Sign language is an important communication skill to have.  People who are deaf, mute, or have limited speech capabilities learn this to effectively communicate with others.  It is also important for people without disabilities to learn sign language to understand needs or wants of others.  It is not a written language, but a beautiful language using visuals to get across what you want to say.

Sign language is speaking non verbally using the body, by making hand or face gestures, or other movements.  One of the earliest recorded use of sign language dates back to the fifth century, BC.  Socrates stated that "If we hadn't a voice or tongue, and wanted to express things to one another, wouldn't we try to make signs by moving our hands, head, and the rest of our body, just as dumb  people do at present?"  During the 2nd century recordings in Judea read that "A deaf mute can hold a conversation by means of gestures."  The teaching was well known in Jewish culture.  A manual alphabet was published in the 18th century, and is the same used today. 

The first school for deaf children started in Paris in 1755.   Later, in 1817, the American School for the Deaf began in Hartford, Connecticut.  Washington, D.C. became home to a school in 1857, which later became the national college for the deaf in 1864.  To this day it is the only liberal arts university for deaf people in the entire world. 

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Helen Keller is famous for being the first person who was deaf and blind to earn a bachelor of Arts degree.  She went on to become an author, political activist who strongly opposed the war, and a lecturer.   She was around seven years old before she began to learn communication skills.  Helen appeared in a silent film, and later the story of her life was made into a tv movie titled 'The Miracle Continues'.  There have also been several documentaries about her story.  She was listed in 1999 on Gallup's most widely admired people of the 20th century, and was honored on the Alabama state quarter in 2003. 



Most people sign up to learn sign language because they either have a deaf child or other relative, or work in the community with people who are deaf.

There are literally thousands of words that can be communicated through sign language.  Statistics have shown that 9 out of 10 deaf children are born to parents who are capable of hearing.  The sooner sign language is introduced into a child's life, the quicker they will learn and be able to sign fluently.  With new screening processes performed at most hospitals, hearing loss can be detected early before the newborn leaves.  This way parents have the opportunity to learn about communication options immediately.   Research has suggested that communication can start very early, and that babies as young as two months old can communicate through sign language even though vocabulary hasn't developed.  There are claims of babies as young as ten months old signing the words for 'teddy bear', 'hungry', 'thirsty', etc.  Studies have also shown that by using sign language with your baby even if they are not hearing impaired reduces frustration, increases IQ and vocabulary skills, and enhances reading and spelling.  It is also believed that babies begin to verbally speak up to six to eight months before others when sign language has been introduced at an early age.


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American sign language is the third most communicated language in the world.  It has its own grammar and can be interpreted  into any language.  Some words have a sign to represent the actual word itself.  Other words have to be spelled at one letter at a time.  This is referred to as finger spelling.  Grammar is very different in sign language.  Instead of saying "I am an employee", you would just sign "I employee" and it would be correct.  When telling a long story, the tense is just signed once at the beginning of the conversation.  So if you were talking about something that happened last week, you would sign last week and then start the story.  Nouns and verbs are signed similarly, for instance, if you wanted to say you were playing, you would sign play twice to show the verb form.

When communicating with someone using sign language, use eye contact as this is how they will know you want to speak with them.  If they aren't looking at you, try waving to catch their attention or lightly tap them on the shoulder.  Don't ever get in someone's face or try communicating with a hand full of objects.  If someone is communicating to you using sign language, it is important to wait for the person to finish and look at you, indicating it is your turn to speak.  Sign language is not only important in communication for people with disabilities.  It's also a good way to communicate basic needs with foreigners.  Or it may be means of communication with an older adult who is hard of hearing.  It is estimated that over two million people in the United States alone use sign language.

You don't have to be intimidated about learning sign language.  What works for most people is to start out with the basics, such as the alphabet.  This way, you can always spell out words that you haven't learned how to sign.  There are several resources available online or in local libraries for learning sign language.  Many companies offer online learning at no cost.  Most use pictures or other visuals as learning guides, or use video tutorials.   Some companies offer video for use during voice relay communications.  It is also available on several cable television channels, and used many times during important events such as presidential speeches.  With faster service and larger screens, people using sign language can even communicate on cell phones via video chat.  There are even games available you can play online to aid with learning the language.  Practice makes perfect, so any chance you get to use your newly learned skill will not only benefit you, but increase your ability to communicate with others.