Welcome to my online course, which aims to teach you some basic Auslan (Australian sign language). You’ll learn both vocab and concepts for how Auslan is used.
Auslan, like English, is a language that constantly evolves and changes. There is a lot of debate about whether certain signs and phrases are correct or not. Signs are updated to remove racist influences, and then changed back again to be visually appropriate. Signs vary between the states in Australia – for example, the sign for ‘hungry’ here in Melbourne is the sign for ‘sexy’ in Sydney! This course reflects how I use Auslan here in Melbourne. It’s not perfect – there are plenty of Deaf people out there who will tell you that some of these signs and ideas are wrong. But if you learn these signs you should be able to communicate with any signing Deaf person in Australia.
To get the most out of this course, it would be great if you can do it with a friend, so you have someone to practise with. Ask if someone else in your household or someone you see regularly can join you. Most lessons have around ten signs to learn – easy to pick up in a single session, and to practise during the week.
A note to Deaf people: Already, as I launch this course, I realise that I have missed many basic words that should be included. I’ve missed entire topics, like sport, because I don’t talk about them much. I would like to invite other Deaf signers to contribute lessons. Film a short video of yourself signing slowly and clearly enough for a non-signer to copy, add a list of vocab, and if appropriate, include some notes as well. Upload it to YouTube and paste a link to it in the comments. Later, I’ll update this course to include any submissions. Feel free to include alternate signs from the ones I’ve given.
A note to hearing people: If there are any signs you’d like to know, please leave your request in the comments. Hopefully then someone will add a video to answer your request. There are also other online resources for learning Auslan, here and here and here. And if you’d like to go to a live class, you’ll find links to them for all states in Australia here.
Alright, let’s dive in and get started…
If you can fingerspell you can communicate with any Deaf person – just spell out every word.
When you fingerspell, your dominant hand (the one you write with) does most of the moving, and the subordinate hand forms the base positions. In the video I’m fingerspelling with my left hand, so if you are right handed, you should do the signs mirror-image to me.
Take care that you don’t bend your fingers back unnaturally while fingerspelling. Make each letter smooth – for example, you don’t need to shrug your shoulders or take a deep breath for each letter – work on allowing them to flow naturally.
Practise fingerspelling the alphabet until you are confident with all the letters. A good way to help make your fingerspelling smooth is to spell out the lyrics to a favourite song. It can seem incredibly cumbersome at first, but if you practise it, it will become smooth. Eventually, you may be able to spell fast enough that you can do it along with the song while it plays in real time. If you drive, practising fingerspelling at the traffic lights is a great habit!
Also practise reading back fingerspelling from a friend. Learning to read back words is actually harder than learning the letters in the first place. It takes practise! Use context and what you know about your conversation to help you work out what the word might be.
The signs in this video will help you learn to greet a deaf person.
This is the vocab I’ve shown you:
- How are you? (this is one sign)
- So’s so
- Please/thank you (use this sign for both please and thank you)
You’ll notice my facial expression changes with each sign. Facial expression is very important in Auslan – practise using appropriate expressions for your signs.
With a friend, practise greeting each other in Auslan. Introduce yourself and fingerspell your name. Through the next week, notice when you feel any of the above feelings, and do that sign to yourself.
How to remember vocab and concepts
The critical time for the human brain to forget what it’s learnt is during the first twenty-four hours after acquiring new knowledge. Studies have shown that approximately one hour after learning something, most students can remember about eighty percent of the content. Four hours after learning, they remember less than fifty percent. The next day they remember as little as ten percent. My study recommendations are based on this understanding.
Every time you learn a new piece of vocab, write down the English word. This will remind you that you know this sign so you can practise it. If you feel you need to, write down any information about how to execute the sign, but position this on the page so that it can be covered up for testing yourself.
Watch the video, then practise signing the lists of vocab beneath it. One hour later, come back and try again, without watching the video. After practising, watch the video again and correct your signs where needed. Repeat this twice more if possible. Do it just before you go to sleep when you are tired, and again when you first wake up and are still groggy – in this semi-conscious state, the brain seems to learn well. Do it a few more times that day, and then a couple of times a week for a while.
I use Studyblue, where you can program your own flashcards for testing. Study blue is available as an iPhone app and in your browser, and is a great way to quickly prompt yourself to practise a sign. It even tracks which ones you need more practise with and gives you extra practise at those.