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Signing Helps Parents Understand Toddlers' Speech

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There are many words that sound similar as my 18 month old is talking up a storm now. She is starting to mimic words so clearly, but there are many words that become clearer with signs.

Take for instance, my two year old nephew. Last night he was walking by me and signed “where’s” and then said "dobby." Uh, I was not sure if he was asking where the dog was or his dad, so I signed with a question on my face, “Where’s daddy or where’s doggy?” He then ran off as I saw his hand go up to his head. He was looking for his dad.

My daughter, at 18 months, is signing with her own approximation of the sign. Before ever trying to figure out which word she is trying to say, I try to get to know her structure of signing. Some signs look very similar, so when the words and signs sound and look similar, I need some extra clues to help me out.

For words that sound the same and signs that look the same, I use these three clues:

ask myself What’s the Context of the Situation

ask myself What is the Approximation of the Sign

ask her Which Sign are you Signing, asking for Clarification of Sign

For example, these are some of the words that sound Very similar in her vocabulary:

juice, rice, and cheese (sounds much like “choosh”)

The signs for juice and rice look very similar, shown by a big wave of her hand, first from high to low, whereas the sign for cheese is shown by her palm of one hand moving on her other arm.

For these three words, it’s a matter of recognizing what she may have just seen on the counter or in the refrigerator (Context of the situation), recognizing if it’s the big movement of the one arm in the air or if it’s the movement of the palm against her other arm (Approximations of signs), or the third clue is when I have used context and approximation of the signs and then ask “which one” (Clarification of object being signed).

The FOURTH important step is reemphasizing the sign. You can do this by saying/signing words such as, “good signing/good talking” (making sure to emphasize the sign of that word). Many times I find myself repeating a word after my daughter and then saying, "Good Talking." You can also ask your child to sign the word again as you repeat the sign.

Taking that extra step in emphasizing the word and sign can really help your child in his world of develop of speech and language! And it can help you too as you study the way in which your child speaks and signs the word for the next time.

Find out which clues work for you, and continue to enjoy the journey of communicating the many details with your children.

Written by Shawna Tran:

Photo by Skyseeker via Flickr


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