Sign Language Essentials
by Antal, SignCoders founder
It is quite recently that I started to learn Hungarian Sign Language. If you are like me and most hearing people, I’d had no previous exposure to sign languages. I was in for a pleasant surprise.
This is what I have picked up on this journey so far.
Sign languages are pretty cool.
Most noticeably, sign languages have a visual charm unlike spoken languages. Facial expressions and body postures are much more integral to communication than it is the case in spoken languages. As a result, a signed conversation has an artistic, almost theatrical feel to it.
Signed communication is very efficient.
Information is often conveyed in a parallel fashion. Speakers use two hands, the face, eyes and body simultaneously. Consequently, natives talk extremely fast. I have seen even experienced interpreters losing track of what the hell is going on.
You will develop completely new skills.
First of all, you will have to think very, very differently. The language requires you to express your thoughts visually. Likewise, you need to learn how to use the 3-D space in front of you. Who needs brain teasers, when you can learn to sign?
Learning the language is a lot of fun.
Perhaps surprisingly, sign languages are inherently witty. Signs often make you laugh when you see them first. Also, a certain amount of slapstick comedy is inevitably part of the learn process but that’s fine. It is easier to learn when you are having a good time.
I unlearned prejudice I did not know I had.
It is great to discover a new culture and community. A door opens for you to make friends. Exactly like when you learn a spoken language. Perhaps most importantly, you will be aware of the barriers deaf people face. But you will also get to see the advantages that compensate for the difficulties. All in all, it is an experience that will extend your horizon.
For all practical purposes, natives form a language community.
Most deaf people do not consider themselves handicapped. This might come as a surprise for you as it certainly did for me. But it makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. Once we perceive deaf people as a language community, we completely reframe disability.
This makes a world of difference for everybody. First and foremost it raises self-esteem for the deaf. Secondly, we eliminate negative connotations often associated with disabilities. That is the right mindset for hearing people to approach the deaf community.
Ready to read more? I have compiled a Sign Language FAQ for you:
Why is sign language important for the deaf community?
- Sign language is THE barrier-free way of communication for deaf people.
- Native speakers are proud of sign language. Just as you and I are of our mother tongue.
How do spoken and sign languages compare?
- Both spoken and signed communication are types of natural language.
- Sign languages are as rich and complex as any spoken language.
- Deaf children acquire a sign language just like hearing children do their spoken mother tongue.
How do sign languages work?
- Speakers use movements of the body, head, eyes, face and mouth in combination.
- That is how they convey complex lexical and grammatical information.
- Sign languages have their own grammar and lexicon.
- Local communities develop their regional dialects. Just like hearing people do.
I don’t speak sign language. Can I communicate face-to-face with deaf people?
- Yes. You can hire a sign language interpreter to facilitate communication.
- In Hungary, for example, every eligible person may book 120 hours of interpreter time per year for free.
- And, of course, I encourage you to learn to sign. I promise you lots of fun!
Can deaf people from different countries talk via sign language?
- Yes. Deaf people often use International Sign Language (ISL) when travelling.
- Sign language varies from country to country but ISL has taken off with the help of social media.
What are some fun facts about sign language?
- You can talk through closed windows and from a distance.
- Have you ever got frustrated when trying to chat in a noisy club? Imagine, if we all could speak with signs.
- You can talk underwater. Admittedly, this is not an everyday problem for most of us. But I give you an example: Underwater rugby. It really is a thing, check it out.
- Deaf people often use name signs to refer to others.