American Sign language (ASL) is a beautiful expressive language. It is a visual gestural language, a language all its own with its own grammar and word order. Learning the signed alphabet called fingerspelling is a simple way to begin. One can describe sign language as a moving poetic language, a language of expressively writing words in the air.
Up until recently, signing had to be taught in person or using expensive video conferencing equipment. Now with the advent of desktop video conferencing, signing can be taught inexpensively to students right in their own home using their computer and the Internet.
Sign language is offered in many schools and Universities as an accredited foreign language. The field of working in signing is an open one because there is a growing need for sign language interpreters. The job pays well and there are many different work settings to choose from. It is used in schools to make learning more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing children. (In elementary educational settings most signing is closer to English word order.) Sign language is used in medical, legal, religious, business, and many other settings where deaf persons need accessibility in communication. It is also used in video relay service which enables Deaf and hard of hearing persons to use and interpreter to make visual phone calls to hearing persons through high speed internet connections and a video phone.
Sign language is not a universal language. Most countries have their own version of language. For example, British signing is very different from American signing. Some countries such as Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico use American Sign Language
ASL in America has an interesting history. In 1815 a Protestant minister named Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet traveled abroad to find a better method to educate the deaf. In England he met a French deaf man named Laurent Clerc. Clerc agreed to teach him this special language to bring back to America. Clerc returned to America with Gallaudet and together they founded the first American school for the deaf in Hartford Connecticut - from there American Sign Language began to spread as more deaf schools were established in other places. Today it is the fastest-growing foreign language in the United States, according to a San Diego State University article.
Signing seems to accelerate cognitive development, with one study showing an increase in IQ of between 8 and 13 points for children who learned to sign versus those who didn't. The difference was still evident when the children were tested years later. Other studies have shown that this language can benefit special needs children in remarkable ways, helping accelerate speech in autistic children.
Desktop video conferencing has been perfected to where students can see the teacher's hands very clearly and they can learn the language easily. Desktop video conferencing uses the student's and teacher's laptop webcams and the Internet to connect to each other. The teacher can also speak with the student and relate how each sign is made and then demonstrate each sign.
Learning sign language is a beautiful experience and a rewarding one in many ways. Now with the advent of new technologies such as desktop video conferencing, students can become proficient in signing skills and never have to leave their home.