The Baby Sign Language Flash cards and DVDs claim to help grow your child’s vocabulary by having your infant learn basic sign language words. The company recommends infants begin learning sign language when they are about six to eight months. The Baby Sign Language website claims that the benefits of learning baby sign language are fewer tantrums, a closer bond between parent and infant, a more intelligent infant, and more fun. Baby Sign Language states that learning sign language as an infant causes less tantrums due to the child’s ability to more efficiently communicate to their parents. The company also states that easier communication helps the infant and parent create a closer bond. In terms of intelligence the company claims that children who learn baby sign language have an average gain of twelve or more IQ points, a larger vocabulary, better grades, and the children learn how to read earlier.
According to the textbook, Development in Infancy, by Marc Bornstein, Martha Arterberry, and Michael Lamb, there are limitations to how infants can learn. The first limitation being that when infants are learning from a visual stimulus, like the Baby Sign Language flashcards, the infants attention is very hard to keep. If the infant cannot keep its attention on the stimulus, then the infant is unable to accurately perceive and respond to what is being learned. Another limitation is that it is possible that baby sign language cannot be learned through classical or operant conditioning due to the fact that not all stimuli can have a stimulus-response association. So it is possible that the association between the sign and the meaning of the sign is not within the infant’s learning ability. Habituation is also a problem in terms of infant learning. When an infant is repeatedly exposed to a stimulus, they focus less and less attention on it. In the case of the sign language flashcards, the cars would have to be shown frequently in order for the infant to learn the sign and its meaning. This frequency of exposure could lead the child to be uninterested in the flashcards, which could potentially impair learning. Limitations in infant learning diminish over time, but at the ages of 6 to 8 months these limitations can still be present.
Parental interaction in teaching can be very beneficial. The Baby Sign Language company recommends that sign language be taught by a parent. Development in Infancy discusses how when the attention of a parent is on a stimulus, the infant has a better understanding of the stimulus.
The Baby Sign Language company states that its claims are backed by research, but the studies it referenced used infants that were older than their recommended start age and had questionable methodology. In doing my own research on infant sign language I found results that conflicted with The Baby Sign Language company’s claims. The article “To Sign or Not to Sign? The Impact of Encouraging Infants to Gesture on Infant Language and Maternal Mind-Mindedness” found that infants who learned baby sign language were no different than infants who did not in terms of language development or intelligence. Although, the infants who did learn sign language were able to communicate more efficiently with their parents. This longitudinal, year long study used 40 mother-infant dyads, in which the infants were 8 months old. The dyads were randomly assigned into either the symbolic gesture (SG) group, the British Sign Language (BSL) group, the verbal training (VT) group, or the nonintervention control (NC) group. The mothers in the SG and BSL groups were given instructions and packages for how to sign ten different gestures. They were instructed to sign as often as possible at their homes. They received new gestures when their baby turned 12 months. The VT group was instructed to use words rather than gestures. At the end of the study the infants were evaluated using The Oxford CDI (which assessed the development o vocabulary), Gesture, Actions, and Pretend Play Checklist (which assessed infants use of communicative gestures), and the Preschool Language Scale-3 UK edition ( which assessed use of effective communication).
In conclusion, Baby Sign Language seems as though it is not an effective way to boost your child’s vocabulary, reading ability, or intelligence. However, it does appear that teaching an infant sign language can improve the infant’s communication skills. It is still unclear as to whether this improved communication can create less tantrums or increase parent-infant bond due to the lack of research on the subject. I think it would be beneficial for more research to be done on infant sign language, as the current studies have small sample sizes and typically only have educated mothers from high SESs participating.
Bornstein, M.H., Arterberry, M.E., & Lamb, M.E. (2014). Development in Infancy (5thEdition). Psychology Press
Benefits of Baby Sign Language. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://www.babysignlanguage.com/basics/benefits/
Kirk, E., Howlett, N., Pine, K. J., & Fletcher, B. (. (2013). To sign or not to sign? The impact of encouraging infants to gesture on infant language and maternal mind-mindedness. Child Development, 84(2), 574-590. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01874.x
[Mother teaching infant sign language]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cdn2.momjunction.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Techniques-To-Teach-Sign-Language.jpg
Research on Baby Sign Language. (n.d.( Retrived February 16, 2017, from http://www.babysignlanguage.com/basics/research/