Thursday, February 22, 2007

Would you like to learn sign language?

The best way to learn sign language as a second language is to jump right into using it! Scary? You bet it is!

As Australian sign language (Auslan) is not a written language, the symbols of communication exchange can not be jotted down and read. Certainly, learning any new language skills is easier with appropriate tuition from someone who understands the norms of the society using that language. Also important are the finer points of cultural etiquette. This is particularly so for any signed language.

The use of naughty words and embarrassing gaffs is just as common when learning signing as with any language. Child like though it may be, it seems those kinds of words or signs are easier to remember than the more formal use of language. This is why it is so important for the serious student to learn from a tutor or signer prepared to act as the model from whom the student learns the formations, expression, movement, appropriate position within body space, stress, duration, sequences of movement etc.

Moving from an auditory language to a visual language within a ‘visual world’ or visual environment can be a daunting experience for hearing people. By switching off voice when walking through the door to class, the student really does become more dependent on the visual medium.

All communication, verbal or nonverbal, is an exchange of symbols including expression and body stance. In verbal languages we tend to forget we are constantly applying strategies to successfully communicate our messages. We encode our thoughts to dialogue that is spoken by one person, received by the listener, ‘decoded’, then reply is encoded before transferring verbally back to the original sender. This strategy develops the ebb and flow of dialogue, attention and body movement, between people.

Learning communication exchange with nonverbal language requires strategies just as learning another verbal language does. Listeners in a conversation of signed language have very active roles. Tomorrow I will write about some helpful strategies for learning Auslan.

Until tomorrow, wherever you are, have a great day and maybe observe how others communicate around you and how you communicate with others. Leave a comment if you wish or email me. (

Sue Bayliss. Cairns, Australia.

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