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American Sign Language For Dummies®

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American Sign Language is one of those fascinating forms of communication. As you walk through a grocery store, a restaurant, or a park, you might see some people moving their hands in the air as they look at each other. We know that they are communicating because they are responding to each other with gestures and facial expressions. There is meaning to the movement. How often have you thought that you would love to know how to do that? Well here is your chance.

About This Book

American Sign Language For Dummies is designed to give you a general understanding of how to communicate in American Sign Language, as well as a general understanding of Deaf culture and Deaf history. As you’ll soon see, the language and the culture go hand in hand and can’t be separated, and an understanding of both makes you a better signer. As you go through this book, you will see that ASL has rules about how to shape the hands, how the hands move, and how to put signs in order.

To clarify, this book focuses solely on what’s known as American Sign Language (ASL) because it’s pretty much the only form of communication for the Deaf community in the United States.

This book is categorized according to subject. You can use each chapter as a building block for the next chapter or you can skip around wherever you please. Just find a subject that interests you and dig in, remembering that the most important thing is to have fun while you’re figuring out this stuff. It never hurts to have a study buddy. Having a friend to watch you sign, bounce off your questions, and applaud your progress may be just the thing. And if you like to fly solo, that’s ok too. Whichever way you go, the construct of the book is simple enough to follow.

After you understand a concept, we strongly recommend that you practice with those who are already proficient. Conversing with Deaf people is highly recommended as they are the experts. Doing so helps reinforce the knowledge you obtain from this book and allows others to help you hone your skills. If others understand you, you’re probably on the right track. And if you don’t understand something, don’t despair. People all over the world learn how to sign. You'll get there with practice.

Here are some conventions we use to help you navigate this book:

Don’t think of the translations of English sentences into ASL as word-for-word translations. In fact, many signs have no English equivalents. Throughout this book, you find English equivalents that are close in meaning to Sign but not exactly the same. Remember that ASL is a completely different language from English. Fortunately, many gestures that hearing people use are also used by Deaf people in ASL, so you already have a head start that you can build on.