|Will baby signing
discourage my baby from learning to talk?
Absolutely not! In fact, in a long-term study of
Baby Signs funded by the National Institute of Health and
conducted at the University of California, we found the exact
opposite to be true: Using Baby Signs actually makes it easier for
babies to learn to talk.
When we compared children who had been encouraged to use Baby
Signs with children from the same areas who had not, we found that
the Baby Signers consistently scored higher on standardized tests
of both receptive language development (how much they understand)
and expressive language development (how much they can say).
- Brain development
Communicating requires thinking, planning, and
decision-making (e.g., “Hmm, is that a bird or a duck?”).
Each one of these activities stimulates the developing brain
in important ways that benefit the child the next time around.
Because Baby Signing enables children to communicate at
remarkably young ages, Baby Signers enjoy a “jump start”
in the development of the neural substrate of language.
- Baby Signs “pull” verbal language from
When babies use Baby Signs to call attention
to things, adults quite naturally respond with lots of
appropriate words (e.g., “Oh! You see a kitty! That’s
right! That is a kitty! That kitty looks just
like our kitty, doesn’t it!”). And we know that the more
language a baby hears, the faster language acquisition
- Baby Signs enable a baby to pick the topic
We all find it easier to learn about things in
which we are really interested. With Baby Signs at their
disposal, babies can direct their parents’ attention to
objects they find fascinating rather than just listening to
labels for things their parents think are
- Baby Signs are fun!
Just as learning to crawl is so exciting that
it inspires babies to learn to walk, Baby Signing whets a
baby’s appetite for even better ways to communicate. In
other words, the motivation to learn to talk actually increases
rather than decreases when you encourage your baby to
communicate with Baby Signs.
Baby Signs ® Bibliography
Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (1985).
Symbolic gesturing in language development: A case study. Human
Development, 28, 40-49.
This article presents the story of our first
"Baby Signer," Linda’s daughter Kate who
began to spontaneously
create symbolic gestures when she was about 12 months
old. These were "sensible" gestures (like
sniffing for "flower" and arms-up for
"big"). We then made it easy for her by
modeling other simple gestures for things in which she
was interested and followed her progress in terms of
both gestural and verbal development.
Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (1988).
Symbolic gesturing in normal infants. Child Development, 59,
Readily Available in Libraries
Our goal in the two separate studies
described in this article was to learn more about the spontaneous
development of symbolic gestures by infants. Was Linda’s
daughter alone in doing so (see Acredolo &
Goodwyn, 1985) or were other babies as creative as
Kate? The answer was extremely clear. Although Linda
was a bit disappointed to learn that Kate was not
totally unique, she quickly became excited to see that most
babies create at least one or two such symbolic
gestures and that some children, like Kate, create
many. The article also describes (a) relations with
verbal development, (b) the sources of the gestures in
the babies’ everyday lives, (c) and gender and birth
Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (1990). The
significance of symbolic gesturing for understanding
language development. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals
of Child Development (Vol. 7, pp. 1-42). London: Jessica Kingsley
Publishers.Readily Available in Libraries
This invited chapter provided an opportunity
for us to review the role that symbolic gestures,
including formal sign language systems such as ASL,
seem to play in the development of verbal language in
hearing children. We describe many classic case
studies (e.g., Holmes & Holmes, 1980 and Prinz
& Prinz, 1979) in addition to our own work and
identify common denominators among them. The final
discussion addresses the question of whether certain
early milestones of language development (e.g., first
true symbol, first two symbol combinations) are more
easily achieved in the gestural than in the verbal
Susan Goodwyn and Linda Acredolo, (1993).
Symbolic gesture versus word: Is there a modality advantage for onset
of symbol use? Child Development, 64, 688-701.
The results reported in this article represent some
of the earliest findings from our NIH-sponsored
longitudinal study of the impact of purposefully
babies to use symbolic gestures. The goal was to shed
light on a hotly debated topic: the degree to which
gestural symbols represent an easier entrée into
Linda Acredolo, L. P., & Goodwyn,
S.W. (1997). Furthering our understanding of what humans understand, Human
Development, 40, 25-31.
Readily Available in Libraries.
Because we had done so much work in the area
of children and symbolic gesturing, we were asked by
the editor of this prestigious journal to write an
article commenting on the other work presented in the
issue – wonderful research done at Emory University
on the use of gestures by chimpanzees. We were
particularly thrilled when a picture of one of our own
"Baby Signers" was used for the cover of the
Susan Goodwyn and Linda Acredolo (1998).
Encouraging symbolic gestures: Effects on the
relationship between gesture and speech. In J. Iverson
& S. Goldin-Meadows (Eds.) The nature and
functions of gesture in children’s communication
(pp. 61-73). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Readily
Available in Libraries.
This invited chapter provided an opportunity
for us to summarize our program of research on
symbolic gesturing, from the earliest work with Kate
to the results of our NIH-sponsored longitudinal study
of the impact of gesturing on verbal development.
Linda Acredolo, Susan Goodwyn, Karen Horobin, and
Yvonne Emmons (1999). The signs and sounds of early
language development. In L. Balter & C.
Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.), Child Psychology: A Handbook of Contemporary
Issues (pp. 116 – 139). New York: Psychology Press.
The editors of this volume asked us to do
more than simply summarize our research findings. We
were delighted to accept the challenge. Our goal in
the chapter was to show how the results of our studies
of symbolic gesturing shed light on important and
still unresolved questions in language development:
Why does comprehension of language generally precede
production? Why is vocabulary growth so slow in the
months following the first word? What accounts for the
frequently observed phenomenon called the
"vocabulary spurt?" What developments
underlie the beginning of the "two word"
stage? In the final section of the chapter we
challenge researchers to begin using symbolic
gesturing as a tool to explore other important
developmental issues, issues that have traditionally
had to await the onset of verbal language (e.g.,
longterm memory for events, concept development,
abstract thinking, emotional knowledge). As an added
bonus the chapter includes nearly a dozen vignettes
drawn from our data and chosen to illustrate the
creative ways babies use Baby Signs.
Susan Goodwyn, Linda Acredolo, and
Catherine Brown (in press). Impact of symbolic gesturing on early
language development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior .
This is the article in which we present the
most important findings from our NIH-sponsored
longitudinal study of the impact on verbal development
of purposefully encouraging infants to use symbolic
gestures. Standardized tests of both receptive and
expressive language development had been administered
at 11, 15, 19, 24, 30, and 36 months to both an
experimental group of babies (Baby Signers) and two
control groups. Results demonstrated a clear advantage
for the Baby Signers, thereby laying to rest the most
frequently voiced concern of parents – that Baby
Signing might hamper learning to talk. In fact, the
good news is that Baby Signing actually facilitates
verbal language development.
L. P., & Goodwyn, S.W. (July 2000). The long-term impact of
symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. Paper presented at
the meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies, Brighton,
The WISC-III was administered to subjects
from our NIH-sponsored longitudinal study during the
summer following completion of second grade. Much to
our surprise and delight, the results indicated a
significant 12 point advantage for the children who
had been encouraged to use Baby Signs during their
second year of life (Mean IQ = 114) over the children
who had been in the Non-Intervention Control Group
(Mean IQ= 102). The advantage held for both the Verbal
and Performance Sub-scales of the WISC-III.
Brie Moore, Linda Acredolo, & Susan
Goodwyn (April 2001). Symbolic gesturing and joint attention:
Partners in facilitating verbal development. Paper presented at
the Biennial Meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development.
Using video data collected in their
federally funded, longitudinal
study, the researchers looked to see whether the Baby Signing
experience stimulates development of the ability to actively direct an
adult's attention to something in which the baby is interested.
Called, "joint attention," this ability is known to be an important
contributor to learning to talk. Much to the researchers' delight, the
Baby Signing babies were indeed found to engage in more joint attention
episodes with their mothers than did non-Baby Signers during laboratory
play sessions at 19 and 24 months. Moreover, the effect held
independently of linguistic skill, indicating that Baby Signing itself
was a unique contributor to the joint attention scores. These data are
important because they help explain why Baby Signing babies tend to
learn to talk earlier than non-Baby Signers. The study may also help
explain why the Baby Signing experience has been found to have a
positive effect on IQ at age 8.