Sign language is an elaborate system of hand and arm movements that allow you to speak without using your voice. The language was designed for the hearing impaired, but some people learn it just for fun. If you wish to learn sign language, there are many ways of doing so and some are better than others. The faster and more effectively you learn the language, the sooner you can begin using it.
Learn The Alphabet
Don't try to learn sign language using only a book or DVD. It's much too easy to sign incorrectly this way without realizing it. Instead, seek out a sign language teacher. Many community colleges offer sign-language classes in their continuing-education curriculum. Also, community centers and other public organizations often host a sign-language club that you can join. There are different systems of sign language, but the one used by the majority of deaf adults is American Sign Language (ASL). It is different from SEE (Signing Exact English), which is designed to correlate directly to the structure of the English language. SEE is used to help deaf people learn to speak and write using English grammar, while ASL uses its own syntax and grammar. Your teacher may start with the alphabet, which can be signed entirely with one hand using a different hand position for each letter. It is extremely useful in learning sign language because if you don't know a particular word, you can just spell it out. Sign the letters repeatedly; watching yourself do so in a mirror is especially helpful. Then as you go through your day, fingerspell words you hear or objects you see to get practice.
Learn A Few Words A Day
Your teacher will probably start with common words. Take home the sign language words you use in class and practice the movement over and over. Learn a few signs each day and then use them whenever you say the word. For example, if you're watching television and hear one of the words you're learned, practise making the correct sign.
Use Sign Language in the ASL Community
Finally, you need to put your skills to practical use in order to have them come more naturally. If you don't know anyone who is deaf, you can volunteer at centers for the hearing impaired. Don't worry if you don't have a huge vocabulary at first--many deaf people are good at interpreting what you are trying to say, even if the sign itself is wrong.
If in the course of your day you happen to see some people using sign language, remember that it's not considered polite to "eavesdrop" by watching them. But consider introducing yourself and initiating a conversation. It's not unusual for a deaf person to be pleased that you are attempting to learn her language and to be willing to converse with you.
Diane Todd holds a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication from North Carolina State University and is a former video and web producer for a North Carolina multimedia agency. She also spent several years as a media specialist/graphics designer for the Cumberland County school system in Fayetteville, N.C.