Learning American Sign Language

19th of October 2009 0

Learning American Sign Language

Have you been dying to learn sign language for years but have never gotten around to doing it? Don’t worry! It’s never too late to learn a new language, and that includes sign language. But just like any other language, learning takes initiative, drive and a little patience. I’m no expert in the art of signing, but I have managed to learn the basics, and you can too! Remember, you can do anything if you put your mind to it. So to help you out, I’ve found some information and tips from the world of signing to hopefully help you get started on your journey.

Learn the Alphabet First

Many sign language practitioners suggest that in order to really get the most out of signing, just like in any spoken language, you need to learn the alphabet first. The main reason is that the alphabet is the foundation for most languages. But don’t worry – learning the alphabet is relatively simple. I learned it in one day and am still able to recall the letters. The way I taught myself is a little bit strange, but it worked for me. I actually learned the Spanish alphabet (spoken) years ago in middle school but was having a hard time remembering it, so I decided to teach myself to remember sign language letters by speaking each letter that I signed in Spanish. Since I know the English alphabet so well, I knew my mind would passively run through the letters and leave room for me to forget what I was signing, but by reciting the Spanish alphabet, I could make sure I would remember both – and it actually worked.

Of course, to remember the letters you’ll have to utilize your own system for remembering, but to help you there are a variety of charts found on the Internet with pictures of how to hold your hands. I consulted more than one to ensure accuracy because some of the charts were drawn with the hands turn in different ways. But no matter how you learn, once you get the alphabet down, you’ll be set.

Learning Finger Spelling

To see how far you’ve come, you can test your skills by seeing how fast you can spell out simple words like “jump” or “play” or even your name; this is known as finger spelling. Instead of signing in full words (you haven’t learned them yet anyway), you spell out words by signing each letter. You will see that it can be a challenge to arrange the letters in different orders without practice. But once you are able to move quickly through words without pausing, you can successfully say you’ve learned.

One website that is very helpful in picking up your finger spellings skills is the American Sign Language Finger spelling Practice Site (www.asl.ms). On this site, you will find a hand that spells words out letter by letter. You can choose the speed you want the hand to move in, and you can also replay the word as many times as you would like in until your mind adjusts to recognizing the letters. Trust me, it is very different trying to sign words you’ve made up than to read letters from fast-moving hand that made up its own word! Give it a try – its great practice!

Learning Words and Sentences

Of course, like in any language, once you master the alphabet, it’s time to learn to words and begin forming sentences. There are numerous website dictionaries that provide instructions on how to form most signed words in great detail. But once you begin to read, you realize how in depth signing really is. For this reason, it is advised that you take a live class with an experienced instruct to make sure you are using your body correctly in communicating messages.

But for the sake of learning beginner words, I can suggest typing in “learning sign language words” in the search engine to pull up a variety of sites on how to sign different words with detailed instruction included. One of these sites is the American Sign Language Browser. It has a massive index of words and short phrases, organized alphabetically, and with instruction on exactly what movements to use to sign the word correctly. It also has a virtual hand that signs at the same time.

Once you’re ready to get into forming sentences you will want to try Lesson Tutor, a website that also goes into detail about how to sign words, but it also teaches how to form sentences.

Teaching Infants and Small Children

After reading this section heading, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, right! You can’t teach an infant sign language!” But studies are showing that you can – at least the simple forms of communication. Though infants are not capable of speaking, they are in the midst of the most creative time in their lives – where learning is truly fundamental. From the time they are born until around the time they begin kindergarten they are learning from their surroundings and watching the people around them for guidance. So this is the PERFECT time to teach any child who doesn’t know how to read, or even speak, sign language!

Just as small children learn the meaning of “No!” or have learned to cry to get their bottle, they can learn to communicate their feelings through signing. Some babies have learned as early as 9 months to sign for what they want. While I’m sure methods of teaching can be very different depending on the child, one suggested way of teaching a signed word to a child is to say it while performing the action. For example, the signed word for “eat” is the action of put your hand to your mouth as if you are feeding yourself by hand. To teach this to a child, you can say the word “eat” at the same time that you are performing the action. Then you can reinforce it by performing the action each time you give the baby something to eat. In time, the baby will learn the signed word is to be associated with eating and can begin to ask for food that way.

Learning sign language can be very beneficial whether you need it for your life or not. It will enhance you communication abilities and open you up to a new world you once were shut out from. While you may think it is too challenging or time consuming to take on, it doesn’t hurt to pace yourself and try. After all, you never know when you may be called on to help someone and the only way you can communicate with them is through sign language.

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