There’s often an overlap phase when signing and verbal language persists at the same time. Your baby will bridge between the two and use signs to clarify words that are difficult to say. Yes, in part, signing will continue out of habit, but this is miniscule when compared to the necessity signing still plays in your toddler’s life. Using your hands to talk is common to all adults too, so it is not surprising that toddlers will continue to use signs along with spoken words. Signing likely has an evolutionary origin which is why our hands are so busy when we talk (even before we learned to use signs). If you want to know exactly why a baby continues to sign or won’t, just think of the reasons that you sign. You might wonder what that last statement means – but you do sign. When you talk your hands move all over the place. You use them to colour your language and to add emphasis. You even use gestures to clarify when you are having problems finding the words and your baby will do the same.
Most babies will use signing just as long as they are useful. In comparison, talking is easy, quick, and efficient, so once your baby’s capacity to speak has caught up to the demands they place on communication, signs will take a back seat. Signing is hard work compared to talking, and toddler hands are busy so the first chance your toddler has to free them up, he’ll do so. Besides, signing only works face to face, and not everyone understand signs – your toddler is going to be quick to figure this out!
Unless you continue to sign with your toddler, signs will eventually be forgotten. Other babies will feel that they are primitive and drop them quickly on their own. Signs often continue with songs though, or you can catch babies signing with stuffed animals or dolls, or even while reading books, to your amusement.
There may come a time when your toddler has two separate vocabularies, one comprised of signs and the other words. Your baby may also refuse to learn new sign, preferring to focus entirely on spoken language, while others still will continue to eat it up learning new signs right alongside their verbal channel. The bottom line is that signs can only be so useful to a toddler. Spoken words are far more efficient and your little guy is going to need something much more powerful than signs to communicate especially as they wish to do more than just simply label the things around them.
When signs do persist, they are often used to emphasizing certain things such as when excited, or when your toddler wants to add an exclamation to a request. Picture a young toddler signing insistently coupled with verbal expressions as they work to get what they want. You know, just in case you didn’t hear them the first time! Just imagine a toddler demanding COOKIES or MILK when they’ve had too much already! Resorting to sign language when frustrated can help a toddler express themselves with enthusiasm. You’ll find that this is the case when dealing with emotions. So instead of throwing a tantrum or hitting, your baby might sign how they feel. Signs will give them an efficient and effective second method to translate their thoughts.
Above: Mom and baby talking about stuff!