Uses of Fingerspelling and American Sign Language

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American Sign Language is the visual language that has been created by the deaf in this country. For those with a limited knowledge of deaf culture or American Sign Language (ASL), fingerspelling may be a foreign concept. Fingerspelling is the act of using the manual alphabet of ASL to spell a word or phrase. All fingerspelling is done with the dominant hand, as are one-handed signs, and is ideally done in the area between the shoulder and the chin on the same side as the dominant hand. This skill serves many purposes and functions in ASL conversation. Some of these purposes include proper nouns, words lacking a sign, emphasis, and when the person does not know a sign. Learning how to fingerspell and understanding its usage is a necessary lesson for any who would like to learn ASL. At first, the speed of fingerspelling shown by more experienced signers and the deaf can seem overwhelming, but practice and experience will aid in the development of skills.
ASL focuses on two main types of skills, receptive and expressive. Receptive skills are a person’s ability to comprehend what is being signed. Expressive skills are demonstrated by a particular person using the signs and concepts that have been learned. Sign Language is best learned in an immersive environment where people are given the complete, voiceless experience. An example of this immersion would be a silent weekend, which is a gathering of ASL users and learners to engage in several days of workshops and presentations. These weekends can be particularly for interpreters in training, or can be open to students and the public as well. The benefit of an silent weekend is the way participants do not voice. Speaking without signing is considered very rude in the pres...

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...determine the letters you missed. The last of the three is context. Thinking about the signs surrounding the fingerspelled word is using context clues to understand the word. The goal of these three strategies is to help the development of receptive fingerspelling skills.
All in all, fingerspelling is a useful tool for those who are learning or wish to learn ASL. It can be used to discuss proper nouns, for emphasis, for abbreviations, for English words lacking a sign, and for signs that are unknown to the signer. Just as in written English, fingerspelling has set rules that must be followed and is a key part of being able to communicate effectively. Any person interested in learning ASL should understand the value of fingerspelling and its many uses in deaf culture. Practice and time can make it an invaluable asset to both receptive and expressive skills.
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