A sign language is one that uses visually transmitted sign patterns instead of verbal sounds to convey meaning and expression. The benefits of learning to communicate non-verbally are numerous. On the one hand, studies show that practising sign language on a regular basis, just like playing an instrument, is the brain equivalent of a full-body workout, as it involves movement, vision, meaning and memory. On the other hand, American Sign Language (ASL) is at the moment one of the most widely used languages in the country, which means that you will get lots of opportunities for practice.
ASL is used not only by deaf people, but by hearing children, siblings or parents of non-hearing individuals, and hearing second-language learners who study ASL in schools and colleges. In fact, the number of universities that offer sign language basics lessons to their students in the US goes up every year.
At Listen & Learn, we believe that ASL improves the quality of communication within families with deaf members while contributing to a more egalitarian society. For that reason, we have decided to offer a short introduction to the basics of sign language.
How does ASL Work?
Before we move on to sign language basics, let us stop for a minute to explain how ASL works.
Although sign language has an alphabet that can be spelt out letter by letter in specific situations, most of the signs correspond to concepts and have an iconic quality, .i.e they use visual images that resemble the idea they represent.
For example, if you’re driving on the road and you want to say that you’ve just seen a deer in ASL, you would put your hands up to one side of your head and spread your fingers as if they were antlers. If you happen to be hungry, for example, you might wish to sign the concept of “eating” by bringing your fingers and thumb towards your mouth as if they were food.
Sign Language Basics
As with any language, the best way to learn ASL is little by little. Below, you will see how you can greet people, say “please”, and “thanks”, and express other basic meanings that will help you socialize in any context that calls for non-verbal communication.
Now that you know the very basics of ASL, imagine that you have met somebody and you want to ask them out. The first thing you’ll need to do is find a time and day in which you’re both free. This means you’ll have to learn how to say the days of the week.
However, before you ask somebody out it’s often advisable to ask what their name is (not just in ASL!). To understand the answer, you will need to be trained in finger-spelling. This is a useful way to convey a word by using representations of letters, which in most cases resemble the written form of the respective letter. Finger-spelling is useful to give names or to ask a more knowledgeable ASL user how a specific concept is expressed in sign language.
Below, you will find the hand signs for every letter in the English language. Also, you find how to convey numbers, which will be handy for arranging plans and talking about age.
Keeping the conversation going with someone you barely know is a difficult task, even in your language. However, if you don’t know what to say, you can always ask questions. That way, you can let your interlocutor do all the work while appearing completely invested in the conversation. The best thing is to avoid Yes/No questions and go for the Wh- kind (what, who, when, where), which requires full answers and offers a lot of room for further discussion.
As we always say, when you learn a traditional language you get to learn about the people who speak it and the culture where that particular language exists. This cultural awareness is not just a by-product of learning a language, it’s one of the most meaningful and enriching aspects of learning. When it comes to learning ASL, it’s the same thing. The deaf community has a rich history and specific cultural practices that are worth exploring and incorporating into your life.
So, if you often feel that there’s something missing in your traditional Spanish or French lessons, you might be ready to try a language-learning experience that is truly mind-opening and rewarding. Learning sign language basics will help you understand how deaf people experience the world around them and will allow you to communicate with wonderful human beings from all around the world.
Contact us now and try a class with a sign language expert. It’s an experience you will never forget.