Frequently Asked Questions About Sign Language

Frequently Asked Questions About Sign Language | District Speech & Language Therapy | Washington D.C. & Arlington VA

Are you curious about sign languages but not sure what to ask about them?

Sign language is a lovely, versatile form of language.

Used by deaf and hard of hearing communities around the world, sign language allows people to communicate with their hands and gestures rather than with vocal speech.

It’s not just deaf individuals who use sign language, however.

Signs can be a wonderful tool to help a child communicate from a young age.

Babies can often learn a few signs before they can speak any words.

Children with speech milestone developmental delays may especially benefit from learning some sign language.

If your child is hard of hearing or isn’t meeting their developmental milestones, our speech-language pathologists in Washington can help.

Still have some questions?

Let’s jump into some of the most frequently asked questions about sign language.

What Is ASL?

ASL is the acronym used for American Sign Language.

A sign language is a visual language that usually has its own grammar rules and understanding.

American Sign Language is used in the United States and certain areas of Canada.

Many countries have their own system of signed language unique to them.

Even though ASL is used in America, it does not mirror the English language.

There is something called “signed English,” which is a system that uses finger spelling and English grammar to help communicate in English, but this is not ASL.

ASL has its own vocabulary and grammar and is primarily a language for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

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Is ASL A Real Language?

To answer this question, it’s important to understand what a language actually is.

And that isn’t as straightforward a question as you might think.

According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, language is primarily defined as:

The words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community.

The deaf and hard of hearing community created ASL in order to better communicate with each other.

ASL is a language because it has its own set of grammar rules and vocabulary and is used by a sizable community.

As far as the pronunciation part goes, the signs that make up sign language have their own pronunciations in that if you sign them wrong, you won’t be understood.

For example, the signs for “senate” and “committee” are very similar, and if you don’t sign them properly it can lead to confusion in the same way mispronouncing “drain” as “pain” would.

So, yes, ASL is a real language.

Are There Different Sign Languages Around The World?

There are many different sign languages around the world.

In fact, nearly every country has its own form of sign language used by the deaf and hard of hearing communities there.

ASL even got its roots from an older version of French Sign Language.

Funnily enough, even though you probably wouldn’t say there’s a huge difference between American English and British English, there is a sizable difference between ASL and its counterpart used in the United Kingdom, British Sign Language.

Because sign language develops like spoken language (within communities) there is no universal sign language that all deaf people speak.

Do Speech And Language Disorders Affect Sign Language?

If your child has a speech and language disorder, you may be wondering if that affects your ability to learn sign language.

Research has shown that sign language can support a child’s language learning ability.

Children with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, or cerebral palsy, can be taught common signs so they are more easily able to communicate.

Because children often gesture before they can speak, learning a few signs may help a child with a speech delay.

They’ll be able to gesture and ask about the world around them even if vocalizing is tough.

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Does ASL Have Grammar?

Yes, ASL has its own unique grammar just like any language.

Sign language grammar works differently than grammar in spoken languages, however.

It’s about more than just what formations your hands are making.

Everything from eyebrow expression to where the signs occur in relationship to the body is a part of ASL’s grammar.

Eye motions and hand motions are part of the grammar, too, and just like with a spoken language if you mix up these motions there might be confusion.

Is ASL A Real Language | District Speech & Language Therapy | Washington D.C. & Arlington VA

Can Babies Learn Sign Language?

Yes, babies can learn sign language and pick it up just like spoken language.

Babies take a while to learn language, at first experimenting by speaking in their own gibberish.

If your baby is learning sign language their signing will develop in a very similar way.

At first they’ll use simplified “baby signs,” but gradually they’ll learn to use specific signs correctly and their grammar will even improve.

This can be useful for babies with developmental delays or who are hard of hearing.

If you or your spouse is also hard of hearing, you may consider teaching your child sign language as well in order to allow them to communicate with you.

Will Kids Learning Sign Language Cause Developmental Delays?

There is a common concern that children who learn signs will have delays when it comes to learning spoken language, but that is not the case.

Most research actually shows the opposite – that learning signs can enhance your child’s language learning.

Sometimes signs will be easier for a child to learn than speech.

After all, forming words requires a lot of coordination and practice.

Signs can be especially useful for children experiencing speech delays, as they can still find a way to communicate with those around them.

Is Sign Language AAC?

AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication.

It refers to the ways to communicate other than through written or spoken language.

This can be useful for a wide variety of different conditions, and can include things like communication books, tablets, TTY devices, and signed language.

So yes, sign language is considered a form of AAC.

Book Your Appointment With District Speech Today

Are you looking for more tips and tricks when it comes to your child’s language development?

We’re happy to help guide you as you navigate your child’s language learning, and we can answer any questions you have about sign language.

Book your appointment with District Speech today to get started.

District Speech and Language Therapy
1300 I St NW, #400E,
Washington, DC 20005


District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.