Last Tuesday‚Äôs Independent carried a feature by Lucy Cavendish, mother of one-year-old Jerry, on ‚Äòbaby signing‚Äô: the idea that teaching and communicating with your (hearing) pre-linguistic child via sign language speeds their language development, enhances their IQ and allows them to communicate with you before they can talk. The UK launch of leading baby-signer Joseph Garcia‚Äôs new book also spawned a similar feature in the Guardian, in July, by Lucy Atkins, who also happens to have a baby. The baby signing idea has apparently taken the US by storm, and now, in time-houroured fashion, has come over here to Britain where we’ve got over 100 baby signing classes of our own.
From reading the movement‚Äôs UK website, I gather the idea is that babies have some latent linguistic ability before their vocal chords have developed, which they can tap into using sign.
In the spirit of the Guardian‚Äôs Bad Science column I did some database searches on Joseph Garcia and he doesn‚Äôt seem to have published any research on baby signing, at least not since 1985.
However, the baby signing website says there‚Äôs masses of research and cites a load of articles in support of its claims. Most of the peer-reviewed research that‚Äôs directly relevant (for example see free PDF here) seems to have been conducted by California based psychologists Drs Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. Have they got a vested interest? Well, they‚Äôve published over 10 popular books on the subject between them!
In 2003 the Royal College of Speech and Language therapists issued a statement that read ‚Äúit is not necessary for parents to learn formal signing such as British Sign Language for children with no identified risk of speech and language development‚Ä¶ The College is concerned that the use of signing does not replace/take priority over the need for parents to talk to their children”.