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Friday, August 19, 2011

Third Most Used Language in the U.S. -- American Sign Language

Our family began signing long ago because my older daughter is severely hard of hearing.    To spread interest and beginning knowledge of the third most used language in the U.S., I sometimes tell stories in voice and sign language simultaneously.  Additionally I offer a program called a Playful Introduction to Sign Language.

If you wish to go further in learning it, I recommend:
  • Start at the library for books and videos for all ages and even in Spanish.  For the most items, search the catalog under keywords "signing" and "sign language."  American Sign Language (abbreviated ASL) is the official name, but using "sign language" as keywords retrieves more titles, including ASL.  "Baby Sign" is more complicated, the most popular subject headings are: "nonverbal communication in infants"; "interpersonal communication in infants"; "interpersonal communication in children"; and "language acquisition--parent participation."
  • Online YouTube has many videos.  "Deaf" covers many cultural issues, but again "sign language" opens the most items. Note the source as there are sign languages and even fingerspelling all over the world different from the U.S.  My daughter loves to compare the sign languages of different countries! Claude O. Proctor shows this in his Signing in Fourteen Languages : A Multilingual Dictionary of 2,500 American Sign Language Words and his earlier NTC's Multilingual Dictionary of American Sign Language.  Both include fingerspelling charts.  Similar to spoken English regional accents, some signs vary throughout the U.S.  
  • Have fun learning sign language!  A handy one-stop online source is Harris Communications.  They sell puzzle books such as the two for the classic book, Joy of Signing, lots of flash cards, many games, a magnetic poetry sign language kit, and, in their Books and Multimedia -- Teaching Resources section (but also available at Amazon and elsewhere), American Sign Language Clip and Create 5 CD-ROM

    American Sign Language Clip and Create 5 CD-ROM
    This fifth version of American Sign Language Clip and Create includes nearly 5,555 clipart signs for making crossword puzzles, posters, banners, postcards and more.

  • ASLPro was created for teachers, but includes quizzes and related products.
  • As with any language, practice is essential.  Partner with a fellow student or someone who grew up with the language.  Recently I was signing songs at the back of my church for my own understanding and practice.  A man in the final row told me he had deaf parents, but now has no opportunity to use ASL and has forgotten how to speak it.  How sad! 
  • The logo at the top of this blog issue came from's article, "How to Learn ASL Fast."  That logo often is used by a location offering services to the deaf.  The article includes other online resources in their sidebars.  Their articles and videos are free, but the section called "Related Ads" leads to commercial sites.
I probably also should mention Tell the World; Storytelling Across Language Barriers, compiled and edited by Margaret Read MacDonald.  I wrote an article in the book, "Telling with Sign Language Translation."

Signed communication is a continuum stretching from informal mime when necessary; through Pidgin Sign which adapts signing to an English word order, especially when both talking and signing simultaneously; through Signed English created to help deaf children learn English grammar and parts of speech in an educational setting; to American Sign Language with its own grammar and is the standard for interpreter certification.  Just as variations in signs exist, so can the communication style, although ASL generally has become the standard.

Remember communication is what it's all about in this practical and beautiful language used by so many people.
My signing puppet, Ivan, signs "Friend"