Key Word Signing

What is Key Word Signing?

As a speech pathologist, I find that parents are often on the lookout for ways to support their children with their communication skills and language development. One tool that can be helpful when it comes to supporting your child’s expression and communication is Key Word Signing. Have you heard about Key Word Signing (KWS), or considered using it with your child?

When you think about “signing” what comes to mind? There are many misconceptions when it comes to using Key Word Signing, including the big concern of “Will my child use sign language instead of talking?”. In this Blog I will discuss what ‘Key Word Signing’ is, provide details on the main differences between it and Signed Languages and answer a few of the questions you may have.

What is Key Word Signing?

Key Word Signing is where spoken English sentences are used with key signs (often borrowed from Auslan) to support the communication and language development of children. We emphasise key information, while talking in English, with a sign! Signing can help children communicate with others if they have speech or language difficulties. It can also be used in conjunction with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices and tools. Some adults use Key Word Signs to support their communication too!

Many of us already use our hands to communicate! Think about the gestures you already use to add meaning to your spoken sentences (pointing, waving). Gestures are movements made to express ideas and feelings, and are used across many languages. Children often gesture and point, and there is a link between gesture and speech in communication development. Key Word Signing can be used to take this one step further as you use your hands in a specific way each time to support spoken words. Each sign has its own meaning.

Wait, am I teaching my child another language?

Not if you’re using Key Word Signing! Key Word Signing is not it’s own language (it uses spoken English). A big difference between Key Word Signing and a signed language is that Key Word Signing uses spoken English words with signs. Signed languages are their own unique languages, used without spoken English.

I’ve heard about Auslan, is Key Word Signing the same thing?

Auslan is the majority sign language of the Deaf Community of Australia (Australian Sign language) and encompasses Deaf culture and values. Auslan is its own unique language – it is not the same language as English and is not the same as Key Word Signing! Auslan has a different word order when compared to English, and different signs compared to other signed languages (think ASL – American Sign Language!). We need to be respectful of the Australian Deaf Community as we borrow signs from Auslan to support spoken English.

Why would I use Key Word Signing?

The theme for Speech Pathology week in 2021 was: Communication is everyone’s right! Communication is a basic human right, and is more than just speech alone. Key Word Signing can be a useful tool in breaking down communication barriers and fostering a positive environment for language development. Signing and speaking at the same time can help children (and adults) communicate more effectively by making them clearer and easier to understand.

You may find Key Word Signing useful in:

  • Reducing communication frustrations and barriers to participation! Key Word Signing can be useful when children are difficult to understand or use few words to communicate. A child may be able to use a sign when upset or frustrated to reinforce their spoken message.
  • Providing a visual to support and reinforce spoken information and instructions, especially on-the-go, out in the community, or when other visuals (e.g. pictures) may not work.
  • Highlight the main (key!) information in spoken sentences. This may be used to reinforce a target word (e.g. stop), encourage requests (e.g. help), or to support routines (e.g. finished).

How do I learn Key Word Signing?

Key Word Signing involves your child, their family members, and their support networks learning key communicative signs that are important to your child and family. You also practise signing and speaking at the same time. Families are encouraged to speak with their Speech Pathologist or attend a workshop to learn more about Key Word Signing or to learn how to sign.

Where can I find out more?

If you or a family member are interested in learning more about Key Word Signing please feel free to contact us at A Growing Understanding, or visit the websites below:

Click here to learn more about Key Word Signing from Key Word Sign Australia.

Click here to learn more about Auslan and the Australian Deaf community.

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