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What Is American Sign Language?

American Sign Language (ASL), like other languages, is a complex language with its own grammar structure and syntax.

To communicate in ASL is to understand how signs are made by moving the hands and at the same time utilizing facial expressions, head movements, and eye gaze to express abstract ideas and convey meaning. It is definitely far from being mere gestures or pantomime as many people assumed.

ASL is used by deaf people predominantly in the United States and in parts of Canada. Much like accents and dialects, there are regional variations in ASL. You will see and learn different regional signs when you talk to different deaf people around the country.

What about other parts of the world? Just like we have Spanish, French, and Hindi languages, there are different signed languages across the globe: Japanese Sign Language (JSL), British Sign Language, and Auslan (Australia), to name just a few. Unlike the ease of communicating between American and British English, American Sign Language and British Sign Language are two distinct languages; they don't even have the same alphabet.

Around 250,000 Americans are native speakers of American Sign Language.