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Sign of the times: American Sign Language

Sign of the times: American Sign Language

How do you speak without opening your mouth? With your hands of course. American Sign Language is a fully-fledged and widely-spoken language consisting of a standardised set of gestures and expressions. It helps to prevent the sign language version of the Tower of Babel, allowing signers worldwide to avoid misunderstanding and confusion. And you don’t have to be deaf to speak it. ASL is the fourth most popular second language among hearing students in the United States, attracting 91,000 students in 2014. It is useful for interpreting, teaching and counselling, and students enjoy using it to communicate silently, for example across lecture halls. It can be a career choice too: a shortage of qualified ASL instructors makes it a viable profession to enter. One ASL instructor makes her hearing students wear earplugs all day to force them to learn faster.

Sign languages have sprung up from scratch all over the world. For example, in Nicaragua in 1980 the first school for the deaf opened. Children improvised their own pidgin sign language. The next generation took this and built on it with regularisation and a set of grammar rules. It is now a fully-codified language called ISN (Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua).

When starting to learn sign language, it makes sense to learn a standardised version. You wouldn’t want to start learning English in Glasgow, for example, unless you planned to live there permanently.

An ICOES-accredited course in ASL is available right here on With in-depth video tutorials and lessons, it’s well-suited to elearning due to sign language’s visual nature. Rather than teaching you a long and boring dictionary (pictionary?) of every sign available, it gives you a strong understanding of the fundamentals necessary to communicate in ASL. You can then grow your vocabulary and work on fluency at your own pace. The American Sign Language course was developed by the International Open Academy and designed to enable learners to communicate effectively with deaf friends, family, co-workers and customers, explore careers working with the deaf community, or continue their education to become more proficient in ASL.

Modules include Deaf Etiquette, Questions vs. Statements, Variations in ASL and Conversational Vocabulary. Once activated the course is available permanently, 24/7.