Why Signing “More” Is Actually Less

Jaclyn Zarling, M.S., CCC-SLP

Why signing “MORE” really can be LESS…

If you had one word that you could use or say to get all your wants and needs met, would you?  Do you think you would bother to learn any of the other more specific words if this one word worked and got the job done?  Probably not, right?

This is my opinion of the reason why I do not teach my children and therapy patients to sign the word “More”.

If my main reason to teach sign language is to focus on using a means, which is developmentally appropriate, while teaching children that they can have some control and power over their world and other’s actions then I want to make sure that they learn that one sign or action does not work for all needs. 

If they can use the sign for more to represent getting more objects (food, toys, etc) as well as more actions (making a toy turn on again, making me tickle them again, making me sing again), will they then only learn that this one sign/action has the power to request everything? Furthermore, will they then work hard to learn other signs and words?  Perhaps not!

Those of us who work in the field of Speech and Language think of Language Development in terms of function and form.  When we consider function we are evaluating how we use language in a variety of categories.

We use language to…

  • Ask/request for objects (“Cookie, please”)
  • Ask/request for actions (“Tickle me”)
  • Label objects (“Cat, Dog, ball”)
  • Label actions (“Run, jump, sleeping”)
  • Comment (“I see airplane”)
  • Question/ ask for information (“what’s that?” “Who is it?”)
  • Ask for termination (“all done”)
  • Ask for recurrence (“more, all done”)

It is important that all children develop language and use language in all of the above communicative functions listed.  We want a child’s vocabulary to extend across all these categories.  For example, I want my two year old to be able to use the word “cookie” to: ask for a cookie; name a cookie; comment that she sees me eating a cookie; ask “Where are the cookies?”; tell me she is all done eating a cookie; lastly, that she wants more cookies.

So when well-intentioned educators and professionals decided to teach the sign more as a way to accomplish the “asking for recurrence” category of language use, I want to ask the question Is teaching this sign (more) accomplishing the goal or is it merely teaching your child to have one word substitute for all other forms of requests?”

If one of our first goals in using sign language is to provide a vehicle for our early language users to learn how to communicate at an appropriate developmental level by using their developed motor skills to sign the word while waiting for oral motor skills (speech production skills) to develop, shouldn’t we then make sure we are teaching them as we would verbal speech?  Think about this for a moment…If I start teaching the word more  as one of the first few signs, will my child learn anything further beyond more or will it instead because a command for all things?

So, when teaching early language users, let’s stop using the general sign “more” and instead use more specific, meaningful signs (i.e. “eat”, “mommy”, “daddy”, “cup”, “help”, “fruit”) Tthink of the top words that are most powerful and most often used in your own homes and daily routines, making sure they are specific (exact names, commands or action words) and focus on these.

The concept of “more” can be added later when these beautiful babies have already mastered using real words/signs to request, label and comment.  As these specific words are learned and used and you are helping your little one to  generalize this word across categories (as in using the word “cookie” to request, name a picture of and comment about) they will learn that each object and action has a specific word associated with it making their language development that much fuller and richer.