The transition from signing to speaking is typically very organic. Every time you sign, you have been saying the word at the same time, so your child has been learning the words and wants to imitate you. This will naturally lead your child to start talking and as they start talking, they gradually rely less and less on signing and start relying more and more on talking as their default mode of communication.
In just the same way that a baby goes from crawling to walking, there is generally a transition phase of a few months where the child is doing both, but once talking is mastered, signing is generally reserved for special occasions such as when the child is trying to emphasize something.
Signing typically helps a child learn to speak, during the transitional phase. In the early days of talking when your child’s words are hard to understand, the accompanying sign will help you decode their words and thus increase your child’s confidence in their speaking. It is also conceptually easier for a signing child to talk, because they have a more highly developed understanding of how words work and how to string them together.
In most cases, there is no need to prompt the transition to speech and we recommend letting your child make the transition at their own pace. You can help encourage the transition by praising your child when they use words.
But, if you feel like signing is becoming a crutch for your child, you can encourage speaking by asking the child to say the word when they make the sign. If they just make the sign for a word (for example, duck), you would prompt them “say duck.” At first you should be very lenient about your standards for pronunciation and should praise any effort to speak. But, as your child improves you should keep raising the bar.
Thank you for letting us be your guide over the last week as you start your Baby Sign Language journey. Please keep in touch. We love hearing about your successes and learning from your setbacks. You can always email me directly at [email protected]. And you can be part of a bigger conversation on our vibrant Baby Sign Language Facebook Community.