Learn Auslan – Level 1 – Deafness and sign language

Here are some signs about being deaf and using Auslan (Australian sign language):

Vocab:

  • Deaf
  • Hearing
  • Sign
  • Language
  • Auslan (Australian sign language)
  • Fingerspell/spell
  • Alphabet (A-Z)
  • Voice
  • Lock your voice/voice off
  • Oral (this is also the sign for lipread)

There are some words and phrases here that aren’t commonly used in mainstream English.

People who aren’t deaf are referred to as ‘hearing’. Deaf people who don’t use sign language, communicating with speech and lipreading, are described as ‘oral’. I grew up oral and learnt to sign when I was eighteen – this is a common situation for Deaf people in Australia.

Fingerspelling refers to manually spelling out the letters of words. If you don’t know the sign for a word, fingerspell it. In Auslan, fingerspelling is commonly used for names and places. Some words, such as ‘cream’ are always fingerspelled, and the fingerspelled version becomes a sort of ‘sign’ for that word. There are some English words for which there is no equivalent Auslan sign. In this case, you could fingerspell the word, though more fluent signers will usually find a way to visually convey the meaning of the word using Auslan signs.

Lock your voice: since Auslan has its own grammar, trying to speak English while signing can be challenging, and also make your signs difficult to understand. It’s common in Auslan to refer to ‘turning off your voice’ or ‘locking your voice’ which means that you don’t speak – just sign. However, if you are speaking English with a group of hearing people, and there is a Deaf person present, it is polite to sign whatever words you can, even if it’s not using correct Auslan grammar, so that the Deaf person can get an idea of what you are talking about.

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