The development of successful communication skills during infancy and toddlerhood is an important element in child development (Nelson, White & Grewe, 2012). Thus, a commercially prevalent trend is teaching sign language to normal, hearing babies to help them communicate more effectively with people around them. In her book, Baby Sign Language for Hearing Babies, Karyn Warburton writes that all babies try to communicate by using their body language, facial expressions, noises, and cries before they can speak; as a result, teaching them sign language would bridge the gap between what they want to say, but unable to because of their slower articulatory system development. From another perspective, some researchers argue that there is not enough evidence that sign language would have the claimed benefits promoted by sign language websites that are simply marketing their products without solid evidence. In my opinion, sign language can help mothers and caregivers understand infants better, which would lessen tantrums and strengthen the bond between them.
According to www.babysignlanguage.com, research has proven that pre-verbal babies can communicate with sign language at six months old to express their needs and grow to speak earlier. www.babysignlanguage.com also claims that it is proven by empirical research that children who sign have higher academic skills and better relationships with their parents. Deaf infants have the ability to communicate with their caregivers early in their life because, as Warburton (2006) explains, babies’ gestures in a talking environment are not as significant and babies gestures in a signing environment. Also, it helps infants build up their concept of the world around them since they can express their curiosity about the world as well as comprehending information and data they receive.
From another perspective, Nelson et al., refer to the lack of evidence on the mentioned advantages of teaching sign language to pre-verbal children and examined the claims of websites that promote teaching sign language to hearing babies and verify the stated citations of research and evaluate it. The verification process, which was based on content analysis, shows that only eight researches out of eighty-two cited sources were empirical studies that evaluated the positive outcomes of signing babies. Although the websites mentioned the positive impact of sign language on babies’ reduced tantrums and increased bond between babies and their parent, no one research was listed on any website to support such a claim.
In my opinion, I believe teaching sign language to babies is fruitful from sides other than their language development. It is a form of play that is fun and would strengthen the relationship between mothers and their infants because it is fun to accompany gestures that are already produced by babies normally, like when they raise their both hands because they want you to carry them or hold them, with meaningful word utterances to help them express themselves or understand what their caregiver wants to tell them.
Nelson, L. H., White, K. R., & Grewe, J. (2012). Evidence for website claims about the benefits of teaching sign language to infants and toddlers with normal hearing. Infant and Child Development, 21(5), 474–502. doi:10.1002/icd.1748
Warburton, K. (2006). Baby sign language for hearing babies. Penguin.