Most parents want to know exactly how long they will have to wait after starting a signing program for results. Namely, they want to know how long it will take for their baby to sign back. The length of time from exposure to signing, to signing back, is dependent on several main factors. The first and foremost is the age of your baby when you first start signing. To be specific, it’s not entirely dependent on age, but rather your baby’s developmental stage. However, this just so happens to be highly correlated with age. Therefore, as a baby gets older, they also become more advanced in terms of communication. A baby that is 4 months old could (in very rare cases) sign back after being signed to from birth, but a baby that is 10 months old, that has been signed to for 2-4 weeks is much more likely to sign back than is a 4 month old. A baby who’s signed to continuously from 8 months of age might still not sign back until they reach 10 months, but it’s also entirely impossible for them to sign back after just one month as well. Every baby is different, but the general rule is that your baby will sign back just as fast as they are able! The rule of thumb is that babies who receive signing instructions will usually sign back sometime after the 8-12 month mark with the first sign showing up 4-8 weeks after introducing signs regularly. The duration from first instruction to first sign is diminished as a baby ages, coupled with their general capacity to learn language.
The second condition to signing involves having proper motivation. A baby that has a low internal drive to express themselves due to their personality, meaning they are introverted, shy or reserved, or who has all their needs instantly met, will sign back later than a baby who is outgoing and extroverted who has to work to have their needs met. In other words, a baby will speak out to get the things they don’t yet have.
The third factor relates to a baby’s exposure to signs. A baby should be exposed to an individual sign from 20-30 times each day to properly absorb it. A baby that is signed to only sporadically or even rarely, will adopt signing much slower than a baby that is signed to nearly continuously throughout their day. The more signing a baby sees, the greater the chances they will pick it up. After all, a baby is just copying what he sees from his parents. Sign language is one of those things that needs to be consistently repeated over and over again to be effective. Babies who are exposed to a good handful of signs consistently, and in several different context throughout the day, will also tend to sign back faster. If you choose 5 signs, you’re probably going to choose at least one that your baby will really be motivated to repeat back to you. In the Fast Track To Signing Program, I advocate that parents start by signing just one sign in the first week, and turn it into a life focus, signing it as much as possible throughout the day. However, that being said, choosing 5-10 main signs which are used regularly throughout the day is the most casual and most common way to introduce signing to babies.
A baby will generally sign back about 4-8 weeks on average after being introduced to sign language. Then your baby will generally add a second and third sign each month or more on average. This is given that baby is at least 8-10 months old when they first begin. Some babies will learn faster than this, and other babies will learn slower than this. Older children, those in the 12 month plus category can take as little as 1 week to begin to sign back, whereas younger children, those in the 4-8 months of age range might take several months before they start to sign back. However, keep in mind that the earlier you start to sign with your baby, the sooner you will get results. Once babies reach about 15-18 months of age, they often begin to add a sign each day, or even several signs each day! This is called the signing explosion.