Learning Sign Language For A Better Understanding
By Ronald Kennedy
February 19, 2023
Sign Language Designed For Easy Communication.
Because no two people are alike, no two people will communicate in exactly the same way. You’ll see that everyone functions differently.
You can study sign language, including international contact between deaf people with the same teacher for years, learning all ASL exactly as presented and copying the teacher’s every move.
But, as soon as you get comfortable signing on your own, your use of ASL will become individualized. You’ll develop your own personal style of signing and nobody else will do it quite the same way you do. You’ll soon come to grip with the fact of how learning sign is the great communicator.
Many of these differences in style are due to physical variations. Some people are very limber and can move quickly. Everything works together the way it should – like a well-made machine. Finders fly, arms move rhythmically up and down, the body bends and turns.
But what about someone who suffers from arthritis or whose movement is otherwise restricted? It’s common sense to realize that if it hurts to move your fingers and hands, your movements will be slower and less fluid than they would be other wise.
When deafness occurs in the elderly, they may find it becoming increasingly difficult to use sign language due to arthritis and other conditions.
Other physical attributes can also affect signing. Height, weight, and body proportion will affect the way you sign, giving you a style all your own. Personal differences in signing are no different from personal differences in speaking.
Some people speak slowly. Some quickly. Some lisp or have other peculiarities.
Usually, we can all ourselves and others.
It has been researched that there are regional variations of ASL.
Some of these are pronounced and can make it difficult for two signing people to understand each other.
Generally deaf people, who has experienced different types of hearing loss over the years, are accepting of these differences and don’t place values on them. They merely acknowledge them for what they are – differences.
Every language uses some facial expression, but ASL takes it to a different level.
Facial expression in ASL not only conveys emotion or emphasis, it tells you a great deal about what kind of sentence or thought is being, and how it is organized.
Something as subtle as blinking the eyes can signal the type of phrase being signed. Eye blinks are used to signal conditional clauses, such as in the sentence, “If the auditorium was damaged in the storm, we’ll hold the meeting somewhere else.”
If eye blinks and several other facial indicators are not used when signing that sentence, the person receiving the information will not understand it.
Without facial expression, the sentence likely would be understood as “The auditorium was damaged, we’ll hold the meeting somewhere else.”
Another use of facial expression is to indicate not only that a question is being asked, but the type of question it is.
A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question is accompanied with raised eyebrow.
When asking a ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘when,’ ‘where,’ or’ why,’ question, the eyebrows are kept lowered, and a frown appears on the face.
Speaking people use tone and volume to put meaning in their words. Picture this: Another person is watching you perform a task at home. Say you’re painting the woodwork around the fireplace. You’ve worked carefully and everything looks great. “Oh, that’s really a great job,” the person says admiringly.
Or, you’ve been particularly sloppy with this job, and paint is all over the carpet and the fireplace bricks, “Oh, that’s really a great job,” the person says scornfully.
You get the point. Same words, but different emphasis and tone. In one case you’re a household hero, in the other case you’d better start looking for someplace else to hang out. And that even some people do the same thing, but with facial expression. This is just how it’s done!
FYI (Another Interesting Read): Why-my-child-get-sick-in-daycare.
Eye contact in sign language is also extremely important. As I said earlier, it is a natural tendency to look at the face of a person who is signing.
Your eyes are naturally drawn there, and many people find it difficult to break eye contact. Again, as our friend Martha Stewart would say, “it’s a good thing.” It is considered rude and disrespectful to look away when someone is signing.
The rules of etiquette differ between signed and spoken language. In spoken conversation, a person is considered a good listener if she watches the person who is speaking and gives signs that she really hears what’s being said.
She may nod occasionally, indicating that she is listening intently. (This is always a good thing).
Breaking eye contact with someone who is signing to you is akin to sticking your fingers into your ears when somebody is talking to you.
It indicates both a lack of interest and a lack of respect for the signer.
There are exceptions, of course. If you smell something funny and catch a glimpse of flames out of the corner of your eye, it would be foolhardy to stay put for fear of offending someone by breaking eye contact before he or she finishes their story.
Sometimes signers break and then re-establish eye contact with the person receiving the conversation to indicate that they do not wish to be interrupted. It is customary for the person receiving sign language to wait until the signer looks at him before he starts a turn at signing.
For example, if a person is really enjoying telling his story of his promotion and new secretary, he may avoid looking at you because he’s not ready to end his turn at signing.
“This is not to say that sign language is an exact language, with rules set in stone.”
A group of deaf people who get together at a club or someone’s home will not sit in an orderly fashion, signing one at a time while the rest of the group maintains constant eye contact. Communicating in a group setting is ‘key’ to a better understanding for all.
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6 Replies to “How Learning Sign Is The Great Communicator”
Her Ronald, it was a delight to read your post. I enjoy the way you look at communication and the methods. I think acting facial expression is so necessary to transfer our feelings and even our thoughts. I was reading an essay before, the topic was about the different types of people and how they can communicate with each other. there are three types of us. Kinesthetic, visual and listeners. so as you said there will be different types of people and communication. Thanks for sharing this post with us.
Thank you Liam, for giving me your insight on this amazing topic. Hearing loss affects millions around the globe. I feel more people should become more educated on how to communicate through visual and body language among the non-hearing community.
Thanks for a great article covering how learning simple sign language and teaching to children. You explained well the importance of understanding both interaction and facial expressions when communicating with people that are deaf or hard for hearing. And I for one have not studied ASL, and that has always been my intention to learn, but I have understood that communicating with people that are deaf or hearing loss do require the expressions in the body language especially eye contact and facial movements as you say a raised eye can mean a question! Excellent article I really appreciate the importance of inclusion. Kind regards.
Body language, good eye contact and facial expressions are’ key’ elements when communicating within the deaf community. This is where learning sign (ASL) is so important when dealing with deaf children, teens and adults. Thank you for commenting Erica.
Thank you Ronald, for such a well-written, thorough article that just happens to be timely to my personal life in this present moment as I have an eight month old granddaughter who my daughter is currently reading sign language for simple and common daily tasks like eating or being done. She is very good at recognizing signs like “more” but not so quick to sign them back herself. Either way, we can tell she understands because of the enthusiasm of her physical responses. It had never dawned on me that this could be due to her individual form of expression.
Facial expressions are something else I had failed to consider. Is it possible that part of the reason she doesn’t respond with the sign could have something to do with the expressions she is interpreting from our faces?
I look forward to your next article. Great work!
Children are smarter than we think, Joseph. It’s only a matter of time your granddaughter will understand more basic signs through your facial expressions, along with eye contact, and as a parent it’s up to you to pickup the ‘feedback’ regarding her development. Thanks for checking in with me.