How Long Does a Sign Last?


One of the questions that our Baby Signs® Instructors hear frequently from parents is how long a sign stays in a baby’s repertoire before the word appears. Of course, the answer is that it varies enormously. If the sign is substituting for a relatively easy word like “ball” or “more,” the word may appear relatively quickly. But even then it depends on the sound that the word starts with—“b” and “m” and “d” sounds being considerably earlier to appear than “j” and “l” and “sh” sounds. Of course, if the word is long and complicated, like “hippopotamus” or “alligator,” the sign is likely to stick around longer.

The answer to how long a sign is used also depends on what strategy a child tends to favor. Our government funded research revealed that some children use signs to free them to work on learning words for other things. For example, a baby who has signs for “dog” and “more” may be content to rely on them and make learning the words for “cat” and “all gone” a higher priority. In other words, these babies tend to hold on to their signs for quite a while, using them to increase the number of things they can talk about.

Other babies seem to use signs to speed up learning the word a sign stands for. In these cases, the word appears relatively quickly. The logic lies in the fact that the more frequently a baby uses a sign, the more often adults respond by saying the word, thereby providing more opportunities for the child to learn it.

So, there are lots of answers to the question of how long signs last—especially given that all these strategies can play a role in a single child’s journey from sign to words!

Happy Signing!

Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program and Professor Emeritus, UC Davis

For more information on how to get started with the Baby Signs® Program, visit our website, or contact us today.