Welcome to our Frequently Asked Questions page! You'll find answers to all sorts of baby signing questions below - whether they're for baby signing in general - or whether they're about TinyTalk's classes. Just click on any to see the answer to that question. And don't forget - if you have a question that isn't answered here - please contact us, and we'll do our best to answer it.
What is baby signing?
Baby signing is pre-verbal communication with your child: using visual clues (signs) before they can talk. These signs help babies make sense of the words that they hear as they look at things around them. They also begin to use them to tell you just what they want or what they are thinking about.
Baby signing gives children a way to express their needs before they are physically able to form spoken words. It gives them a structure on which to build their development of the spoken word.
How does baby signing work?
There is so much for the babies to understand at the beginning: that objects have names, that these names can be represented by a hand shape (sign) and by a sound coming out of your mouth when you shape your mouth in a particular way (word!) The link between the real object, the sign and the spoken word needs to be established first.
Then you can begin to gently ‘mould’ their hands into the shapes to help them make the signs. They then need to realise that they can give you a message when they make the hand shape (which they quickly realise is powerful stuff and what a great game!) Once ‘the penny has dropped’ you can then introduce other signs to them.
When can my baby learn to sign?
You can start at any age, the sooner the better! This will make signing a natural part of your everyday communication. Your baby will begin to show understanding of baby signing, and make their first attempts, from around 6 to 9 months.
Your baby will begin to understand signing when:
They can focus on shown objects, together with you. (This is known as connected gaze)
They begin to respond appropriately (even with just a twinkle in the eye or a glance) to questions such as “Where’s daddy?” “Oh! There he is!” (You can also play games such as 'Peek-a-Boo' with them to develop this further.) (This is the first indication that your baby is beginning to acknowledge that specific objects have specific names- ‘vocabulary’)
Your baby will start to sign back when:
They can do clever things with their hands such as pick up small objects, pass things from hand to hand, clap or wave bye bye! (These actions show that their fine motor skills are developing well!)
What are the benefits of baby signing?
A baby's first attempts at words (usually around 12 - 18 months old) can be unclear as the co-ordination of their breathing, tongue, mouth and vocal cords continue to develop and strengthen.
However, at around 6 to 9 months old babies realise that things have names (vocabulary) such as ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’, cat, book, door etc. They also have better control of their hands to be able to make signs.
Baby sign language bridges this wide gap. The TinyTalk Signing Pack contains 150 Signs, related to the first words that babies say and the names of objects around them at home and out and about.
Are the baby signs useful to them once they have stopped?
Yes. Many young children continue to use the signs either when they are really tired last thing at night or first thing in the morning and they want, for example, some milk.
Signs can also be used when they are trying to reinforce a message to you, usually because it is urgent, for example, because they really want their food NOW (!) or because they are really excited, for example when they see lots of ducks in the park! If a little brother or sister comes along too…
It is wonderful for strengthening the bond between siblings (and makes big brother or sister feel very important too!!)
How long will it take for my child to pick up baby signing?
Babies can sign back with understanding as early as 4 to 6 weeks later. All children develop their skills (whether it be swallowing, sitting up, crawling, walking or using the potty- or using signs or talking) at different rates. The older the baby when it starts to sign, the quicker it will take to understand and sign back.
After they have signed back meaningfully, other signs can then be introduced, a few at a time. These will be learnt much more quickly and a wide range of vocabulary developed.
What baby signs should I start with?
You can sign many things to your baby but make them relevant to your baby's world. Your baby should be able to see each object at the same time as you give the sign and the spoken word for each one. However explicitly teach, several times each day, just one or two signs, such as ‘milk’ and ‘food’.
Will baby signing stop my child from talking?
No! Quite the opposite.
Many people believe that a baby signing will become a lazy baby that may rather use its hands and not its voice to communicate. However it is not only human nature to want to verbalise thoughts to each other but young children just love the sounds of their own voice!
When babies first begin to make signs back to you they will also make attempts at words. These utterances will become more refined with their natural speech development.
For example, the ‘b’ speech sound usually comes before the ‘f’ sound: ‘food’ may be said as ‘boo’ at the beginning. As long as you understand each other that’s all that matters. Speech sounds develop with the development of vocal cords and the coordination of the muscles of the mouth, throat and tongue.
The children get a taste for communicating and they just want to do it more and more. When children realise that they can continue to use their hands to play with their toys and are still able to tell you what they want with their mouths, the signs naturally fall away. Signs are still used when the children are tired or if they want to emphasise their message.
Would BSL make it more difficult for a child to learn a 2nd spoken language?
When at least two other languages are being used at home, sign language is excellent in these circumstances! Not only is it a ‘stepping stone’ in language understanding for babies before they can talk, it also acts as a visual ‘bridge’ between the two oral/ aural languages. For example the sign for cat (your fingers being whiskers from the sides of the nose outwards) can be used whilst saying either ‘cat’ in English or ‘un chat’ (if the second language is French).
It will help the baby to see that ‘cat’ and ‘un chat’ actually refer to the same object with the whiskers!! There can be different signs in different countries so I would pick the ones that are the most gestural and iconic (i.e. look as much like the actual object or action as possible).
What if I start signing with my baby – but she doesn’t continue signing at her nursery?
I remember when my son, Harry, started signing. He was also attending a nursery for a couple of days a week. I discussed the matter with the nursery staff who were more than happy to accommodate my requests and to support my signing endeavours. (This was many years ago when people did not know much about baby signing!) I gave the nursery a Signing Pack and made sure that the manager and Harry’s class group all knew what to do with him. This meant not just recognising the signs that Harry was making (and responding appropriately) but it also meant making the signs with him in their everyday interactions with him. As Harry’s vocabulary repertoire widened I kept the nursery fully informed. In fact the nursery staff were so impressed by Harry’s signs, how much he understood and his attempts to speak that the staff asked for me to train them all in baby signing. We therefore produced our TinyTalk Nursery Training Programme to ensure that all nurseries across the country could be offered a consistency of standard. Maybe your baby’s nursery might also be interested?! Now all the children at Harry’s nursery have the opportunity to learn baby signing and to communicate their needs.
My son is 20 months old and still can't say any words. Is it too late for him to start baby signing classes?
Please don't worry if your son is a late talker. It may well be that he was an early walker? Children obviously develop at different rates but if you are concerned at all, please do not hesitate to speak to your health visitor. They will be able to advise you and refer you to a speech and language therapist if they feel that there are any early language difficulties which do need to be addressed.
It is definitely not too late to start baby signing classes since signing can be beneficial for children of your son's age in helping them to communicate words they are yet unable to say clearly and also help you to identify words that they are beginning to verbalise so that you can model the word clearly for them.
My own two children are like chalk and cheese. One was very motivated to communicate early. The second was far more motivated to be able to catch up with her big brother! In fact she is still not that motivated to communicate as her brother does all the talking for her, including translating any grunts, screams etc, letting me know exactly what she wants! She doesn't have to try too hard!
However her signing has still been an excellent help and a precursor to her speech. When I was having trouble understanding her attempts to say 'hat' to me the other day, she signed 'hat' with her second attempt. Aha! I knew what she wanted and dutifully handed it to her! She also surprised me the other day at the shops. She wanted to be out of her buggy and was toddling around when she suddenly called out 'b!' 'b!' as she signed 'bird' with her arm outstretched towards the pigeon that had just landed near to her. It was the first time she had signed 'bird'.
Babies and young children need a good reason to sign: it needs to be relevant and meaningful to their world and their interests. Often the first signs that they communicate to you are not necessarily the ones that you would expect.As you teach them lots of signs, the babies and children are soaking them all up like little sponges!
And it's always good to remind ourselves that just because they the babies are not yet talking or signing back to us, it doesn't mean that we should stop talking or signing to them. It's all going in and it should all come out one day and amaze us!
Is it alright to have more than one person teaching my child?
It is very important that every adult and older child that interacts with your baby learns baby sign language. For the baby, this means that they will see the signs more frequently and this will help them to make the connections with the words and objects. For the adults and siblings, it is important that they are able to recognise and understand the signs your baby is forming so that they can respond to them and interact with your baby.
Which sign system does TinyTalk use?
TinyTalk use over 100 British Sign Language signs. Some have slight modifications to make them simpler for babies (such as the roof of the house with both hands used for ‘house’ rather than the first two fingers of each hand ‘drawing’ the roof and then the walls).
We also use one sign from American Sign Language as the sign is considerably easier for little hands to master: the sign for ‘milk’ (in a bottle as opposed to breast milk). The BSL sign for ‘milk’ uses 2 hands, both with thumbs sticking up, little fingers sticking down and middle fingers tucked in. The hands then move up and down in turn as if milking a cow. The ASL sign uses one hand (whichever hand is dominant) in an open fist shape which then ‘squeezes the udder’. This is often the first sign mastered for its simplicity (and the importance of what it represents!)
How are TinyTalk classes different to other baby signing classes?
TinyTalk classes use BSL - British Sign Language and our founder and teacher-trainer is BSL-accredited - enabling everyone to not only communicate with their hearing baby, but also start communication with the Deaf Community.
TinyTalk classes, unlike many others, also combine signing with singing - making the classes more fun and helping babies learn signs more quickly. As parents ourselves, everything we do is with parents in mind:
The classes are suitable for 0 to 2 year olds. Even newborns are most welcome! Children over 2 years old can also attend at the discretion of the class teacher.
We sing familiar, well-known songs
We charge only once per family (not per child)- i.e. that twins, triplets etc. are not penalised!
The classes are lots and lots of fun with a structured but relaxed atmosphere
Katie Mayne, founder of TinyTalk and trainer to all our class teachers, is also a Teacher of the Deaf and a mother of 2 pre-school aged children. She also has BSL levels 1 and 2, the TEFL qualification of teaching English as a Foreign Language, qualifications in music and theory of music, experience in the role of Music Coordinator for a number of schools and an indepth knowledge of English teaching and learning, particularly in language acquisition.
Find out more about how TinyTalk classes are different here >
What age should I start baby signing classes?
You can start TinyTalk classes from birth. It's a great way to make baby signing a natural part of your early communication with your child. Your baby will show understanding of signs from 5 to 6 months onwards. This is when they realise that we give names to objects. They will also be able to start making signs from around this age when they show that they can clap, wave bye bye etc.
Many mums enjoy our classes from a very early age with their little ones because it gives them a chance to learn all about baby signing themselves before they teach it to their children. The babies also love the music and the very kinaesthetic element of TinyTalk classes. (Of course we fully involve them in all the signs- but we also fully involve them in all the songs, such as through lots of tickles, facial massages, wiggles and clapping!)
And, last but not least, everyone enjoys the 2nd half hour of TinyTalk classes- the social and support half hour. This means play time for the little ones (or just quietly sharing a book together with your baby) and a coffee and chocolate biscuit for the mums. This time is really important to find out in more detail how and why baby signing works, discuss progress with the other mums, give each other top tips etc.- or you can just have a good old chin wag! As we all know, having a baby is hard work! It's great to be able to talk things over with other mums.
So - it's never too early to start baby signing and it's never too early to start TinyTalk classes!
Why do TinyTalk classes combine signing with baby singing?
Singing is a very natural and fun way to introduce language to babies. We believe that music enriches our lives. Singing is fun! Through singing and making music, language skills can be developed as well as mathematical, musical and analytical thinking skills too. Even social and co-operative skills can be improved!
At TinyTalk, our singing and signing classes are full of fun, action packed songs with lots of movement and percussion instruments. Even very young babies enjoy listening to the music. Many of the songs include tickles or ‘massage’ movements which heighten their sense of the music as well as the closeness with their parent/ carer.
Do we talk when we are signing in TinyTalk classes?
It is always important to say the word at the same time as showing the sign so that your baby can see your mouth moving and hear the strange sounds coming out! Babies love copying, from sticking their tongue out to clapping, waving and also making attempts to say the words.
How can I help my son's nursery to teach him to baby sign?
The nursery can either purchase their own pack or DVD. These are both sold on this website so you might want to draw their attention there.
The programme was designed after many nurseries contacted us saying that they needed training. This was because they were receiving children who were signing and needed to know what to do. The other reason was that the government's guidelines for the education of pre-schoolers (the 'Early Years’ Foundation Stage') includes the use of sign language. Using baby signing can meet many of the designated targets. Nurseries are therefore very keen for training.
Why do you use BSL rather than Makaton?
At TinyTalk we use British Sign Language (BSL) as our signing system in our classes. BSL is a recognised sign language in this country and the first language of the British Deaf population. Makaton uses the South East regional signs of BSL from the early 1970’s. It is not varied across the country nor changed over time as it is a specific, specialised system of signs that are used with children and adults with communication difficulties. Interestingly, at this early level of language (of common nouns and adjectives) the differences between BSL and Makaton are very slight. The signs that babies make develop in accuracy as their motor skills mature. By using BSL as our signing system we feel that it also encourages greater interaction and integration between hearing and Deaf communities within the UK.
How long has baby signing been around?
Signing with deaf children has been around since the 17th century when Dalgarno invented a finger spelling system. In the 18th century, both in Britain and in France, some Teachers of the Deaf used signing in their teaching. However the conference of Milan in 1880 passed a motion that the oral method was to be preferred and signing was subsequently stopped. Signing began to find favour again in education in the late 1960s.
Since signing with deaf children began, signing with hearing children has also occurred. The first hearing children to benefit from signs being used in their communication were those of deaf parents. This is very common. Hearing babies of parents that are either both deaf or where one is deaf have often raised their children bilingually: to be able to communicate with them both, through both sign and speech. Hearing siblings of deaf children who sign have also been introduced to signs from an early age. It is only recently that these findings have been researched and the benefits for the wider public of hearing babies has been considered.
Where did baby signing originate?
Signing Deaf communities of every country have used signing with their little ones to help them understand the world around them and give them a means of expressing themselves. Hearing babies born into Deaf and hearing families (for example a Deaf dad and a hearing mum) have been brought up bilingually, both through speech and sign.
Time and again these children have understood what their parents were saying first through sign and communicated back first through sign. Most of the research into using it with hearing babies has been conducted in the UK and the USA. Baby signing programmes, such as that developed by TinyTalk, are delivered throughout the UK and Ireland.
TinyTalk uses British Sign Language (BSL in their singing and signing classes as they are recognised language in their own rights, very easy for babies to use and also allow everyone to begin to communicate with Deaf people of the country. Many teachers have BSL qualifications and are also developing their knowledge and understanding through further training. Many parents and carers that attend the singing and signing classes are also very inspired to learn more.
What are your top baby signing tips?
All is revealed in the TinyTalk Signing Pack! - which you'll find in our shop. It contains over 150 signs that are taught in our baby signing and singing classes across the UK and Ireland.
It is fully illustrated, with clear instructions and photographs to help you make the correct signs. It also tells the who, what, where, when, how and why of baby signing. The Pack is also spill-proof! Alternatively the DVD is also award-winning!
The most important thing to remember is to have lots of fun! We learn when we’re relaxed and open to new experiences. The other top tip is to ‘stick with it!’ Don’t give up. The results won’t be instant but your efforts will be more than repaid when your child begins to understand the world around them.
How many people in the UK use BSL?
Over 70,000 profoundly Deaf people in the UK have BSL as their first language. A further 150,000 use Sign Language to communicate alongside English or another language.
How suitable would TinyTalk be for the parents of a newly diagnosed profoundly deaf baby?
The classes would be very appropriate indeed! One baby was diagnosed as profoundly deaf after a few weeks' classes with us. The consultant was delighted that the child had already been introduced to signing and was therefore less delayed in her language than she would have been otherwise. The common myth is that signing may delay speech. The opposite is in fact true. Signing offers a way into language. Spoken language 'hooks' onto it. This is applicable for both hearing and deaf children.