Sign: It’s NOT All the Same

Sign isn’t universal and English-speaking countries each have different versions of visual, signed language!

I’ve had an interest in sign language for a long time and have been (mostly informally) learning ASL for almost a decade.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, learn to fingerspell your name or other words in ASL at

One aspect that many people who aren’t aware of Deaf culture often misunderstand is that there are different types of sign, just like there are different spoken languages.

In particular, since American Sign Language is not derived from English, other English-speaking countries have different sign languages.  The UK has British Sign Language which is entirely different from ASL.  Australia (and I believe New Zealand) use Auslan, or Australian Sign Language, which again is a separate language, although I can recognize a few words here and there.

Canada is a separate case.  ASL is mainly used there, but there are also two local officially recognized sign languages: la Langue des Signs Quebecoise and the dialectal Maritimes Sign Language.  It makes sense for Canadians to use mostly ASL since ASL is based on French Sign Language and also Canada is so close to America!

Since I am American and a student of ASL, most of the resources I’ll post or books I read refer to ASL or American Deaf culture.  Normally I try to avoid even watching a video with a different sign language because I don’t want the wrong sign for a word to stick in my head.  However, for those of you who are elsewhere in the world or just curious, here are some videos I’ve run across with other versions of sign.

This video is longer but Jasmine and her mom discuss her Deaf life, including the importance of parents of Deaf children learning sign, their thoughts on her cochlear implant, and more, all in BSL (with captions and voice).

This next video features Deaf mum Sarah who’s pregnant with her first child.  She and her boyfriend get some advice from Deaf parents Victoria and Greg, who have two children.  It’s also quite long at half an hour.  Everyone in this video uses Auslan.  (With voiceover and captions.)

Finally, here is a video in both ASL and JSL (Japanese Sign Language) showing terms used in math class side by side.  Each word is fingerspelled, then the sign is shown.

These three videos (showing four forms of sign) might look the same to you, but as you get more familiar with sign, you’ll notice the differences.  When I first started, I would sit through 20 minutes of video before realizing that the reason it was incomprehensible was because it wasn’t ASL.  These days, even if the signing is fast and/or complicated, I feel that I can understand a word here and there, enough to at least tell what language I am watching!  (Much like how you can learn to distinguish spoken French/Chinese/Spanish/Icelandic, even if you don’t know those languages.)

Beyond this information, there are also some types of signing that are NOT languages.  An example of this is SEE, or Signed Exact English.  SEE uses signs for each word in English, including indefinite articles like “the” and verb endings like “ing”.  It follows English sentence structure exactly, and relies a lot on fingerspelling.  SEE is a valid method of communication, mostly used by older deaf people who were not allowed to learn sign, but it is not a language.  Much like how Braille is used to make English accessible to blind people, SEE is a method of making English accessible to deaf people.  However, SEE is not very successful because deaf people have their own natural language of sign (in America ASL) which is much better at communicating information.

I hope these videos are of some help or interest to you.  It may take some time and research to find out what sign language is used in your country (it might not be what you expect – ASL is used in Nigeria) and what other visual languages it’s related to, but I think it’s a worthwhile journey.  Future posts will be focusing on ASL, but I thought my international readers might be curious about sign in their own countries.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

2 thoughts on “Sign: It’s NOT All the Same”

    1. Yes, I love signed music videos! There actually was some controversy over them in the ASL community a while back because many were made by hearing performers or used SEE rather than ASL. However now we have DPAN, the Deaf Professional Arts Network which has so many amazing music videos.

      Thanks for sharing these videos, I had never seen DGS before!

      Liked by 1 person

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