Basic signs everyone should know

Lots of people who run across a person who is deaf, or a signer, find themselves wishing they knew a couple of basic signs.

I’m deaf, and I often wish people around me knew basic signs. That way I could briefly communicate with them if I needed to.

Some online links are great for learning to sign, but where do you start? American Sign Language is overwhelmingly visual and complex.

To start with the basics, we don’t sign words such as “are” or “is” or “a” or “to.” Those words are omitted to make it a visual language. We sign “how you?” instead of “How are you?”, “where bathroom?” instead of “Where is the bathroom?” and so on. English grammar brings awkward pauses in our signing. I hope this makes sense!

The most important skill you should know is how to finger spell the alphabet. With this, you can finger spell a word and ask for the sign that accompanies it.

Here are some important phrases in American Sign Language:

  1. Good Morning / Good Afternoon / Evening
  2. How are you? Good / Fine
  3. Have a good day / Have a good night / Have a good weekend
  4. Thank you/You’re welcome
  5. Can I help you?How can I help you?
  6. Where is _____? bathroom/food (eat)break roomofficefront deskconference room
  7. How do you sign [finger spell word]?
  8. Sorryexcuse me / please
  9. My name is [finger spell name].
  10. Nice to meet you!

With these phrases, you can have a short conversation with a person who is deaf and a person who is a signer. Those signs are not the only signs you should know, though. If you find yourself in a situation where you will have repeated encounters with a person who is deaf, I encourage you to learn more signs to carry on a longer conversation.

Here’s a link to many more signs that can be constructed into sentences. I hope you get a chance to use some of the signs you just learned! The American Sign Language is a beautiful language, and I’d love for you to be able to enjoy it as much as I do!

P.S. If you’re stuck with basic signs and do not have an interpreter present, do offer a pen and paper, or a computer/tablet to converse back and forth. You’d be surprised how much a simple gesture like that can mean to a person who is deaf.


 

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