We had such a good experience signing with our first child that I decided to fully document my second child’s signing progress and her transition from signing to speech.
0 to 7 months
With my first child, we started signing the moment he was born. His first sign was around 10 months and he was a proficient baby signer by the time he was 18 months old. With my second child, we intended to start signing immediately as well, but somehow life was a little bit fuller with two kids instead of one and we ended up only signing very intermittently. However, since the general advice seems to be to start signing consistently at 6 months, when my daughter turned 6 months, I started doing my best to sign more regularly. In the beginning it seemed like she wasn’t paying any attention, but within a couple weeks it became clear that she was very interested in knowing the labels for things. Whether or not she showed interest simply because I started labeling things for her or if it was because she hit some threshold age where she became mature enough to understand, I don’t know, but at 7 months it is clear she is very interested in signing.
I’m not entirely sure she is signing anything yet, but I have in her baby calendar that she can sign “music”. If it weren’t for my experience with my son, I would have no idea that she was trying to say anything. We have a CD player in the nursery in our house and whenever I turn it on, I sign “music”. It wasn’t until my son had been signing for a month that I realized that every time I walked into the nursery holding him, he would start flailing one arm wildly to tell me music. When I finally caught on, I felt like an idiot, because I had been conscious of this behavior for a couple weeks, but didn’t make the connection. He was about 11 months old. My daughter is only 7 months old and I’ve noticed that about half the time, when I turn on the CD player, she starts waving one arm back and forth the same uncoordinated way he did. The reason I am not entirely sure if she is legitimately signing is because 1) she does it equally as often for no apparent reason and 2) she won’t do it when I say the word “music” like my son would at 11 months. However, I am confident that even if she hasn’t fully made the connection yet, within a week or two, she’ll get it.
While “music” is the only sign that she is actually capable of making the motions for at the moment, using signs has made it very clear to me that she understands words. If I make the make the sign for “milk” and say our word for nursing (“nummies”) she will immediately stop crying and lunge face first toward my chest. If I am not holding her and she is fussing, if I say “up, up, up” while holding my arms out to her, she will also usually stop crying and look at me expectantly waiting for me to pick her up. Here are some other ways we have been signing with our daughter in the past month that illustrate her growing understanding of the human language.
1) She is fascinated with ceiling fans. Whenever I catch her looking at fans, I sign and say the word for “fan”. To reinforce this concept, sometimes when we’re at home, I’ll turn a fan on and off again demonstrating the sign for her. The way I know that she is understanding is that if I say and sign the word “fan” she will almost always look up. This works whether we’re at home or at a restaurant or somewhere else unfamiliar. If I tell her “fan” and she’s paying attention, she’ll start looking for one.
2) One of her other favorite hobbies is eating. With my son, we made a big deal about signing “eat”, “more”, and “all done” while feeding him. However, our feeding method with our second child is much more unstructured than with our first, giving us less opportunity to use these signs in this context. Since I’m frequently preparing food while holding the baby, I often give her tiny pieces of food while I’m holding her. Half the time she is already trying to grab the food anyway, but the other half the time she usually has her eyes glued to whatever her older brother is doing. In the beginning, I struggled to get her to pay attention to me long enough to understand I was trying to offer her something, but since I started consistently signing and saying “eat” whenever I put anything in her mouth, she now whips around to see what I have every time she hears the word “eat”.
3) We have also introduced a number of animal signs with our daughter. We use signs for her toys (“giraffe”, “turtle”, etc.) I also put calendar pictures of animals on the wall that she likes to look at (“wolf”, “gorilla”, etc.) She likes these wall pictures so much that when she starts crying while someone else is holding her, I tell them to go take her to see the “wolf” and she’ll usually stop complaining and start smiling, even laughing sometimes, especially if they say “wolf” and make a howling noise. The way I know she is starting to understand these signs is that if I put a small selection of toys in front of her (“hippo”, “tiger”, and “turtle” for example) and ask her to touch one of them, she gets it right more than half the time.
7 to 8 Months
Here are some new ways we’re effectively communicating with our daughter the past month in addition to the ways described before:
1) There is a desk lamp next to our bed that I use for reading. One morning, while she was lying in bed with me, I started signing light and then turned the light on and off, telling her “light on”/”light off”. I am absolutely sure she understands this word at least in this one context, because she will immediately look to the desk lamp if I sign “light” for her. Unfortunately, at the moment I can wave around wildly at the ceiling to try and draw her attention to those lights as well, but she hasn’t seemed to make the connection that a “light” is anything other than this one object.
2) I have of course been using the sign for “dog” with our daughter since we have a dog. Recently I was reading a book to my older son with my daughter sitting near us on the floor. When I said the word doggie, she immediately started patting her leg. I wasn’t sure if it was just a coincidence, but then a little later I said the word “piggie” while reading the same book and again she started patting her leg. While I’m not 100% sure, I’m pretty sure she was responding to the word, though obviously not sensitive yet to the distinction between “doggie” and “piggie”. Since then I have been more consistently signing dog for her whenever we do anything with our dog (feed her/let her out/etc.) and she seems to be using it pretty consistently too. She still won’t sign on command though, so it’s hard to say for absolute certain, but I’m pretty sure she knows “dog”. Recently I think she may have even been trying to snap (we use the pat and snap sign for “dog” in our house).
3) On Thanksgiving Day, which is also right around the 8 month mark, our daughter started very clearly signing the word for “milk”. A fluent ASL speaker would have no question about what she was doing the movements were so precise. However, I’m not sure if she was actually signing milk since she was doing it so often without any apparent desire to nurse. If anything, it seemed like she might be trying to wave at all the people given how many new faces she saw that day. Or maybe she thought everyone was signing milk to her when they were saying hello and goodbye, so she just decided to tell them milk back. It’s been a little over a week, but she now seems exceedingly happy and proud when she makes the sign and I offer to let her nurse, even if she’s not really hungry, so I think she knows what it means.
8 to 9 months
There hasn’t been much change during the past month except for the loss of the sign for “milk”. She seems to have realized that it’s more effective to pull at my shirt and make complaining noises than to politely sign “milk” like she was doing before. However, during the past week, she has started doing several new signs or noises to indicate the names of animals. We have pictures of animals from old calendars all over our walls. She has always gotten extremely excited whenever we paused to look at one of the pictures, but just recently she has started doing more animal signs in addition to her leg pat for “doggie”.
1) Fish – She clearly waves her hand around in a very deliberate way whenever she either sees a picture of a fish or here’s the word, “fish” or “fishie”.
2) Monkey – She makes a noise that is kind of like “who” for the monkey picture. My 3 year old son says she’s making an owl noise, but she clearly thinks she’s making a monkey noise.
3) Wolf – She holds her hand in front of her face and/or makes a high pitched noise whenever she sees the wolf (her favorite).
4) Gorilla – She uses open hands to pat my chest when she sees the gorilla instead of closed-fisted beating her own.
5) Dragon – This one is actually our humidifier and not a picture, but she makes a really cute “haaaa” noise for dragon and sometimes puts her hand in front of her face. The sign I have been showing her uses one hand to illustrate a dragon breathing fire and I frequently make a quiet combination “ha”/roaring noise to accompany it.
9 to 10 months
I really think I’ve been slacking off the past month on my signing. I’m resolving to do better in the coming month. However, she has had some improvement this month, despite my lack of effort.
1) Potty – When I signed potty at her once, she kind of waved her fist back and forth in imitation. Later, when her brother was going potty, she made the sign again.
2) Eat – She brings her fist to her mouth repeatedly.
3) Frog/Bird – She is making motions for both frog and bird, but they look identical. Instead of pointing her fingers outward she points them inward. She basically flaps her hand such that all her fingers touch her mouth.
4) Clapping – It’s not really a sign, but she also learned how to clap this month and is very, very pleased if you say the word “clapping” to acknowledge her efforts.
10 to 11 months
Her signing and talking have really taken off this month. She clearly understands that everything has a label now. In the beginning she seemed over-joyed every time someone understood her, but now she’s growing to expect it. Today we were at the grocery store and she started doing her flappy frog/bird/duck sign, which usually means frog. I asked her if she saw a frog and looked around. Sure enough, there was a stuffed Easter frog about 3 feet away. It’s the first time she’s really called my attention to something I didn’t already know about and I was pretty darn impressed with myself for getting it right. She wasn’t though. She just stopped signing it, like, “okay, FINALLY you get it.” Anyway, here are a few of her new or improved methods of communication.
1) Turtle – wiggles her thumb
2) More – claps instead of putting her fingertips together like the ASL sign
3) Ball – claps instead of showing the shape of a ball like the ASL sign
4) Wolf – says “owwwww”
5) Cow – says “ooooo”, like “moo”, but without the “m” sound
6) Hi –Waves and says “hi”
7) Mama – says “mama” or “mamamamama”
8) Daddy – says “dada”, “dad”, or “daddy”
9) Bear – rubs chest with one hand instead of scratching with both hands
10) Shower – Does something similar to milk, but up high (really not too bad an approximation of ASL sign)
11) Panda – Waves hand in front of face with fingers in awkward position, definitely attempting ASL sign
12) Noodle – makes a funny “diddle-diddle-diddle” noise
13) Baby – Clasps hands together and moves side to side
14) Cat – Makes a “meow”-like noise that sounds more like “mmm-ow”
15) Nose – Touches the nose of whoever is holding her
11 to 12 months
This month she continues to be extremely interested in communication. She’s really gaining control over how she produces sounds and because of this is already starting to try saying words rather than signing. For her older brother, signs dominated until he was 18 months, while with her I think words are already starting to dominate. However, I still feel that the signing we do with her is extremely useful, because it reinforces the vocabulary that she already knows and is learning. She also had her first complex two word sentence this month . She’s said things before like “Hi, Dad” and “Numa num, Mama” (translation: “Time to nurse, Mama”), but at about 11.5 months she handed me a toy that was supposed to have balls with it and said, “up”. She does this frequently throughout the day, so I knew she was asking for “help”. I said, “How do you want help?” and she said, “Up…bow”, which I knew to translate to “Help…ball” or more clearly, “Hey mom, where are the balls for this thing? Help me out.” I’m extremely grateful for the word “help”, because every time she starts to get frustrated with something, I’ll say, “Do you need help?” and she’ll immediately calm down, say “up”, and look at me expectantly. My husband was also impressed because he took her for a walk and she started saying “mow” (rhymes with cow) repeatedly, which is her word for cat or meow. It took him another couple minutes to spot the cat it was so far away.
1) Baby – Can very clearly say “baby.” Applies to dolls, other babies, and herself.
2) Night-Night – Repeats “nigh-nigh” back to us. Unclear if she knows what it means since she doesn’t usually willingly go to sleep.
3) Nursing – Says “numa numa” or some similar variation.
4) Hat – Says and signs “hat” perfectly
5) Ball – Love to say ball (and play with balls), but it sounds more like “bow” with lips puckered at end
6) Lizard – Sounds a lot like her word for noodle. Kind of like “diddle” or “liddle”.
7) Turtle – Also sounds like “diddle”, but maybe with more of a “t” at the beginning
8) Bear – Says and signs “bear”, but the “r” is silent
9) Yay – Claps and says “Yay”. Will do this spontaneously when someone sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
10) Blow – Can say “bow” and blow out a candle
11) Belt – Tries to say belt when touching Daddy’s belt, but “L” is silent.
12) Elk – Tries to say elk when she sees the calendar picture of an elk, but again, “L” is silent
13) Uh-Oh – Says “uh-oh” perfectly. The first time was copying mama, but one day later says it appropriately when she drops something.
14) Wee – Says “wee” when she goes down a slide
15) Bib – Says “bib” perfectly and spontaneously when she finds a bib.
16) Beep – Touches people’s noses and says “beep”
17) Ear – Says “ear” with a silent “r” and points to people’s ears
18) Egg – Tries to say egg.
19) Help – Says help frequently throughout the day when she wants something opened or taken apart. Sounds a lot like “up”.
20) Up – Says “up” very clearly when she wants to be picked up or go upstairs.
21) Down – Says “dow” for down when she wants to crawl downstairs. Never asks to be put down.
22) Apple – Says “ap” for apple, which also sounds a lot like “up”.
23) Nana – Can say “nana” for her grandmother
24) Mimi – Can say “mimi” for her other grandmother
25) Pop – Can says “pop” for her grandfather who we call Grandpop
26) Dishes – Signs “do the dishes” very well when I showed her the sign while doing the dishes. Also tries to say dishes.
12 to 14 months
What can’t she say now? I still use signs to reinforce words all the time, but she has definitely shown a preference for attempting to say words. However, she will attempt the sign if I’m clearly not understanding her meaning. For example, the other day she was nursing, then looked at me and seemed to say “die”, but it was stretched out almost like two syllables, “die-eee”. “Daddy?” I said. She repeated her word, but this time waved her hand in a very deliberate way. “Daddy went bye bye?” I asked. Seemingly very annoyed with me she took her hand and shoved at my chest, clearly telling me to put her milk away. “Ohhhh,” I said, “You’re all done!” I was rewarded with a huge smile and a look that said, “Yes! Now you get it.”
I think I probably will not do another update until she’s 18 months old, unless she starts doing something very specific and unexpected over the next 4 months, but here’s a list of what she can say/sign as well as a description of exactly what it is she does or says. This list does not include all the words which she clearly understands, but doesn’t yet effectively communicate.
|36||Yeah||x||x||whole body nod|
|41||Dance||x||whole body wiggle|
|50||Eye||x||x||points to eye|
|52||Nose||x||points to nose and says "beep"|
|75||Frog||x||same as turtle|
14 to 18 months
My daughter is 18 months today and regularly says 2 word sentences. For example, right now she’s wandering around the house saying, “Kitty, are you? Tweet! Finder.” (translation, “Kitty, where are you? (I have a) Treat! Find her.” – The last bit is instructions to herself, I assume.) Now that she’s found the cat, she’s giggling and saying “Chaser.” (Chase her.) I’m not going to make a list of all she can say, because I’m sure I’d forget more than half the words she uses. Her vocabulary must be at least a few hundred words. Not only does she know a large quantity of words, but she can actually more or less pronounce complicated words like “triangle”, though she said “triang-wheel” for a while, and hippopotamus, though when she says it, it sounds like two separate words, “hippo – (pause) – potmus”. Don’t get me wrong. She still sounds like a 1 year old. Her “L’s” and “R’s” are barely existent and she has the cutest little lisp, but she’s working very hard to communicate, and she’s doing a very effective job, in my opinion.
I really think signing and all the attempted communication we did at such a young age has helped her vocabulary develop as much as it has, but I will also acknowledge that genetics may play a role. My mother-in-law likes to brag about how advanced my husband was at a young age (supposedly even more verbal than our own chatterboxes). Regardless, I’m extremely glad we signed with both our kids. It’s amazing to be able to have two way conversations with someone so small. I felt like I had my first real, meaningful conversation with my daughter when she was about 16 or 17 months old. We were looking for the scoop for our dog’s food, which our daughter likes to play with and lose. I asked her if she knew where it was and she said, “Scoop?” I said, “Yes, where is it?” She said, “Doggie?” I said, “Yes, the doggie’s scoop. Do you know where it is?” She said, “Couch?” I said, “Did you leave it on the couch?” She said, “Yes! Look, look!” and went running off. Then she came back and I said, “Was it on the couch?” She said, “Nooooo.” I said, “Where is it?” She said “Car?” I said, “No, it’s not in the car.” She said, “Bedroom?” We went on like this for a while until eventually we located the missing scoop. Even though I’ve participated in countless little exchanges like this, it’s always amazing to me what babies and toddlers are capable of understanding. Without a way to communicate with them, I might have never known.
Click here for more Baby Sign Language resources.
Parenting Books on Signing
Homemade Fun with Babies and Toddlers
Life with a Baby
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