Bilingual Baby Signing

Publication: Jul 24, 2014

Inside: Bilingual babies sing language.

We have been using baby sign language with our first son, since he was about ten months old. I meant to start earlier, and teach more signs than I did, but even the 5 or 6 signs we’ve mastered have been incredibly helpful. And it’s much more pleasant than hearing a piercing shriek every five seconds. I didn’t realize how long it is that you have a baby or toddler who knows what he wants, but can’t say it yet!

Signs are so helpful because they give baby something constructive to do, instead of just hearing, “no screaming” (or grunting or squealing, or insert your child’s choice communication technique). If my son wants something really badly he just starts signing “more” and “please” and whatever other sign he can think of, because he knows it’s the fastest way to get something!

I think signing is perfect for bilingual kids, because it connects the two languages. In this video, he’s about 16 months. I’m asking about parts of his face, etc, but it does start with several signs:

Because we live with family, Janio hears a mix of English and Spanish, especially at the dinner table. We are all fascinated by his understanding of both languages, already. We will remind him to say, “por favor,” and he’ll sign it, and my mom will prompt, “say please,” and he knows exactly what she means. Phrases like please, thank you, or all done can be very abstract, so signing has been a great way to learn them in two languages. This article from SpanglishBaby refers to baby signs as a “bridge” between languages, which is a great analogy for the role of baby signing in multilingual households.

After writing this, I am motivated myself to go learn some more signs! Here’s a link to basic signs with good visuals. It’s so simple to teach signs: simply use the sign every time you say that particular word, whichever language you happen to speaking. No extra time for parents or baby, except the time you take to learn the signs yourself.

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bilingual baby signs

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Hey! I’m Elisabeth, a teacher and mom raising two bilingual kids in the Peruvian jungle. Read our story here. I love digging up the best Spanish resources for all you busy parents and teachers!

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3 Comments

  1. gah. so cute!

    Reply
  2. Great article! This is similar to what happened in our bilingual household with our sons. Baby signs really do seem to be a bridge between the languages.

    Reply
    • Thank you! We have loved them– now we just need to get back to it and teach some more. 🙂

      Reply

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