How to learn Australian sign language

August 28, 2015 - 2 min read

Sign language is something that everyone should know or have an understanding of. It can come in handy at work or in day to day life. However, if you aren’t sure on how to sign, here are some tips on how to make sure you don’t offend or upset someone who is hard of hearing.

Sign Language Etiquette

To ensure you don’t come across rude or offensive to a deaf person, we’ve provided a list of some do’s and dont’s.

Start a conversation by making eye contact with the person. If they aren’t looking at you, you can try waving or flicking the light switch on and off to catch their attention.When you’re waving to get attention, don’t invade their personal space and wave violently.
If you still can’t get their attention, it’s okay to tap a deaf person on the shoulder. Two or three firm taps should be enough to let them know you’re trying to communicate.Don’t tap first. This should be a last resort, after making eye contact or waving.
Try to make conversations similar to that of your hearing friends—i.e. topical discussions about sport, weather and politics etc.Don’t speak on behalf of a deaf person unless they ask you to do so.
Introduce yourself using your first and last name.Do not look away or stay expressionless during conversations with a deaf person.

Understanding Sign Language Structure

Like all languages, Auslan is continuing to evolve. While new signs are created everyday, they all follow the same distinct Auslan grammatical structure. The structure is based on what is seen rather than heard—see below for an example.
English Sentence: ‘I saw a cute brown dog this morning’
Auslan sentence: ‘brown dog cute this morning I saw’

Sign Language Elements

Unlike the English language, there are a number of elements to Auslan sign language which are used to construct a sign. These include elements include:
Hand shapes—Auslan has 37 major hand shapes with 25 variations.
Orientation—Meaning can change when the signs are oriented towards different sides of the body—with your palm and hand facing different directions.
Locations—Signs can be made in relation to different locations on the body.
Movement—Movements can also can also change the meaning of your sign—these include small and large movements with your head, arm and hands.
Expression—Facial expression is important when indicating emphasis, emotion and intensity. Things like raising your eyebrows when you’re surprised or shaking your head when disappointed, will help convey meaning.
It’s vital to use all these sign elements correctly if you want communicate effectively. When there’s no sign available or you’re unsure of the correct sign, you can always spell it out using the sign alphabet.

Learn More About Sign Language

To improve your Auslan ability, you can use the Auslan Signbank website as a resource. This free interactive sign language resource features a comprehensive Auslan dictionary (featuring videos to better illustrate the signs) and a range of other useful information. You can also apply for the TAFE course, Introduction to Auslan at North Coast Tafe in Port Macquarie.

[Related: Hearing Awareness Week]

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