Baby Sign Language: breakthroughs and bloopers

Highland cow

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Anya has over 100 signs. She amazes me. On top of that she has ‘words’ (mostly sound effects) for another 20 or so things – most of those are for animals, food and things that go vrooom, really. Actual words are still few – four or five, perhaps, and those are all baby words, not full grown-up versions. Still that means that at 14 months she has a combined vocab of over 130 words. My favourite sound-word, at the moment, is ‘tata’ which is her attempt at bicicleta (bicycle in Portuguese).

My favourite sign? oh I have so many… I love that she has signed ‘Thank you’ when I gave her something and I think it is adorable when she signs ‘heart’ with added ‘thump, thump’ sound effect, but, I have got to say the sign for ‘balloon’ is sooo sweet, too, as she fills her little cheeks, blows and expands her hands out .

While I am proud of every one of her signs, I also laugh my head off when she gets them wrong. Recently it amused me no end that I gave her some humus and she did the sign for cow (yes, mama kind of said the word ‘moo’). I also like some of the word confusion like when I say sauce in Portuguese¬†(molho) she points at my eye (olho - in Portuguese!)

Signs she does get right include not only the obvious like ‘airplane’, ‘sheep’ (complete with ‘baaah’) and ‘peas’ but also more abstract concepts like ‘open’, ‘more’ and ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ (and she mostly gets those right – she signs ‘hot’ when her food is steaming… or when we walk by a fridge – it is a work in progress, but she does get that it refers to a temperature change). The whole process of learning is incredible to watch and I am ever so grateful to Baby Signs (which is basically ASL which some smart alecs had the insight of applying to pre-verbal babies) for showing me how much my child understands at this age. I suppose she would understand roughly the same number of words and ideas if she wasn’t signing but she wouldn’t be able to show me that she got it (like someone laid up in bed who can hear and reason, but not talk or write – aaarrggh)… although in truth it is likely that signs are also a catalyst propelling her to learn more and more, buoyed by her early success in communicating and, most importantly, getting what she wants, whether it is to be picked up, to eat raisins (in particular) or to tell mama there is a squirrel over there, in the distance. ¬†I swear I saw a light go on, over her head, when she realised she could get her needs met by expressing herself to those who love her.

I find myself particularly impressed by how patient Anya is with me when I misinterpret one of her signs – she’ll just point at the correct thing to help me figure it out or sign it again with sounds until I get it. She’ll also helpfully disambiguate signs that are similar. For example her sign for ‘all done’ (waving two hands) becomes ever so similar to her sign for ‘music’ (pretty much waving two hands). If we are at meal time and she starts waving her hands, I might say ‘you want music?’ and she’ll cleverly (if a bit frantically and desperately) start signing ‘wash hands’ and pulling at her bib. Oh, you are all done! The opposite is also true, if I guess ‘all done’ when she means ‘music’ she’ll helpfully point at the stereo while swaying her body side-to-side, so I get her meaning.

She is now doing two and even three word sentences – by combining signs and sounds. This milestone isn’t usually reached until the child is about 18 months, as I understand it, if they are not signing. Sentences, if you’ll allow me to call them that, include things like: ‘more’ ‘rice cakes’ (both signed); ‘where is’ (sign) ‘dada’ (sound); ‘book – baby – sleep’ (all signed) when describing the book with the sleeping baby on the cover; or ‘music’ (sign) ‘woof-woof’ (sound) when she wants me to put on the song about the doggy. She knows what she wants – and thanks to signs she can be very specific in asking for it.

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3 thoughts on “Baby Sign Language: breakthroughs and bloopers

  1. That’s so sweet! Baby sign is so much fun. :) My little cousin knows sooo many signs now. It’s fun to watch her use them. When she picks up a spoken word, she still uses the sign along with the word!

  2. Pingback: The other dada (or: when oh when will she call me Mama?) « The Blessing Tree

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