A common misconception about Sign Language is that all deaf & hard-of-hearing individuals and learners use only one universal version of Sign Language. But did you know that there are over 200 different Sign Languages?
Sign Language generally does not correspond to the spoken language within that country. To illustrate: the US and Britain both speak English as their primary language. If you look at the Sign Languages of the two countries, they have nothing in common. If you know American Sign Language (ASL), you are not likely to understand even one sign of British Sign Language (BSL), including their alphabet… Yet the spoken languages are the same! In fact, in terms of syntax, ASL is more closely related to Japanese than English. There is little connection between the development of Sign Language and the spoken language that surrounds it.
All languages at times borrow elements from other languages. For example, in English, we use “Noodle,” influenced by the German language. Or “breeze” influenced by Spanish. Similarly, Sign Languages have done the same in borrowing from spoken language. An example of this is using an alphabet to spell out our names. Though there is a natural influence of spoken language within Sing Languages, this does not define or make up the entire language. Just as English is not German, American Sign Language is not English.
Many say that hearing people “invented” Sign Language for those who needed it. This idea is far from the truth. Sign Language came about by those who use and need the language, the Deaf. They very well could have had little or no knowledge of the spoken language in their area. As a result, we have visual language not confined by the rules or structure of spoken language.
What can we learn?
We cannot expect those who use ASL, such as the deaf, to know our spoken Language, English. Whether in written form or by lipreading. We must treat Sign Languages as they are, as Foreign Languages. As a minority language group, not a disability group.
For the deaf and hard of hearing, your facial expressions convey so much meaning. “Language is grammar — it’s sentence structure,” said Sharron Hill, the director of the American Sign Language Interpreting (ASLI) Program at the University of Houston, “And so, the way that individuals who communicate with a visual mode of communication convey grammar is on the face.”
ASL uses hand movements, body language, facial expressions, and lip-reading to convey the nuances of a transmitted message. For example, it matters whether your eyebrows are up or if they’re down. This small detail decides how you answer a question. If eyebrows are up, this means a yes or no question, and if they are down, it is an open-ended question. Your mouth wide open or closed tightly conveys how large or small an object is, whether it’s thin, smooth, or thick.
The movement of the tongue can tell you how far something is. It also explains whether it’s right next to you or if it is thousands of miles away. The nod of the head determines whether you understand something or you do not. The way you turn your shoulders shows who is talking in a story or taking the lead in a race. It has been said that 50% of ASL consists of facial expressions or body movements.
These intricacies of the language are endless. The best way to learn these is through those who are native to the language. If you’re learning ASL, find those in the deaf community, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! You will find that most community members are eager to help those who sincerely want to learn. Learning ASL has personally brought me many joys. I have developed lifelong friendships with those who first taught me the language. The language and the culture have made me more in touch with the unspoken communication we all use. They have given me many opportunities to help others. I would, without doubt, suggest it to anyone who has the time to learn.
My suggestion to you, if you are currently learning, is to seek out native users. Spend time with them, get to know their history, the challenges they face. You will surely come out with a new perspective and increased incentive to learn their language.
From an early age, I was in love with American Sign Language. It truly is visually beautiful. And the more you learn about it, the more you love it. Part of the beauty and interest of ASL is that you never finish learning. There are always more opportunities to further your education. In my experience, the more you understand it, the more you realize how much you have yet to learn about it. ASL goes beyond the hand shapes in motion. ASL requires your eyes, your mouth, your eyebrows, and even your tongue at a fluent level. It includes how you turn your body, the way you lean in or out, your eye gaze, and your head tilt (not to mention the deep-seated cultural aspects of the language)! Learning ASL opens doors of opportunity, and at its core, offers the possibility to help others.
Learning ASL The best way to learn is from those who are native to the language, such as the Deaf. Though this is not necessarily an option for all people who wish to learn the language, it is undoubtedly the best way to learn! If you do not have the opportunity to learn from the Deaf, there are thousands of existing resources at your disposal. There’s a Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now”. So why not start learning right now!
How to start Start small. One great educational resource is YouTube. This tool is especially great for learning ASL since the language does not translate well into pictures in a book. Instead, a video captures the motion and the direction of the sign. You can quickly type “learn ASL” into the search bar, and there are endless resources. Start by learning the essential signs. Such as: How are you? My name is… Good morning! Can you help me? Where is the restroom? In time, your fluency will grow.
Are you looking for a place to start? Check out this video, and let me know how you did in the comments below!
To understand the relevance and importance of American Sign Language (ASL) in a business setting, first, one must understand some commonly misunderstood points. ASL is a unique language with a set of grammar rules and an extensive vocabulary. Also, English is not a requirement to know ASL. If your primary language is ASL, you very well may not understand English. In other words, this assumption is like expecting any given American to be fluent in Russian or another foreign language. They are different languages; it is as simple as that.
What does this mean for you? If you are a business owner with deaf employees, know that although they know ASL, this does not mean they understand English. Some may be surprised to know that this includes writing notes back and forth, emails, employee handbooks, newsletters, closed captions, and even reading lips. Business leaders must accommodate their deaf or hard-of-hearing employees in fulfilling ways.
What should I do? ADA law requires that business owners ensure that communication with people with disabilities is equally effective, as is communicating with someone without a disability. These accommodations may look like having an ASL interpreter for spoken English or an ASL Translator for written English. Also, Managers may hire ASL translating services for company websites and documents.
What are the benefits? At the root of many problems, poor communication causes a significant amount of pressure and discomfort. Making communication a priority in your business has an overwhelming effect. Improved teamwork, camaraderie, respect, productivity, meeting expectations in the workplace, and continued growth may increase. By supplying ASL accessibility for your deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, you can create a productive workspace.
Many schools and parents teach their babies and young children American Sign Language (ASL). This practice is rooted in studies that show a clear advantage to expanding children’s communication abilities and styles. These studies suggest significant improvements in children’s lives in and out of the classroom, such as:
+12 IQ point advantages
Accelerated emotional development
Lower frustration levels
Improves child-parent bonding
Improves attentiveness to social gestures of others as well as of themselves
Earlier reading and more extensive reading vocabulary
Better grades in school.
Several of these developmental assets are significantly a result of bilingualism. Although, explicitly learning Sign Language has many benefits for young children of all abilities. Knowing a visual language helps with coordination, understanding cues associated with body language, and learning the emotions conveyed by other’s faces.
Some may say it is ironic to encourage hearing children to learn ASL while at the same time, we tell our deaf children to learn to speak. Why can’t deaf children learn to talk? This idea lacks an understanding of how powerful an effect communicating in their primary language can have for deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children.
This is not to say knowing English is not of benefit to deaf children. Just as the help of native English speakers learning, for example, Spanish. In this instance, we learn by seeing and hearing the Spanish words. The point is, when you are deaf, you cannot hear the language. Therefore, your primary language should be the one you can feel free to express yourself. One in which you can see, take in and understand without interference. If one cannot hear the language, one must be able to visualize the language. This idea is not solely words on paper, but a language geared for the eyes, Sign Language.
The takeaway: Though ASL is something we encourage in those who do not need the language, we need to encourage and empower those who need the language.
Next week we will discuss why English (either in written or spoken form) poses a challenge for DHH.