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ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes) ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes)

ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes)    

ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes)

ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes)
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Lesson 1:  Introduction to ASL
ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes) ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes) ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes) ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes)
Lesson 1 Checklist:

I have a copy of the Syllabus 
I am able to define the term ASL
I know  the common handshapes used in ASL.
I am able to fingerspell my name in ASL
I am able to count to five in ASL (numbers)
I am able to briefly describe the history of ASL
I am able to briefly state the gist of Deaf Culture
I have a basic idea of the meaning of  Signed English
I have a basic idea of the meaning of  Pidgin (contact signing)
I have a basic idea of the meaning of  Cued Speech
I have a basic idea of the meaning of  Rochester Method
I have thought about what Research Paper I'm going to do
I am able to recognize and sign the vocabulary for this lesson
I am able to recognize and sign the practice sentences and story for this lesson
I have taken ASL 101 Lesson 1 quiz #1  
I am done with Lesson 1


HEARING-[speak, say]
MEAN-(meaning)-[what is the meaning of, purpose]
PLEASE-[enjoy, appreciate]
Pronouns: Pointing movement: it, he, me, she, him, her, this, you. Sweep movement: them, they, those, us, we, you-all, that.
SIGN-[sign language, signing]
STUDENT (learn)
TEACHER [teach, agent]-[-er]-[professor, educate]
THANK-YOU [good]
WHAT (huh?)

Practice Sheet:  1.A

1. "WHO YOU?"
(Who are you?)

2. "DEAF YOU?"
(Are you Deaf?)

("Are you an ASL student?)"

(What is your Teacher's name?)

(Do you understand him/her?)

(How do you sign "please?")

(What is your name again?)

8. "S/HE STUDENT?" [point at teacher]
(Is she or he a student?)

9. "THIS YOUR?" [point at any object]
(Is this yours?)

10. "WHERE ____"
[spell the name of a person in the room]

Practice Sheet: 1.B

1. "NICE me-MEET-you"
(It is nice to meet you.)

(Are you a hearing person?)

(Are you a teacher?)

(Where are you learning sign?)

(Why are you learning sign?)

(How do you sign "thanks?")

7. "S/HE STUDENT?" [point at other student]
(Is she or he a student?)

(Are they learning sign language?)

(Who is our teacher?)

10. "WHERE ____"
[spell the name of the teacher or of a student]

Story 1

HI I [spell your first and last name]. 
I STUDENT [spell the  name of your school].
TEACHER NAME [spell the name of your teacher first and last name]. 

Note:  Students should practice the story until they can sign it from memory in front of a class or video recorder.

Note:  Story 1 is something you might sign when meeting a Deaf person.  It is typical for students to tell Deaf people where they are learning sign, who their instructor is, and if their instructor is deaf or hearing. In real life when you are first starting out, you generally won't need to tell them you are hearing--because it will be obvious from your lack of signing skills.  Later though when you become fluent at ASL you will certainly want to mention your hearing status and your connection to the Deaf Community.

When Deaf people meet it is obvious that we are Deaf because we tell each other what Deaf school (residential school)  we attended (if we did), and when we graduated.  Plus if we went to Gallaudet University (a university for the Deaf in Washington D.C.) we'll mention that too.  

If we meet at a party (or wherever) I'll want to know where you are from, if you went to a Deaf school, if you went to Gallaudet, what year you graduated, the names of any of your relatives who are Deaf, and or if your teacher is Deaf, etc.  When I know your connections and you know mine--we can then proceed very efficiently to share information that will be of interest to each other and have a very fascinating and engaging conversation at a level of familiarity that rarely happens during initial meetings between Hearing people.

Hello, I'm Bill Vicars!


Nice to meet you...

I'm your instructor for this course.  Or, if your "in-person" instructor is using this site as a supplement to his or her class then I reckon I'm your "lab instructor."  Either way, I'm glad you are here.

I'm happy to have this opportunity to teach you about the language I love. 

Let's get started.

What is ASL?

ASL Definitions:
A definition that has been around for a long time is:

"American Sign Language is a visual-gestural language used by 500,000 members of the North American Deaf community."

According to we have:

American Sign Language  
n. Abbr. ASL

The primary sign language used by deaf and hearing-impaired people in the United States and Canada, devised in part by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet on the basis of sign language in France. Also called Ameslan.

A quick trip to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary ( and we get:

Main Entry: American Sign Language
Function: noun
Date: 1960
: a sign language for the deaf in which meaning is conveyed by a system of articulated hand gestures and their placement relative to the upper body

(Hey, did you notice the date of that entry from Merriam-Webster?  1960!  ASL hasn't been "recognized" as a language for very long has it?  Oh sure, the language itself has been around since the early 1800's but it wasn't until 1960 that "experts" started recognizing it as a full-blown autonomous language.

Now let's discuss those definitions a bit.

We should say "at least" 500,000 people use ASL.  That is an OLD statistic from the 1980's.  My estimate is more along the lines of: 2 million people are using ASL on a daily basis and at least 500,000 of those people are using it as their primary means of communication.  Millions more people know "some" sign language and use it "once in a while."  For example, a grandmother of a deaf child.  She may have taken a six-week community education course and now she knows just enough to offer her grandson candy and cookies.  

"ASL is a visual gestural language." That means it is a language that is expressed through the hands and face and is perceived through the eyes.  It isn't just waving your hands in the air.  If you furrow your eyebrows, tilt your head, glance in a certain direction, twist your body a certain way, puff your cheek, or any number of other "inflections" --you are adding or changing meaning in ASL.  A "visual gestural" language carries just as much information as an oral/aural (mouth/ear) language.

Is ASL limited to just the United States and Canada?  No.  ASL is also used in varying degrees in the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Zaire, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, Benin, Togo, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong. (See notes below. L1.1).  

Is ASL a universal language?  Nope.  Not even close.  Those countries I just  mentioned have their own signed languages.  ASL is the dominant signed language in North America, plus it is used to some extent in quite a few other countries, but it is certainly not understood by deaf people everywhere.

Heather:  Did we get ASL from Native American sign language?

Bill:  Good question, let's talk a bit about the history of ASL:

ASL History:
In the early 1800's, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a hearing minister and a graduate of Yale University met and became friends with a young deaf girl named Alice. Gallaudet took an interest in teaching the girl and succeeded at teaching her a few words. The girl's father Dr. Mason Cogswell, encouraged Gallaudet to become involved with the establishment of a school for the Deaf.

So, in 1815 Gallaudet headed for Europe in search of methods for teaching the deaf.

He approached a number of program directors, (the Braidwood schools, the London Asylum, etc.), but none of them were willing to share their techniques with Gallaudet.

Fortunately while in England Gallaudet met up with the director of a Paris school for the deaf, a man by the name of Sicard.

Sicard was there with two of his deaf pupils, Jean Massieu and Laurent Clerc who were also teachers at the school in Paris. They were in England giving demonstrations on how to teach the deaf by using sign language. The Paris school, which had been founded by the Abbe Charles Michel de L'Epee in 1771, was using French Sign Language in combination with a set methodically developed signs.

Gallaudet persuaded Clerc to return with him to the States and in 1817 the first American school for the deaf was established in the city of Hartford, Connecticut.

Over time, the signs used at that school, plus the signs that were already being used by Deaf people in America evolved into what we now know as American Sign Language.

It is important to note that sign language was being used here in America before Gallaudet and Clerc set up the school.  One example (that you might want to research more) took place in Martha's Vineyard.  At one time many Deaf people lived there and all or almost all of the townsfolk knew how to sign whether or not they were deaf!

Deaf Culture:
Members of the American Deaf Community do not think of ourselves to be disabled. We see ourselves as a cultural group bonded together by a common language. Members of our community don't want be be "Hearing!" If given a choice we would choose to remain Deaf!  

That doesn't mean that there aren't deaf people in the U.S. who consider themselves as being disabled. There are indeed many such individuals, but they are generally not fluent in ASL and are not considered members of the core (culturally) Deaf Community.  When I use the term Deaf Community, I'm talking about people who are culturally Deaf.

You will see the term "deaf" spelled with a capital "D" throughout many of these pages.  I try to remember to capitalize "Deaf" when I'm talking about people or a person who is "culturally Deaf."  When I'm talking about people who are culturally "Hearing" but physically deaf, I tend to spell it with a lowercase letter "d."

People who feel that being Deaf is about "language, culture, and a visual orientation to life" subscribe to the "cultural model" of Deafness.

People who feel that "deafness is problem to be solved" subscribe to the "pathological model" or the "medical model" of deafness and are not culturally Deaf.

As part of this lesson, I'd like to make sure you learn how to fingerspell your name.
One way to do that is to check out the "fingerspelling" page.
Another helpful page is the " handshapes page."

Lesson 1 Practice 

ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes) ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes)

ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes)    

ASL American Sign Language (42 bytes)

Lifeprint Institute

Additional Notes:

Note L1.1:  ASL is also used in varying degrees in Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Zaire, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, Benin, Togo, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong.
Source:  Grimes, Barbara F. (editor), (1996). "Languages of USA" Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 13th Edition. Institute of Linguistics. Retrieved 10 May, 2001: <>

If you need a good research topic for your research paper, you might consider finding the latest statistics on how many "deaf" people live in the U.S. and/or Canada.

For teachers of ASL:  Sample lesson plan for lesson 1