Sign Language Basics for Beginners

Learning sign language can be fun and will help you connect with more people in the deaf and hard of hearing community. It can also take you down different paths.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced signer, it helps to understand the different aspects of the language. This includes basic signs and techniques, where you can find resources to learn them, as well as the different types of sign languages that are used around the world.

Image Source / Getty Images

Sign Language Alphabet

Usually the first place to start is by learning to sign the alphabet (known as the hand alphabet).

  • Sign Language Alphabet – Each of the 26 letters of the English alphabet is represented by a unique American Sign Language (ASL) character. They are relatively easy to understand and some mimic the shape of the letter they represent. Practice and memorize them so they become a good basis for your signature.
  • Finger Typing – Once you know the individual letters, you can use them to form whole words. This is called fingerprinting, and it is an effective way to communicate even if you don't know the actual sign of a particular word.

Learning sign language

Once you learn to sign the alphabet, you can delve into ASL. There are many ways to approach this, including online and print sign language dictionaries and classroom instruction. Many people find it helpful to use a combination of these techniques.

As with learning any language, attending classes is essential. This allows you to learn from an instructor who can explain some of the subtle nuances of the language that you just won't get from a book or website.

Fun and expression

Sign language can also be used for entertainment, and there are many opportunities to get creative with the language. Examples include playing in sign language , creating names in sign language, and 'writing' poetry, idioms, or stories in English in English. There is even a written form of sign language that you can learn.


What good is learning sign language if you don't practice it? Like any language, if you don't use it, you lose it. The deaf / speaking community offers many opportunities for practice.

You can usually find ways to interact with others by contacting your local Deaf and Hard of Hearing Information Center or Hearing and Speech Center. For example, signers often like to go to silent lunches or ASL dinners and coffee talks.

Multiple Sign Language Options

It is important to understand that sign language comes in many different styles, as do the unique dialects of the spoken language. What you sign with one person may be different from how someone else signs and can be confusing at times.

For example, some people sign "True American Sign Language" which is a language with its own grammar and syntax. Others use Signed Exact English (SEE) , a form that mimics English as much as possible. Others use a form of sign language that combines English with ASL, known as Pidgin English (PSE) .

Sign language is also used in various ways in education. Some schools may follow a philosophy known as universal communication and use all possible means of communication, not just sign language. Others believe in using sign language to teach English to children, an approach known as Bilingual-Bicultural (BBC).


Sign language has a long history and ASL originated in Europe in the 18th century. At one point, sign language suffered greatly from the historic event known as the Milan Conference of 1880 . This has led to the banning of sign language in schools for the deaf in many countries.

However, various individuals and organizations have retained the language. Plus, no matter what new assistive or hearing technology is introduced, sign language will survive.

There will always be a need for sign language, and its popularity has continued and even increased. For example, several schools offer sign language as a foreign language and many also offer sign language clubs.

Auditory Sign Language Users

While many deaf people need sign language, people who are not deaf do need sign language. In fact, the possibility of replacing the term "subscriber community" with the term "deaf community" has been debated in the deaf and hard of hearing community for this very reason.

Non-deaf sign language users include hearing infants, non-verbal people who can hear but cannot speak, and even gorillas or chimpanzees. Each of these cases points to the importance of continuing with the language so that communication is more inclusive.

International sign language

Sign language in America is not the sign language used throughout the world. Most countries have their own form of sign language, such as Australia (Auslan) or Chinese Sign Language (CSL). Signs are often based on the colloquial language of a country and include words and phrases specific to that culture.

Get the word of drug information

The desire to learn sign language can be a rewarding endeavor and experience. At the beginning of your trip, do some research and contact local organizations that can offer guidance on finding classes near you. This will give you a great foundation to nurture by practicing signing contracts with others.

Related Articles