Category Archives: Learn Auslan Online

Learn Auslan – Grammar

Read the text for this lesson, before you watch the video.

As I have already mentioned, in Auslan, the grammar and sentence structure is different from English. Now I want to go into this a little deeper and practise putting sentences together using correct Auslan grammar.

The topic is the first part of the sentence. “I’m going to the shop” becomes SHOP ME GO. The shop is the topic. Usually the verb is the last item.

If you use a time marker, (for example, ‘yesterday’) it goes first in the sentence, before the topic. The sentence ‘I went to the shop yesterday’ is signed ‘YESTERDAY SHOP ME GO.’

Try signing:

• I want a drink.
• Do you want to watch a movie?
• My father is very tall.
• Please pass me the salt.

If you don’t know the vocab for the above words, fingerspell them. AFTER you have tried signing them, watch the video and correct your signs:

The impossible feat my printers had to pull off to print my full colour illustrated novel

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Image: Two similar book covers. On the left is Future Girl (Australian edition) and on the right is The Words in my Hands (North American edition), both by Asphyxia. They show a girl with long, black, wavy hair. She wears a gray sleeveless top and holds a magenta pencil and paint brush in her fist, with a light blue paint dripping from the brush. She has large black cross over her right ear. Her eyes are green and her lips red. The background shows drawings of buildings. The left background is green, brown and teal textured paint; the right background is teal, pink and ochre textured paint. On both covers is a review by Amie Kaufman, a New York Times bestselling author, which says, ‘Brilliantly imaginative, totally immersive…’

When I first had the idea for my book, titled Future Girl (in Australia) and The Words in My Hands (in North America), I told my publishers I wanted to make a young adult novel that included full colour art on every page, because I believe that picture books should not just be for young children. I now know why this is a genre-breaking concept – it was way more complex than I could ever have imagined.

Usually picture books are printed on glossy thick paper, which makes the art look great, but when the pages add up (384 of them, in the case of my book), it can make the book prohibitively heavy. There’s a reason coffee-table books are called that – they sit more easily on a coffee table for viewing than in your hands while you lie back in a bath or in bed. We had to find a way to print it that would result in it feeling like a novel, not a coffee table book.

Using thinner paper is an option, but if you go too thin this risks ink bleeding through from one side to the other. If I have an artwork with heavy black on one page, then light colours on the next, the light page could be contaminated. My publisher selected a thinner stock than they would for a picture book, and printed special colour proofs double-sided on the actual stock (the first time they’d ever done this!) to ensure there were no problems here. The publisher also insisted we print on ‘woodfree’ stock, which is what most ‘normal’ novels are printed on, instead of glossy/shiny stock like picture books are often printed on – to ensure it still felt like a novel. This sort of paper knocks back the colours, so the designer had to ramp up colour in our files to compensate, and again, there were several test colour proofs done to check this colour before the actual book printed.

Not only that, but areas of very heavily saturated ink on a page can take a while to dry – risking the ink transferring on to page opposite it. If ink saturation gets too heavy, special measures need to be taken by the printer – such as separating out and drying pages individually, or putting a special varnish over the top of each page. These sorts of measures take a ton of extra time and cost a lot of extra money. So, the book designer also needed to knock back some of my heavier blacks to avoid this, walking that fine line of judging how much to knock them back in order to receive the best printed product possible while remaining true to the look of the artwork.

I am amazed that my publishers didn’t just tell me where to go with my idea. Instead they took a punt, consulted with highly experienced printers, and eventually came up with what we all hoped would be the perfect combination of paper, ink and techniques.

I am super-fussy about colour, and choose the precise shades of each colour in my artworks very carefully. I spent hours tweaking the colours for every page. This is further complicated by the fact that what you see on the screen doesn’t represent what will come out of the printing press. That meant I had to hand the final colour tweaks over to my publishers as they use professionally calibrated screens, special lights, and make further changes depending on the type of paper used and what they see in the proofs. Woodfree stock sucks up far more ink than shiny paper so a concern was that all the bright colours in final book would end up dulled. You will understand why I was extremely nervous when I ripped open the package containing the very first copy of the book. I didn’t know how much all the paper, ink and technologies used would mess with my vision for the art.

As I flipped through it for the very first time, my jaw dropped open. I couldn’t believe it. It’s perfect. JUST PERFECT. The colours are rich and vibrant and just as I wanted them. The paper, the texture, the size and weight of the book combine to be a sensuous feast. There’s no bleed-through, none! It’s just small and light enough to hold comfortably while still being substantial and delicious.

I cried. Eight years in the making and at last I could hold it in my hands. It struck me that if I had never seen this book before, I would be so blown away that I would have to cancel my entire life for a month in order to absorb all that beautiful art. I truly did create the book I wanted to read, look at, have and hold.

I hope you’ll love it too. It’s available here if you’re in Australia, and here if you’re in North America

Learn Auslan – Asking questions

In Auslan, there are three types of questions that are asked.

• Yes/No questions – “Are you a teacher?”
• Information questions – “Where do you live?”
• Rhetorical questions – to break up information.

There are rules for the manner in which the questions are asked.

Yes/No Questions:

• Body leans forward
• Eyebrows are raised
• Eyes opened wide

Information Questions:

• Body leans back
• Eyebrows are low
• Eyes squint

Rhetorical Questions:

These are usually used when a speaker is giving a long block of information. It breaks it up and becomes easier to follow. In this situation the speaker asks a question and then answers it themselves immediately. There are no rules for facial expression and body position when using rhetorical questions.

In the video, I give an example of each type of question:

• Yes/No questions – “Are you a teacher?” (TEACHER YOU?)
• Information questions – “Where do you live?” (YOU LIVE WHERE?)
• Rhetorical questions – to break up information. (I LOVE SWIMMING WHY? TO BECOME STRONG AND FIT – GOOD) In this example I should really have signed ‘SWIMMING I LOVE’ because the topic is supposed to go first.

Learn Auslan – Space

The use of space is very important in Auslan. The key point to using space effectively, is to remember where you put things, and leave them there. Famous mime artists, when playing with an imaginary mouse, will always put the mouse back in their pocket when they have finished – they never let go of it mid-air. In Auslan the same concept is applied with space.

In conversation, when talking about a person who is not present, locate them somewhere in space, identify them, and from then on point to that location when referring to them. You need only say the person’s name once, when first identifying them. Replace the use of “he”, “she” with pointing to the location where you have placed that person. Be very careful that you leave the person in one spot. If you begin talking about another person, locate them somewhere else, to avoid confusion, and remember to point to the correct location.

Space is also important when describing physical layout. Practise describing

• The layout of your kitchen
• The layout of your house
• The layout of this room and the people in it
• A dinner plate of different food, showing where and how much of each item is on the plate.

Transposition: space is to be described according to how YOU (the signer) see things. The other person must transpose the image to visualize it correctly.

Try drawing on paper the position of hills and a farmhouse on a landscape, according to how someone has described it for you.

(Sorry, there’s no video yet to show signs describing objects and their arrangement in space. I hope to make one later.)

Learn Auslan – Depicting Signs

Depicting signs are a linguistic concept that are not used in English. Other foreign languages use them, however, a foreign language which lacks a word for oven may use depicting words to describe it: “The hot box with the door in front.”

Auslan uses depicting signs frequently. They are known as CL (fingerspelled) for short. There are two types of depicting signs – proform and descriptive.

Descriptive depicting signs use the hands and face to show what things look like. Try signing:

• Various objects around the room
• A dog
• A man you know
• A pattern

Try drawing on paper shapes that are described in the air. Think about showing proportion and distance, by leaving one hand to show the location of the last element you described.

(Sorry, there’s no video yet to show descriptive depicting signs. I hope to make one later.)

Proform depicting signs are used for people, animals and vehicles. Unlike descriptive depicting signs, they are predefined and must be learnt like vocab. They are used to show how people, animals and vehicles interact with each other and the world around them. In this video, I show you the depicting signs for people, animals and vehicles:

Proform depicting signs:

• Person (the area of your pointer finger from which you would take a fingerprint is considered the face of the person, and the fingernail area is considered to be the back of the head. In this video the person is facing sideways.)
• Animal (the fingertip is considered to be the head of the animal).
• Vehicle (car, truck, bike, motorbike. Again, the fingertips represent the front of the vehicle.)

I also show you how you might use these depicting signs to depict:

• A car crash (sorry, my signing here is a bit fractured)
• A woman walking her dog (you can see by my facial expression that the dog wasn’t meant to run ahead!)
• A motorbike stopping suddenly
• Two people meeting

When a depicting sign is used, it is important to identify what you are talking about first. You can’t hold up one finger and have the other person assume it is a person – you must first say who the person is.

Practise signing with proform and descriptive depicting signs, to show:

• two animals playing together
• two people talking and someone going off in a huff
• two cars racing, one sometimes getting ahead, and then the other

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Fingerspelling patterns

For this lesson, read the text before you watch the video!

People learning to fingerspell usually read one letter at a time, and at the end of each word they try to mentally put the letters together to understand the word. However, when reading they will be able to glance at a word on the page and know it from the shape – there is no need to read it letter by letter.

Reading fingerspelling can be the same. Rather than concentrating on each individual letter, concentrate on the handshape the word makes. Notice the first letter, the last letter, one or two key letters in the middle of the word, the approximate length of the word, then use this information to work out what the word is. Context is very important, so factor in what you are talking about. A long word that is fingerspelled will often be spelled slowly the first time in conversation, and then for the remainder of the conversation, signed very fast. Think about what you are talking about and what the word could possibly be.

Try fingerspelling your name, looking for patterns and handshapes. Try finding patterns for these words:

• Cream
• Program
• Out
• How
• Rice
• Bus

Now watch the video – I sign these words, showing you the rhythm I use that adds flow to the word. Many words that are routinely fingerspelled have a particular flow and shape that makes them easy to identify, even if you can’t distinguish each letter. You learn those flow-shapes, just as you learn specific signs.

Learn Auslan – Around the house

Some signs you might use around the house:


• House
• Home
• Door
• Window
• Bed
• Floor
• Table
• Chair
• Kitchen (KK)
• Room
• Light (this is for an electric light)
• Phone
• Mobile phone

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Hygiene

Here are some signs relating to hygiene:


• Water
• Clean
• Dirty
• Do the dishes
• Shower
• Bath
• Sweep
• Stink
• Wash

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Learning

These signs relate to study:


• School
• Teacher (my thumb and pointer finger make an L shape here.)
• Teach
• Study (in the video, two circular movements of my hand would have been enough.)
• Class
• Student
• Read
• Write (in the video I should have just written two lines on my hand, not three)
• Learn (again, two rubs of my fingers would be the correct sign for learn)
• Remember
• Forget
• Practise
• Think
• Know
• Don’t know
• Understand
• Work

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Time – more signs

Here are some more signs about time:


• Week (W down)
• Month (M forward)
• Year (Y down)
• Next week
• In two weeks
• In three weeks (you see the pattern here – this can go on up to 9 weeks!)
• Last week
• Two weeks ago
• Three weeks ago (you see the pattern here too.)
• Before
• After
• Early (the same sign as after)
• Late
• Too late
• Half hour
• Still

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.