Baby language: Learn to understand your child with baby signs

The baby sign concept has been known in the United States for over twenty years and has been increasingly used in recent years in European countries such as Germany, Belgium, England and now also in the Netherlands. Communicating with very young children can be quite difficult if they cannot yet speak (properly). As a parent, you therefore have to guess what your child means and what his or her needs are. However, this can sometimes cause problems, misunderstanding and stress. Baby sign techniques are used by parents and caregivers as well as daycare centers and have proven to be very beneficial when communicating with young children.


  • What does the baby sign method entail?
  • How did the baby sign method come about?
  • Advantages
  • Baby gestures in 10 steps


What does the baby sign method entail?

You may have heard about the Dunstan method . This method is used by parents and caregivers with young children from zero to three months old, so that they know the baby’s needs and can respond accordingly. However, children generally do not start talking until they are one year or one and a half years old. Before that it is just chatter and it is unclear what the children are talking about. The baby gesture method offers a solution for this. Children at that age are cognitively ready to communicate: between the ages of six and nine months, children’s brain functions are already sufficiently developed to perceive and observe their own environment. The baby sign method is therefore also suitable for children from six months old. Research has shown that children from that age on could produce gestures to communicate their needs to others. By using baby sign techniques, you as a parent or caregiver can find out what the child is doing.
Through the baby sign method, children learn at an early age that words or gestures are linked to actions and objects. In addition, the children learn that the same gesture or word can be used in different situations. For example, the gesture for more can be used for eating, but also for playing. It starts with learning the gestures that represent basic needs such as hunger and sleep. The vocabulary can then be expanded with words such as girl, car, book and even strawberry and avocado. It is important to always pronounce the actual word, so that the child also gets to know the word verbally. It is ideal to start when the baby is around six months old, but earlier or later is also fine. Research has shown that teaching baby signs to children from 24 months old also leads to an advantage in language development compared to non-signing children who are 24 months or older.

How did the baby sign method come about?

The founder of the baby sign method is the American sign language interpreter Dr. Joseph Garcia. He discovered in 1970 that the children of deaf people were much more likely to communicate their needs to their parents than children without deaf parents. Joseph Garcia began research into the possibilities and consequences of using sign language in babies with non-deaf parents in 1987. This research resulted in children from six to seven months old who regularly come into contact with sign language from the age of eight start talking at the age of nine months. Garcia later began developing a simple sign language that parents can use to communicate with their babies. He published a book about this in 1994, called Toddler talk . This book is so popular that it has been reprinted several times. It has been known in the United States for some time and nowadays the method is also being introduced in European countries such as the Netherlands.
This method was introduced in the Netherlands by Lissa Zeviar, who was born in Canada. Sign language is her mother tongue, because she learned this language as a child of two deaf parents. She grew up in the deaf community and later worked as a sign language interpreter in America. In 2004 she came to the Netherlands where she quickly mastered Dutch sign language. She ended up in the Dutch deaf community and discovered that baby sign techniques were not yet known in this country. This gave her the impetus to start the Baby Signs company in the Netherlands in 2005. She made full use of her experiences as a child, acquired from the deaf communities and as a sign language interpreter in America.


The method has a number of major advantages, namely:

  • Crying fits reduce drastically (because he is understood faster and better).
  • Biting behavior is greatly reduced.
  • The child becomes happier through good communication.
  • Parent (caregiver) and child have a closer bond.
  • It is a good bridge for the child from understanding language to producing language.
  • The learned gestures also help children to express what they are interested in and not just what their basic needs are.
  • Children who have used the baby sign method can communicate with deaf and hearing-impaired people.
  • The method can be learned through play and therefore makes it enjoyable for both parent and child.
  • Signing children learn to talk faster. This is because the language acquisition process is initiated early.
  • When the children are toddlers, they will show less negative behavior. Normally, this negative behavior occurs because toddlers do not yet have the vocabulary to express themselves appropriately. Children who have previously learned baby sign techniques are less affected by this. This saves frustration for both parent and child.
  • Research has shown that signing children are ahead of non-signing children in reading, writing and speaking later in life. This gives the signing child a good head start in development.


Baby gestures in 10 steps

  1. Start simple with just one or two words. You must keep repeating this until your child has mastered the gesture. It is best to start with a word that your child can use often, such as ‘hunger’.
  2. Use gestures and words together. Gestures should support the verbal words.
  3. To repeat. This makes the gesture and word better remembered.
  4. Use objects for illustration. This way, learning signs becomes easier. For example, you can point to objects while saying the word and gesturing.
  5. Help your baby sign. Grab your children’s hands to demonstrate the gesture so that they learn motor skills better and faster.
  6. Use the gestures throughout the day. This also supports remembering the gestures.
  7. Be flexible.
  8. Make sure your baby makes signs himself.
  9. Be patient with your child. Learning signs takes time.
  10. Make sure that learning signs is and remains fun. When your child performs a gesture, reward him or her for it and encourage your child. This keeps him or her motivated.

Here is a video with examples of baby sign language. Please note: this is an English-language video. Here is another video of a mother showing different signs and also showing how she teaches her child signs.

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  • Baby language: Learn to understand your baby with the Dunstan method
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