Does Sign Language Slow down Actual Speech?

Updated on July 02, 2011
E.A. asks from El Paso, TX
22 answers

My daughter 16 months knows more sign than words. She signs milk,more,all done,bathtime,ball, and book. But she only says hi, dad, and mom (but rarely says mom) she said granma and granpa evry now and then (well it sounded like it so im not 100% sure)she does mumble and mutter and ooh and aah and sometimes tries to read aloud or sing lol in her own cute way but should I be concerned? Contact a speech therapist? Or just wait it out? Should she be speaking more words?

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone I feel much better! and she is also bilingual so maybe that takes part in her being sure before talking. I will mention it at her next appt and see from there

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answers from Chicago on

Actually, sign language has been shown to increase language. Every baby varies in their language, but she sounds just fine. Some are probably saying more, but some are definitely saying less.

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answers from Hartford on

Sign language actually increases your child's vocabulary and make them less likely to get frustrated due to language problems and inability to communicate. Small children such as your daughter understand far more language than they're able to express. Sign language helps to bridge that gap. She IS speaking when she signs.

If you believe her speech is delayed, have her evaluated though. It couldn't hurt. But sign language is NOT hurting her language and speech development. It HELPS.

EDIT: When I posted yesterday I was very short on time, so I couldn't add that we used signs for my Autistic daughter. She picked up signs very quickly along with very early speech, but she regressed with her speech and reverted back to signs. She's verbal but has her limitations, and some days are really bad and she's nearly completely nonverbal and will still use signs.

Having that mode of communication when she couldn't be verbal when she was much smaller was a lifesaver for us. It was still very difficult with other associated autistic behaviors, but having her knowing signs was a blessing.

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answers from Norfolk on

a good friend of mine did sign language with both of her daughters. They were both "behind" in speech (about 2 years old when they actually started to use words to communicate) but once they started talking, it was full run-on sentances. They had very few tantrums because they were able to communicate through signing before their non-signing peers of the same age were able to. I'm very lucky that both of my kids were early talkers, because I never started signing with them--but I can definitely see how beneficial signing can be for babies/toddlers. Keep up with it, your daughter will talk when she's ready (and then you'll be wishing she would just be quiet for a few minutes!)

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answers from Honolulu on

NO it does not slow down anything.
If anything, it provides ANOTHER way to communicate.
In fact, using the hands to communicate, aides, a person's thought process and helps them to figure things out.
It is like talking out loud... as one thinks.
This has been proven. I just read an article about it in a health magazine.

BOTH my kids, I taught them sign-language at 6 months old.
"Talking" time-lines, occurs early or later for some kids.
Each kid is different.

Kids this age, also do not enunciate well. They are still learning.

Now, my son from 19 months old until short of 3 years old, had Speech Therapy. Which I got for him via our local Early Childhood Prevention organization. They do an OVERALL developmental assessment on the child. My son was advanced in many areas, but in speech was speech delayed. And they also help with informing you, about the age periods of speech development so you understand it.
No kid, talks like an 8 year old, at 16 months old.
It is in stages.

BUT if you are concerned about your child's speech, then call the ECI in your area. I did not need to be referred by a Pediatrician. I called them myself. It is a FREE service.

Again, sign language does not hinder speaking/talking ability.
My son's issue, was not due to him knowing sign language. IN fact, the Speech Therapist SAID that teaching sign language is GOOD.

My daughter knew sign language, and she was talking before 12 months old.

My son is also bi-lingual. As well as my daughter.

There is no single 'cause' for when or not, a child talks, nor perfectly.
At each age, the acquisition for language ability, progresses.

all the best,

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answers from Springfield on

She's probably fine! If you are at all concern, mention it to your ped at the next visit. It sounds like she's doing great, cognitively, which is the most important part. The ped will know what questions to ask you to get a better idea of the situation.

My son is speech delayed, and our speech therapist encouraged us to do some signs with him to help him along in the process. He's about 28 months now and is still behind, but we're working with him. He'll get there, and so will your daughter.

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answers from Atlanta on

Your daughter 's use of sign language has probably empowered her in a way that allows her to effectively communicate thoughts that she could never express at her age. I am betting that she rarely melts down because nobody understands the concepts that she try's to relay.

When ours were young, they would sign "thank you" @ nine months. People in general would ask me if they were handicapped. Our eldest waited until she was almost two to really start speaking. Her vocabulary at this point is extensive with anticipation for really high scores on the SAT's this year.

Do not worry. Do not call in the speech therapists, especially if she is your first. You have done her a great service by allowing such fluid communication at such a young age!

Relax and enjoy the signing. :)


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answers from Cleveland on

no, usually signing facilitates speech, Just like it's easier to remember the words to songs if they have motions to go with it. I would mention it at her next check up but i wouldn't worry about it at all. Some kids store it all up and then bust loose with whole sentences. As long as she is responding to you and her receptive language is ok I bet she will be fine.

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answers from Jacksonville on

At his 18 month check up, our pediatrician referred us to Early Intervention because our son wasn't talking. The speech therapist we work with has encouraged us to use signs. My son is 30 months now. His speech is still delayed, but he is saying more and more words. He often uses the signs with the words to ask for things.

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answers from Chicago on

She should be speaking more words by now from what I recall. I think sign language only slows speech if you do not require them to speak/make sounds when signing. I would contact EI or ECI depending on what they call it in your area just to see if you are where you should be or how far behind or not she is.

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answers from San Diego on

I've done sign with all 3 and it didn't appear to delay them at all. The pediatrition said it counts as communication. I encourage them to use the word with the sign just as I do.

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answers from Victoria on

my daughter just turned 17 months and says about the same words (not grandma or papaw) but my son took forever to talk and he speaks well now. he is only three and learns new words from pbs and then uses them. i suggest wait it out.

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answers from Houston on

All that she is doing sounds about right to me.

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answers from Boston on

She sounds right on track to me, signing or not. My two youngest barely had 10 words at their second birthdays and they are super-chatty 5 & 7 year olds. Ask your pedi at her next well visit for his or her opinion so that you can be reassured, but I don't think you have anything at all to worry about!

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answers from Washington DC on

Never slowed down my DD. She may have actually communicated more because she had the vocabulary vs not telling us anything. I would keep working with her to make sure she can speak, but most 1 yr olds are pretty unintelligible. My DD is almost three now and signs much less, but her vocabulary is huge. One day when DD was much younger, a friend (who is a speech therapist) counted on her fingers and said, "Do you realize your daughter just rolled out a 5 word sentence and at this age 2 words is considered good?" I'd just keep an eye (or ear) on it and keep teaching her new words and signs. You may also find that if she's learning multiple spoken languages that she'll roll out whatever word she likes best in each language.



answers from Houston on

no, usually it helpsd their vocab & understanding once they start talking, you'll be surprised


answers from New York on

Your daughter sounds fine for 16 months. sign language always builds children's vocabulary. for those who have met kids who seem to speak slower when signing, could be they were slow to speak and that's why parents started the sign language. Being bilingual USUALLY means they take a few more months to start talking but they catch up!


answers from Raleigh on

Obviously I am not a professional, but from what I have seen, it really depends on the child and the parents. I know kids who have done sign language and then were behind with speech because they only wanted to sign. I have also seen kids that have been farther along with their speech because the signs helped them figure out what to say.

For your daughter in particular, mention this at her 18 month appointment, but many pediatricians will not advise you do anything until they reach 2. If at that point she is still behind, called Early Childhood Intervention for a free consultation!


answers from Redding on

My granddaughter, is 3 on Sunday, but was also taught to sign as an infant. She seemed to take a little longer to talk also, but it all evens out so I would not discourage teaching them to sign, I think it's a very cool thing. She talks like an adult now.



answers from New York on

I am a adovocate of getting therapy and not waiting but in your daughter's case, she sounds right on target. She is only 16 months old and has had the ability to sign much longer than the ability to speak, so that makes sense that she signs more than she speaks. Between 18-20 months is when kids usually have a big increase in words. I suggest you watch her and make sure she is increasing her words and how she uses them in the next few months. At 20 months if you don't think she is on track to have at least 50 words by age 2 (and not just lable words but words like yes, no, give, ect) and begin combining them then call Early Intervention. I don't think you have anything to be worried about at this point.


answers from Dallas on

Most babies I know don't speak a whole lot at 16 months. Your little one is fine based off of what you're saying. Some kids don't start speaking much until they are around 2.5 years old. Just give her time, and she'll probably surprise you with how much she can speak!

EDIT: My third child (daughter) didn't say much of anything at all until she was in her two's. And she started speaking with much better formed sentences than most her age. She is very articulate and says a lot more sounds for her age than many kids do. We didn't sign with her (did with our oldest), so it often has nothing to do with signing. Some kids just develop differently. And the fact that she takes longer to speak doesn't mean she's any less intelligent! My little one is a smart cookie and I'm always amazed at the things she can say and understand. She's very smart...and she wasn't speaking beyond what you're describing at 16 months.


answers from San Antonio on

I'm sure she's fine. My son learned sign language as a young baby and he is now 3 and WON'T STOP TALKING! He drives me nuts sometimes with his constant talking. He is a new 3-yr-old and he talks more than most 4 yr olds. No worries with your d.



answers from Joplin on

At age two my son was almost completely non verbal. The First thing the speech therapist suggested was adding son was very quick to pick up the signs and I was so happy to be able to communicate more clearly with him. Alex is 4 now and will talk up a storm, he still slips and signs sometimes, especially if he is eating he will still sign "more" I am so thankful that I was able to be open minded enough to go with signing as I know it paved the way for him to be able to communicate more with us. I do not see any issues with signing at all and I sure do not think it hinders actual speech.

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