Baby Sign Language May Enhance Memory

Mom with Child MySigningTime.comOne of the many cognitive benefits to your child after starting early communication with baby sign language is an enhanced memory. Research has found that associating signs and actions with words help the brain to retain a stronger memory. For example, when a child learns a word in conjunction with a sign, they are more likely to remember and understand the meaning of the word. When babies learn to sign before they even hit a year of age, they start learning to remember the actions to communicate. This helps children remember words because there is a muscle memory involved. (Teaching Sign Language to Hearing Children as a Possible Factor in Cognitive Enhancement, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 1998 Oxford University Press)

The more senses that are involved in learning, the more likely it is to be committed to memory. According to Rae Pica of BAM Radio, “Children learn best through active involvement.” Baby sign language is active, using visual, verbal, and physical senses. All of these representations of information provide the brain with more opportunity to learn memorization early on, as it is stored in a variety of places in the brain. The ability to recall past events associated with a word or sign because easier and easier as a child develops that muscle memory. (1)

In studies done by Dr. Allegra Cattani, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, shows that people proficient in sign language seem better able to remember unnameable objects than people who don’t know how to sign. This is true for both deaf and hearing signers, which suggests that signing may put many demands on visual memory. “Learning sign language is a really difficult thing to do,” says Cattani. “The students of sign language courses need to learn how to use the visual space to remember the signs.”

Cattani and her colleagues recruited 91 participants: 31 hearing nonsigners, 20 hearing signers, 18 deaf nonsigners and 22 deaf signers. They then showed the participants a slide with two drawings on it. Some of the drawings were of everyday objects, like a foot, and other drawings were five-sided shapes without standard geometric names. The pictures either appeared on the left side of the slide – feeding information to the participant’s right hemisphere, or the right side of the slide, targeting the participant’s left hemisphere. In all cases, the participants only had a fraction of a second to view the images.

Afterward, the participants looked at another slide and reported whether the two drawings were the same two they had seen before.

The four groups of participants were equally good at recalling whether they had seen the familiar object before, but the people who knew sign language performed better than the nonsigners at remembering the abstract shapes. And while the hearing and deaf signers were equally good at recalling abstract shapes, they seemed to tap different sides of their brains to perform the task – with hearing participants registering images more accurately in their left hemispheres, which is associated with language processing, and deaf participants favoring their right. (2)

Signing Games for Memory

Print off pages the Insect ABC Flashcards from the TreeSchoolers Activity Pack

ABC Insect Flashcards

To set up shuffle the cards well and then place each card face down in 4 rows of 13 cards each. Each player takes a turn by turning two cards over. If the cards match, then the player picks up the cards and keeps them. If they don’t match, the player turns the cards back over and it is the next player’s turn.



Additional Resources:

Clibbens J & Cattani A 0 ‘Short-term memory for position and hemisphere advantage in hearing and deaf signers and non-signers’ Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research TISLR 8, Barcelona, Spain, 30/09/2004 02/10/2004

Cattani A 0 ‘Hemispheric preference in spatial and visual memory for circles, shapes and objects in deaf and hearing signers and nonsigners’ Presented at British Psychological Society, Developmental Psychology Section, Annual Conference: University of Plymouth 29/08/2007 31/08/2007


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