You might think naively that signing has come to its logical end once words are being used. However, signs are still going to play an important role as your toddler transitions into speaking. Your signing efforts, though, are really going to make their final payoff as your baby works to add difficult to say words. Usually your baby’s first words come out sounding only vaguely like the real thing and now’s the time to ask your baby to clarify what they mean. As your baby starts to talk, you want to encourage any and all efforts they make just as you have done with signing. If your baby is dropping a lot of their signed words and you don’t understand what your baby means, then just ask them specifically to use their signs. You could also play “twenty-questions”, but I’d prefer to just get right to the point and signs will help you with that. Why beat around the bush when you can just say “I don’t understand. Can you do the sign for me please?”
Above: Mom, he wanted GARLIC, not CARROTS! In this video you can see how the vocalization my son makes is ambiguous and so too is his sign, but between the two of us we figure out what he wants. Often the context is the cue when signs look similar, but sometimes a toddler can still leave you guessing!
This raises and interesting point though. When your baby used both spoken words and signed words, and they’re different from one another, you should always favour the signed words. Your baby has been using signed words for much longer than spoken words so he’s likely to be using them correctly. You will also want to watch other clues to meaning such as pointing, reaching and associated body language. Whatever verbal approximations your baby does do, be sure to applaud and reward it, but don’t ever feel like you need to adopt their pronunciation. Just as you did with sign approximations, reward their early efforts, but continue to say the words correctly. Just as you did with signing, repeat the spoken words back to them and the sign to indicate to your baby that they have been heard and understood.