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Does using sign language really accelerate a child's ability to speak?

I am considering teaching my 8-month-old sign language, and I can't sneeze without finding resources extolling the virtues of sign language for babies (most of which use subjective arguments, like easing you baby's frustration). However, I worry that signs could end up as a "crutch", and might hinder my daughter's verbal speech, and maybe even hinder her communication in general (verbal or nonverbal).

Are there any actual studies showing that teaching babies sign language is helpful? Even a study that concludes it doesn't hurt would make me feel better.

  • sorry - I don't know any studies, however, from anecdotal evidence: we used sign language training with our first. He learned to speak really quickly so we kind of gave up on signing with our second child at about 1 year. We never signed at all with our third and she took ages to learn to speak (but we think it is because she managed to communicate her needs to her siblings really well and they brought her anything she needed - so her motivation was probably lower) - admittedly she is now the chattiest...in conclusion: it doesn't appear to have any obvious cause/effect in our family:-) – Rory Alsop Nov 10 '11 at 10:32
  • @Sarato, please see the question I linked. There are a couple of references identifying benefits of sign language, and one anecdote of a problem a user ran into with teaching his children sign language (although the problem was not one of it actually hindering communication). In general, it seems that, at worst, sign language doesn't provide much advantage unless there is a need to diagnose a speech disorder (per HedgeMage's answer). At best, it appears that it can be helpful in accelerating speech (per Marie Hendrix's answer). – user420 Nov 10 '11 at 13:03
  • This should probably be asked on skeptics SE – user3143 Nov 10 '11 at 16:12
  • 1
    There is already a similar question on skeptics SE that has at least one comprehensive and well-referenced answer. The focus of the question isn't exactly what you are looking for, but maybe the answers provide you the information you are looking for? – user420 Nov 10 '11 at 17:31