Making Sign Interesting to Watch

​ When we sign, we want our visual behaviors to match our message.

Facial expression, body language, and how we form signs – these all help!

Babies learning spoken language benefit when:

  • We talk to them in special ways.
  • We raise our pitch and talk slowly with lots of interesting inflection.
  • These changes make it easier for the baby to listen and learn language.
  • Scientists call this "infant-directed speech."

Babies learning visual language benefit when:

  • We sign in an “infant-directed” way.
  • When we sign, our eyebrows, facial expression and bodies replace pitch.
  • The eyebrows go up for a yes-no question.
  • Eyebrows furrow, or go down for the WH question, as our bodies lean slightly forward.
  • Your facial expressions convey the warmth in your voice (smile as you sign, "Big girl. Mommy likes that!)
  • Your facial expression let the child know you mean business ("You need to sit" + a neutral, non smiling face shows you need the child to follow your rule and not stand in the high chair). 
  • Your meaning and your facial expression should MATCH UP. 

Practice Visual Communication

Practice Example #1

The video below shows you how to sign "Mommy likes that." The first example has no facial expression. The second example is a good example of "infant-directed" signing. She uses facial expression to emphasize the meaning. Watch both and notice the difference.


Practice Example #2

The second example shows you how to sign "You need to sit." In the first example, we see the parent use a neutral (not angry) but firm expression.The way she signs shows that she means business. The second clip uses no facial expression. When there is little body language, the meaning does not come through clearly, right?


Practice Example #3

Notice the facial expressions and body language used to ask simple questions;

  • Want more cereal?
  • Do you want more milk?
  • See your sock?

Here are some adults asking questions and responding to a baby's communication signal. First, watch and notice if the adult is using facial expression to support communication or not.


The first model in the video above uses no facial expression. That makes it hard to tell that she is asking a question in sign language. The second adult shows how facial expression makes the message clear and interesting. Signing without expression is like talking with no voice inflection and that is not interesting to listen to. Signing without expression is not interesting to watch. Signs require expression!

Now notice in the examples that using facial expression and body movements make a big difference. The expressive adult leans forward and she raises her eyebrows to make it clear she is asking a question. Practice adding facial expression and body movements to your signing. This will help make your message clear and interesting to your child.

For more information, go to:​cess-tips.pdf