Hesperian Health Guides

Understanding groups of signs

In this chapter:

After using single signs, a child begins to put signs together to express complete thoughts. By learning to combine signs to express complete thoughts, a child is on the way to using a full language. Putting groups of signs together is a big step for a child. It allows him to communicate more about the objects and people around him than just their names. At first he puts 2 signs together. Then he begins to use 3 signs — and, finally, longer groups of signs. He must first understand how other people do this before he can do it himself.

How to help your child understand groups of signs

1. When your child names an object or person, expand on what he says. Stress the group of signs you want your child to learn and repeat it several times.
A boy signing to his father beside a tree.
The man signs to his son, who copies him.
This is a big tree. It is a very big tree!
2. Watch for your child's response. Does he respond in any way that shows he understood? If so, praise him. If he does not respond, repeat the sign several times.
The boy then tries to wrap his arms around the tree.
That's right, a big tree.
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3. Use these signs as much as you can throughout the day. Encourage the whole family to use them too.
A woman signing to her son in bed.
Remember the big tree, Manop? Tell Mama about the big tree.
In this example the parents put together the name of an object ('tree') with a word that describes it ('big').

Knowing words and using a language helps a child develop his mind. When he knows words like ‘big’ and ‘small’, he can use those words to think and to express difficult ideas — like comparing one thing to another. See Chapter 7 for information about how language helps a child’s mind to develop.

To teach your child other groups of signs, try putting the name of an object or person together with:

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Auntie Vijaya
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A boy sitting on his mother's lap, who is signing and pointing to another woman across from them.
Look how you made
Auntie Vijaya laugh.
  • a word or sign that shows what a person or thing does.
A woman signing to her child in bed.
Now you can stay warm under the blanket, Adwin.
  • a word or sign that shows where an object or person is.
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A woman signing to her little girl, who is reaching for a bowl of food.
Do you want more rice?
  • a word or sign that shows wanting more, or for something to happen again.
A man signing to his son, who sits on his leg holding a bowl.
No, Salim, the sweets are all gone.
  • a word or sign that shows not wanting something, that something is all gone, or that something cannot be done.