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Development Neurocognition Disorders

Themes and actions

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Team webmaster : Sophie KERN, Alice Catherine ROY

Baby sign and development of communication and language in hearing children

  Contact person
Sophie KERN , Lucie METRAL

Scientific framework and objectives

In the 1980s, Acredolo and Goodwyn found that babies spontaneously use simple gestures to compensate for the words they cannot say. According to them, the use of these gestures reduces the frustration of children, contributes to mutual understanding and thus the child-parent relationship is improved (Nathanaëlle Bouhier-Charles, 2013). They develop the “Baby Sign” which consists of accompanying the language addressed to the child with signs belonging to sign language in order to improve adult-child communication. The concept arrived in France in 2005, through Nathanaëlle Bouhier-Charles, founder of the association « Signe avec moi » and Monica Compagnys, author of numerous books intended for children to learn signs. The concept will take off in 2006 with the development of workshops throughout France. These workshops are intended for parents, but also for early childhood professionals, such as nursery professionals. The trainers and beneficiaries give very positive feedback on the use of this method. Although the scientific literature agrees on the importance of using gestures for the development of language and communication in children (Acredolo & Goodwyn, 1988; Goodwyn, 1986; Olson and Masur, 2013), this scientific literature fails to agree on the benefits of the Baby Sign on these developments. Some studies show that language acquisition is earlier (Bonvillian et al., 1983a, 1983b, Holmes & Holmes, 1980) while other studies explain that children reach important developmental milestones (first words, combination of words) at the same ages (Capirci, Montanari & Volterra, 1998; Petitto et al., 2001).

The project jointly developed by Sophie Kern (DDL Laboratory, Lyon) and Stéphanie Gobet (FoReLLis Laboratory, Poitiers) aims to provide some answers to the question of the effect of using Baby Sign with hearing children.


The proiect has several axes.

- The first axis concerns the use of Baby Sign in the nursery schools with hearing children. It is within the framework of this axis that Lucie Métral PhD takes place. The objective of the work is to evaluate the effect of the Baby Sign on the development of language in children and on adult-child interaction in the nursery school. For this, 8 nursery schools, divided into 2 matched groups were included. Each group is composed of approximately 20 early childhood professionals and 50 children. The professionals of the first group or control group are not trained in Baby Sign. Those in the experimental group are trained in Baby Sign for 2 days by the association Signe Avec Moi. The socio-demography and the language practices of the participants as well as the linguistic, cognitive and motor developments of the children of the two groups are evaluated by questionnaires and audio-video recordings and compared before the training, at 6 and 12 months after the training of the experimental group. The experimental group is filmed for 5 more days (2 days of training, 1 day in the crèche at 2 weeks, 3 months and 9 months after training) to allow a longitudinal follow-up of the communication between the participants. This thesis work will be complemented by a survey of nursery schools that use baby sign with hearing children. This survey will report on training received, practices put in place and feedback from trainees and parents.

- The second axis concerns the use of baby sign by parents with their hearing children and the evaluation of the role of practice on their language development. Parents practicing baby signs will be asked about their training, their baby sign practices and the advantages and disadvantages of using signs with their child. The language development of beneficiary children will be compared to that of hearing children without signs to measure a possible effect of signs on the development of communication. The practices of parents and children will also be observed through audio-video recordings of parent-child interactions during various activities.

- The third axis will focus on the longer-term effect of the baby sign on their communicative competence. The phenomenon of attrition of the baby sign in favor of vocal words will be examined in particular. To do this, surveys will be carried out within families when the children go to school.

- The fourth and last axis consists of a cross-linguistic and cross-cultural comparison of the practice of the baby sign. The training and practices of the baby sign in French nurseries will be compared to those of Italian nurseries. The comparison with Italy is particularly relevant for at least two reasons: Italian hearing children use quantitatively and qualitatively more gestures than French children and the practice of the baby sign in Italian nurseries is older and more widespread than in France.

  Financial support
  • Labex ASLAN

    Labex ASLAN - Université de Lyon
  • Allocation doctorale ED 3LA
    Evaluation of the effect of Baby Sign on adult-child communication and language development in day care centres
  • Fondation de Poitiers
    Baby sign and language and communication development
    Fondation de Poitiers

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