This is a guest post written by Jonathan Peach. Jonathan works at a hospital as an RN and also freelance interprets. I asked him what he would like to share with new sign language students and here was his reply.
Sign language is not English that is put on the hands. American Sign Language (ASL) is its own language with its own rules and syntax. As you are learning this new language, remember it is a new language. Forget English syntax, sentence structure and word order, and focus on the rules of ASL.
English is a verbal language but a majority of the meaning in Sign Language is conveyed in body language and facial expression. As you work with the signs make sure you facial expression and body language match your intended meaning.
There are four components to every sign: location, palm orientation, hand shape, and movement. If you change just one component you can change the meaning of the sign.
Non-manual markers are also used to help with meaning or emphasis of a sign or concept. A non-manual marker is a mouth movement, facial expression, body movement or a combination of one or all of them. So as you continue to practice and learn, keep in mind, sign choice, sign production, and any non-manual markers to help convey your meaning.
Practice, practice practice. Stand in front of a mirror so you can see how you produce the sign and what your face and body “say.” Then ask yourself if they make sense. As often as you can, meet with the Deaf and attempt communication every chance you get. The more you practice and talk with the Deaf, the better and more confident you will feel.
As always, keep up the good work.