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How To Learn Sign Language

Intro to ASL Grammar Rules for Beginners

Learning the rules and structure of ASL
grammar can be very confusing for beginners, but in this video our expert
ASL instructor Victoria is going to help break down the general concepts to help
you get a better understanding. And before you go, click the link in the
description box to learn more in our online free ASL classes. -When learning
ASL, our instinct is to believe that it follows the same rules as our English
grammar, but that’s actually not the case. ASL is completely different in many ways.
It has its own syntax, grammar, idioms, expressions, things of that nature. So in
English, for one thing, we have tone and inflection in our voices. Our tone and
inflection change our meaning completely. It can show if we are being
sarcastic; it can show if we’re happy, if we’re sad, if we are emphasizing a word
or not. So that all comes out in our voice. In ASL we have to still use some
sort of tone and inflection to give our sentences meaning. The question is, how? Well in ASL it’s all about your facial expressions and your body movement. It
might feel a little silly at first because perhaps we’re not used to making
certain facial expressions or moving in a certain way but the truth is that just
signing a word in ASL does not give it the meaning that we necessarily need. In
any given sentence we need to add in our facial expressions to give it the
meaning. For example if I want to say “happy,” this is our sign for happy. But
this alone does not necessarily mean happy. Why? Well if my face
looks like that, am I really showing happiness? In order to give this meaning
I have to have a smile on my face; I have to show that I’m happy. Same thing if I
was saying “sad.” My face should have a frown; I
should look somewhat sad. Now this is also important when showing different
meanings. By moving our hands in different ways, it also gives a
different meaning. So, sad. Crying, like bawling-crying. It all changes with our
movements. It gives emphasis and additional meaning
to our sentences. Facial expressions are so important. In English we use that word
“so” to put emphasis on the next word, which is “important.” In ASL we don’t have
a word for “so.” This is our sign for “important.” If I want to show it is “so
important,” I kind of drag out my sign, but my facial expression is also putting
emphasis on the sign. So 50% of the language is, yes, knowing your signs for
your words. But the other 50% is your facial expressions and your body movement. You really can’t have one without the other. So as silly as it may feel, it’s very very important to use those in your
sentences. Another thing that makes ASL so different is the lack of certain
words. In English, we use words like “or,” “and,” “is,” “of,” “the.” All of those words and others are not included in ASL. For example if I wanted to say “the table,”
I never say “the.” That word doesn’t exist in American Sign Language. So I simply sign “table.” When signing a sentence like, “I
like cookies and milk,” the word “and” doesn’t really exist in American Sign
Language either. In this case we use something called role shifting. So I would
say “I like cookies.” I’m signing off to one side, in this case, my left. “…and milk,”
I’m signing on my right. So I’m not doing something so dramatic, but it’s a slight
shift that we call role shifting. “Cookies and milk.” This is our “and.” This role
shifting can also be used for “or.” For example in the question, “do you like
cookies or milk?” So we might sign “cookies, milk,” still doing the role shifting. And
to show the “or,” we do the sign for “which” at the end. So again those words – and, or,
is, of, the, etc, – the small little words that we have in English, they don’t exist
in ASL. You might find them in other forms of sign like signed exact English
or PSE. So the less words, the better. Which kind of brings us to our next
point: English is very much so word for word for word. We have an exact structure to our sentences. In ASL that’s not the case. While there are some grammar rules
that do exist, ASL is not about word for word for word. One of my favorite
examples is, “I am walking down the street.” I would never sign, “I am walking down the
street.” That is English. In ASL my goal is to paint a picture for
the person I am speaking to, so I would say maybe, “here’s the street, and I’m
walking.” And in that case I am able to put a clear picture instead of just
putting a bunch of words out there that really in the end don’t give a real
meaning to my sentence in ASL. So if you take one thing home with you today
it’s that ASL is a simple language; it’s very straightforward,
so really the less words you use the better. What gives
ASL meaning and emphasis, and all of those things that we’re looking for in
our English sentences, we convey them in the inflection we’re using in our sign.
The tone that is coming out through our facial expressions and our body movement.
With practice I know that you’re going to be able to deliver any meaning in any
of your sentences perfectly in beautiful ASL structure. -Hey there, thanks for
watching. We want to know what you find the most challenging about ASL grammar. Leave a comment and let us know, and if you enjoyed this video consider
subscribing so you can stay up to date with more helpful tutorials just like
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