Myth-busting: Signing and gestures

February 7, 2024

This short blog clears up some myths and presents the facts about signing and gestures.

What are gestures? 

Gestures include actions, body language and facial expressions that we use to communicate something. We often use gestures like nodding our heads or shrugging our shoulders when we talk. From a young age, babies learn to point to tell us what they want. Using gestures, actions and body language gives children an extra clue about what we are saying. For example, we could spread our arms wide to talk about a ‘huge animal’. Children can also use gestures and actions to help them communicate their needs. 

What is signing? 

There are different types of signing. For example, British Sign Language is the most common sign language used by deaf people in the UK. It is a complete language that uses gestures, facial expressions and body language to communicate. 

There are lots of other examples of signing systems that can be used to support children’s communication skills, such as Makaton and Signalong. Usually, these would be taught under the guidance of a speech and language therapist. Makaton and Signalong signs are based on British Sign Language.   

Debunking common myths around using gestures and signs with children

Myth 1: Using gestures/signs will stop my child talking 

Actually, the opposite is true! Research has shown that using gestures and signs actively encourages the development of speech, language and communication skills. Gestures provide children with a way to communicate so can be helpful in reducing their frustration until they learn to say the word. 

Myth 2: I can’t use gestures/signs because I haven’t been trained 

Anyone can use natural gestures while talking with their child. Imagine how you would sign ‘drink’ – pretending to hold a cup to your mouth. Or ‘listen’ – cupping your hand around your ear. You can use gestures that come naturally to you and help your child understand the word you are saying. You don’t need to add a gesture for every word – if you’re saying, ‘Go and get a book’ you could just point or use a gesture for the word ‘book.’  

Myth 3: My child won’t be interested in learning gestures/signs 

Children are used to copying actions, such as in nursery rhymes (e.g. doing the action for a star in ‘Twinkle, twinkle’). They are often quicker to learn these actions than adults! However, it’s best to just use the gestures/actions yourself rather than putting pressure on your child to copy you. Using gestures will help your child’s understanding too – and many children will pick them up and use gestures themselves when needed.  

Myth 4: All parents/carers should use Baby Sign with their baby to help them learn to communicate 

For most babies and young children, there is no evidence of extra benefit from being taught specific baby signs. However, if your child has speech and language challenges, you may be advised by a speech and language therapist to use signs like Makaton or a different signing system with your child. The signs may be taught by your speech and language therapist, or you might be advised to attend formal training to learn specific signs as well as how and when to use them. 

What next?  

If you want to use more gestures with your child, follow these tips below: 

  • Use gestures that show the meaning of the word. The most helpful gestures for learning words are those that show what an object looks like or what you do with it. For example, holding your hands in the shape of a ball while you say “ball”, or doing a throwing action while you say “throw”. 
  • Use the gesture and say the word at the same time. This means your child gets to hear how the word sounds as well as what it means. 
  • When your child uses a gesture, show you’ve understood it by copying and saying the word that matches it. 
  • Make gestures part of your everyday conversations with your child. There’s no special time or place needed to use gestures with your child. Using simple gestures while you talk with your child throughout the day will help build their communication skills. 
  • Talk to your child’s school or early years setting so that you are sharing ideas and using the same gestures or signs as they do.  

Interested in learning more about some different signing systems?  

Have a look at some of these websites:  


Gesture as a window onto communicative abilities: Implications for diagnosis and intervention – PMC ( 

Capone Singleton, N. & Saks, J. (2015). Co-speech gesture input as a support for language learning in children with and without early language delay. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 22, 61-71 SGA22204_ 61..71 ( 

Marshall, C. (2007). The baby sign debate. Bulletin, July 2007. CM_Baby_Sign.pdf (