Questions and Answers about Signing
- What is signing?
Signing is a way of communicating with other people through movements of the hands.
- Who uses signing?
Lots of people use sign to communicate. Some signers are deaf, and need to use a communication system that they can see. Others have normal hearing. They use sign because their speech is hard for other people to understand. Sign helps them get a message across clearly.
Sign is also valuable for people who are having trouble understanding or remembering what is said to them. It gives them something to look at and to do, not just something to hear. “I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember; I do, and I understand.”
- Is there just one sign language?
No! There are lots of sign languages, just like there are lots of spoken languages. Sign systems which are common in North America include American Sign Language and Signed English.
- What is American Sign Language?
American Sign Language (also called ASL or AMSLAN) is the sign language used by most deaf signers in North America. It has a very different syntax (word order in sentences) than that of spoken English.
- What is Signed English?
Unlike ASL, Signed English isn’t a language in and of itself. Instead, it’s an educational code, based on spoken English. There is a 1:1 relationship between the words that are spoken and the signs that are produced. For this reason, it’s often used with people who can hear spoken English. It makes it easier for them to understand the relationship between what they hear and what they see.
- What do signs look like?
Many of the signs in Signed English are borrowed from ASL. Some of them look like the thing or concept they represent. Others are based on a sign from the Manual Alphabet which corresponds to the first letter of the word. The Manual Alphabet assigns a hand shape to each letter of the alphabet. Still others are based on some quality of the thing they represent. For example, the sign for boy looks like a boy grasping the brim of his cap. Girl shows the thumb tracing along the jawbone, where a girl’s bonnet string would be.
- Is Signed English hard to learn?
A person who speaks English already knows the word order that signs will appear in, and only needs to master the vocabulary. Some people find this easier to learn than others. And some signs are easier to produce and remember than others.
- What makes a particular sign easy or hard to learn?
Every individual sign is made up of five different qualities, or features:
· Number of hands used
· Where the hand(s) are placed
· Movement of the hand(s)
· Orientation of the hand(s)
Some signs are very simple in all of these features. As example is the sign for the letter S:
Only one hand is used, in a simple shape. The hand is placed in front of the chest, palm out, and it doesn’t move. But the features of a sign are sometimes much more complicated. For example, consider the sign for television: It’s also a one-handed sign, made palm out and in front of the chest. But it involves moving from one handshape to another. Both handshapes are more complex than the closed fist of a letter S.
Every sign can be broken down in terms of the five features of hands, location, movement, orientation and handshape. When a person is first learning Signed English vocabulary items, it’s helpful to remember that the first three features are easier to master than the last two. If, for example, a child is having trouble getting the right location for a sign, don’t demand a completely accurate handshape.
- If a child learns sign, will s/he stop using speech?
Research suggests just the opposite. Sign is often a good tool towards developing speech. Like speech, sign involves muscle movement. Working the muscles of the hands, and getting the satisfaction of communicating successfully that way, seems to make it easier for children to learn to talk.
- If a child is learning to use Signed English, how can I help?
Choose early vocabulary items that:
· look like what they represent
· represent things that the child understands
· represent things that the child encounters frequently
· enable the child to get things s/he wants and needs
· are physically within the child’s ability in terms of hands, location and movement