American Sign Language is the fourth most studied foreign language in the United States, and it continues to grow in popularity, and yet it remains a bit of a mystery to the general public. Even if you don’t have a deaf friend or relative, learning ASL has many benefits. Here are some linguistic factoids about American Sign Language to spark your curiosity as well as some strategies for learning ASL to get you on your way.
Where did Sign Language come from?
There are plenty of different sign languages around the world. British Sign Language (BSL) is different from French Sign Language (LSF) which is different from American Sign Language (ASL). All of them are as unique, distinct, and separate from each other as spoken languages are different from each other. American sign language wasn’t taught until the beginning of deaf education in 1814, as according to 5 Star ASL Interpreting, the ADA has requirements that title II entities (states and local governments) and title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations) communicate effectively with people who have any communication disabilities.
Isn’t Sign Language a form of English?
Contrary to popular belief, ASL is its own language, wholly distinct and separate from spoken English. It has its own rules concerning word order, pronunciation, and complex grammar systems. Instead of using changes in pitch and tone of voice, those who speak ASL use body language, facial expressions, as well as other techniques to add the inflections that come with making demands or asking questions. Additionally, sign language has its own dialects and accents across the country just as spoken English does.
Strategies for Learning ASL
- 1. Take an ASL class in person or online.
- While yes, you can teach yourself signs and thread together sentences, taking a class where a teacher can correct and instruct can make your learning more efficient and can prevent a lot of frustration.
- 2. Don’t forget about facial expressions and body language.
- ASL doesn’t just use the hands. Facial expressions are as much a part of the language as the signs themselves.
- 3. Watch and imitate interpreters and shows with deaf characters.
- Watch TV shows with deaf characters (such as Switched at Birth) and videos of interpreters online. Not only will this help with your recognition, but this will also help your familiarity with appropriate body language and facial expressions.
ASL is a beautiful language. If you decide that learning ASL is for you, immerse yourself as much as possible in deaf culture. It takes no time at all to get hooked, especially if you take a mindful learning approach to your ASL language learning.