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American Sign Language

American Sign Language, commonly known as ASL, is the visual language used by many deaf Americans and Canadians. When conversing in this version of sign language, an individual will rely on standardized hand and arm gestures in addition to facial expressions to convey meaning. ASL is built upon a wide-ranging vocabulary of signs that represent specific concepts. People who use ASL also employ finger spelling, which is a sign language alphabet, to communicate names of people and places. Some deaf people might also have a customized one-sign nickname that refers to them, rather than having to manually spell their names with the sign language alphabet.

People who are not deaf may be considering how to learn sign language in order to communicate with deaf family members, friends, or students. Knowledge of the sign language alphabet, which is relatively simple to learn, may prove to be helpful in an urgent situation where communicating with a deaf person is vitally important. You can find a sign language dictionary to use as a reference for how to learn sign language gestures using the hands and face. However, a sign language dictionary may not be the best way for an absolute beginner who is initially considering how to learn sign language. Due to the fact that ASL is a living language based on human interaction, many beginners prefer to take a sign language class. After that, a sign language dictionary can provide a useful vocabulary refresher for the intermediate student of ASL.

 Aside from the initial question of how to learn sign language, many individuals might be interested in the story of American Sign Language. Unlike signed English or cued speech, ASL is a complex language that uses its own syntax, rather than simply representing the word order of an English sentence. This version of sign language was initially based on a mix of signs from several influences, including French sign language. The manual signs in common usage on Martha’s Vineyard, where there was a strong genetic component of deafness in the community, also helped to shape ASL as it is today. Like any other type of living language, ASL continues to develop and change over generations of use. There are also regional dialects of ASL and other versions of sign language.

 Many sign language resources exist on the Internet. However, the reader should keep in mind that online references to sign language could describe manual methods other than ASL. Such techniques include signed English, cued speech, and sign-based languages used in other countries. These links offer a beginning overview of ASL, including its components and how it can be used as a communication tool.

American SL: Roots and History

What Is American SL?

Deaf Jam: What Is ASL? / ASL Poetry

Position Statement on American SL

Can You See Me Now? 

Hearing Loss in Children: American SL

American SL

Selecting a Sign Language Class

Basic Medical Sign Language PDF