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American Sign Language (ASL)

If someone is hearing impaired, does that really mean they can't communicate? No!

In the United States, many people with hearing impairments communicate by using American Sign Language, also known as ASL. ASL combines hand signs, gestures, and facial expressions to create words and sentences. As many as 500,000 people in the U.S. communicate using ASL. Not all ASL users are hearing impaired. Some are family members, friends, or teachers of people with hearing impairments.

A form of ASL has been used in the U.S. for over two hundred years. It is the third most widely used language in the U.S., after English and Spanish.

You might think that modern-day ASL came from England, but it doesn't. It came from France. England has its own version of signed language which is very different from ASL. An American who only knows ASL will have a hard time communicating with someone from England who only knows Modern British Sign Language. But a person using ASL has a good chance of being able to communicate with a person using French Sign Language - even if they don't speak French!

People with hearing impairments have been using signed languages for a very long time. In the 18th century in France, some people did not think children with hearing impairments should go to school because they thought they could not learn since they could not speak or hear. A man with a hearing impairment named Pierre Desloges believed these people were wrong. He wrote a book that described the signed language used by people with hearing impairments in Paris. This book helped to change the minds of many people. Soon there were schools in France for children with hearing impairments. The French students and teachers traveled to the U.S. to show Americans their ways of teaching. This is why ASL is more like French Sign Language.

If you would like to learn more about ASL:

Check out the fingerspelling chart and learn to fingerspell your name.

Check out the American Manual Alphabet: Described Version for a written description of how to form the fingerspelling signs.

Try solving these fingerspelling games