Sign language is the primary method of communication for the deaf and hearing impaired. Contrary to popular belief, there is no "universal" international sign language, only a set of vocabulary words chosen to be used for official purposes. Each country has its own version of sign language and in the United States, American Sign Language (ASL) is the official language of the hearing impaired. Learning ASL requires a lot of work and practice; the grammar and sentence structure of sign language is not at all like English. There are a variety of methods for self teaching to learn sentences in sign language, but the most effective method is to attend ASL classes.
Understand sentence structure. American Sign Language uses a linear sentence structure with no verb tenses. These means that you always need to describe events in the order that they happened. For example, if you said, "I'll wash the dishes after dinner" in English, you would need to switch it around to "I eat dinner first. I wash dishes," in American Sign Language. Use words that express time, such as "yesterday," "today" and "tomorrow" to express the past, present and future. Understanding these differences will make it easier to learn full sentences in sign language.
Learn the alphabet and the basics of sign writing. At some point in a sentence, you will probably come across a word that does not have a specific sign and you will need to spell it out. Sign writing is the act of signing out letters in the American Sign Language alphabet to make a full word. American Sign Language, like English, also has its own rules for the new creation of words and you may need people to spell out words you do not know. You can learn the American Sign Language alphabet through free tutorials and video podcasts online.
Pay attention to facial expressions. Facial expressions are an essential element of communication in sign language. Very often, the difference between a statement and a question is determined by a facial expression in American sign language.
Take classes with a hearing-impaired teacher. Learning American Sign Language sentences with someone in the flesh is much easier that attempting to teach yourself on your own. Working with a hearing-impaired teacher will force you to learn sign language without translating into English. You can check community colleges, universities and community centers in your area for classes in American Sign Language.
- Don't translate from English. American Sign Language is not a visual version of the English language and features very different structure and complex grammar.
Sophie Southern has been a freelance writer since 2004. Her writing has been featured in "JPG" magazine and on Zlio.com. Southern holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the School of Visual Arts.