it is unnatural for babies to learn to communicate that way. Many are afraid that if babies learn how to sign first, their speech development will be delayed, because they will more likely NOT exert effort to learn to speak sooner since they can already be understood through signs. But speaking from experience, it is the contrary. C learned how to sign but it did not delay his speech development. If anything, I believe that it even helped him talk sooner.
I started teaching him to sign when he was about 5 months old. I have shown him simple gestures like hello and bye-bye whenever the situation calls for it. Now that I mentioned that, I think all mommies taught their babies to sign. I mean, who didn’t teach their kid to wave bye bye or hello? So anyway, other than waving, I also chose a few signs to teach him: milk, more, and bird. Those were the first three. I chose ”milk“ for the very obvious reason, “more” because that time, he was being introduced to solid food, and “bird” because it is an easy sign.
Please note that I didn’t bombard him with these signs. I just used them whenever the right opportunity arises. And I did not force him to do the signs after me. It was not like that at all. If I have to use the word “more”, I do the sign and say the word, “more”. I did not even know whether he was able to pick up the signs or not until later when he was actually doing them.
C had learned to sign “bird” before he was capable to say “twit twit.” One time, he saw a bird so he made the sign. Was the bird some thing he needed? No. Did he want the bird? No. He simply wanted to express the fact that he saw a bird. As babies grow older, they will not only try to communicate what they need and want, they would also like to communicate what they see, hear, and touch. They would also like to communicate what they know—the things they learn.
Later I taught him another important sign, “hurt.” When I was sure that he could do more, I taught him some less important signs like some animals, vehicles, and common things. He learned pretty fast and I can feel his pride whenever he is successfully able to communicate to us.
He is almost 16 months old now and he can already say a lot of words. Papa, Mama, nein, no, bitte, go, here, das, da, ball, Auto, Bagger are just some of the words he can say perfectly (Note: we are raising him a German and English bilingual). In addition to that, he can also say a whole lot more words that are distinguishable but not perfect (but always good enough for me). And he can now also coin two-word phrases.
Do I recommend teaching your babies to sign? Definitely. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Signing encouraged C to express himself not just when he needed to communicate (i.e; when he is hungry or sick) but also when he simply wanted to express something.
Sometimes, babies and toddlers get frustrated because they cannot convey the things they want to express, and parents also get frustrated because they cannot understand their little ones. In our case, signing helped a lot in lessening, if not totally eliminating it, the frustration on both sides.
As C learns how to speak, he slowly drops the signs so don’t think that toddlers will prefer to sign than to learn how to speak sooner.
Here are C steps with the word “bird”
1. He learned to sign “bird”
2. He signs “bird” whenever he sees a real bird or an image of a bird.
3. Then he learned how to say, “twit twit” so he says that plus he does the sign.
4. Now he simply says the word “buhd” for bird (he can’t really say the “r” sound yet). He does not make the sign with it anymore.
Btw, I taught him how to sign when he was around 5 months old, and he started using signs actively at around 8 months old. Right now, he is mainly using spoken words. When he said something that we didn’t understand, we ask him again and he’ll say it with the sign.
Here’s a chart showing some words he can already say.