Frequently Asked Questions
Isn’t sign language only useful to children with special needs, eg. hearing or speech impairments?
Not at all, no. There are lots of documented benefits of signing for children and babies who do not have any form of special needs – visit https://psychcentral.com/lib/teaching-your-baby-sign-language-can-benefit-both-of-you/ for just a few.
Will teaching a baby sign language delay speech?
For a long time this was the biggest argument against teaching hearing children signs. However, research (and experience) has shown that babies who learn sign usually speak sooner than their peers. It can also be used to help get a non-verbal child into communicating. Both of these are true because the child likes communicating, loves being understood, and knows that it works well with the signs. After they start verbalising they will learn that it works even better with speech!
Isn’t my baby too young to learn sign language?
Until recently, many people believed that it wasn't possible to teach young children to sign. After all, how does a baby who is only six or eight months communicate effectively? The truth is that babies, even very young babies, can make very simple signs. Most advocates of baby sign language suggest starting at about four to six months of age. However, you can start earlier (your child may not start signing at an earlier age as their fine motor skills will not be developed enough, but will recognise signs, be more likely to pick up new words faster and use a wider range of signs earlier when they do start signing) or even later (it's never too late to start learning sign language with your child). YouTube is full of videos of babies signing, some from a very young age.
If your child learns British Sign Language past the age of three, will they be able to hold conversations with the deaf community?
I find this one frustrating as I've heard it claimed a few times but it is just simply not true. British Sign Language is far more than just hand shapes and signs. If your baby learns hundreds of signs and can put them into sentences that sound like English then they are signing, yes. However, unless they are signing every single word in the sentence using the BSL sentence structures, body language, tenses, articles and grammar rules, they are not using BSL and do not count as bilingual. However, if parents are interested in their children learning another language then signing can definitely support this as is helps babies and children to form a bridge between languages. We use Makaton rather than BSL as we believe that it is easier and generally has more benefits for babies and young children, unless the child is deaf in which case BSL would be a better choice (see our "Types of Signing" section under the "Why Sign?" tab).
So if I take my baby to weekly signing classes, they should start using the signs from around 6 months onwards?
Yes and no. As with most new skills, you will get out of it what you put into it! There is no doubt that babies will likely start recognising the songs and signing along to them in the classes, and it’s fine if that’s all you want to do. However, if you want your baby to use signing on a day-to-day basis, you will need to put a bit more work into it. You wouldn’t expect to go to French classes once a week, never practice in between, and then be fluent within just a few months! If you want your baby to use signs in their daily lives and not just at the signing classes, you need to commit to using them as much as you can in your daily life with your baby, and ideally getting other members of the family to do so too. The more consistently you use the signs with your child, the faster they will pick them up and start using them to communicate with you. The classes are designed to teach you the signs in a fun and supportive way, help you to remember them and give you tips on how you can use them with your baby, while showing your little one that signing with you is both fun and rewarding. The rest, as they say, is up to you. To quote Mae West, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it!”