by Tadas Rackauskas
Language is an essential part of human communication and is vital in creating a sense of belonging and understanding between people. One that sometimes goes unnoticed is American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a unique language, and although it is commonly used in the deaf community, plenty of non-deaf people learn ASL to communicate. If you are considering learning ASL, this is the blog for you! To get you started, we will explore the similarities and differences between American Sign Language and American spoken English.
First, it is essential to understand that ASL and English share the same essential grammatical structure. They both follow subject-verb-object order, making it easier for English speakers to understand and learn ASL. In both languages, there are also different tenses and verb conjugations used to convey past, present, and future actions. Unlike learning another spoken language, there are no new gender systems you have to learn or verb forms that you haven’t seen before.
For example, the sentence “Dogs are eating apples” will be translated word for word into ASL as if it were spoken English.
Another similarity between ASL and spoken English may come as a surprise. It is the use of facial expressions and body language to convey meaning. While we may not always realize it, in English (as well as other languages), we often use facial expressions and gestures to emphasize or clarify what we are saying, and in ASL, it is a crucial component of the language. ASL users often use facial expressions and body language to convey emotions and to distinguish between similar signs.
Think of how many messages you convey just with your hands. A thumbs up or thumbs down to say yes or no, or what about holding your hand up if you need to ask to stop?
But of course, not everything is so one-to-one.
ASL has its own unique set of grammatical rules, which differ from those of English. For example, ASL does not use articles such as “a,” “an,” or “the,” and the use of pronouns can vary depending on the context of the conversation. However, many of the differences in grammar tend to be simple rather than complex. For example, there are no verb conjugations, so no “I eat but he eats.”
Another significant difference between ASL and English is the use of idioms and slang. In English, we often use idioms and slang to convey meaning more informally or conversationally. However, in ASL, idioms and slang may not be used or may have different interpretations, making it important to understand the context of the conversation. Like any language, ASL has its own ways of expressing abstract ideas and concepts relevant to its community, just as a Southerner in the US has specific expressions that a New Yorker may not understand.
American Sign Language and American spoken English share many similarities and differences. Both languages have their own unique grammatical structures, and while ASL is a visual language, there is plenty of overlap. Understanding the similarities and differences between the two languages can help bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing communities and promote better communication all around the US.
Learning ASL can be a rewarding experience that opens up new opportunities to communicate with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Not only does it provide a new skill, but it also allows for a greater understanding and appreciation of the deaf community. So, let’s take the first step towards learning American Sign Language and promoting inclusivity and accessibility for all. Our ASL Instructors are excited to help you get started!