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Auslan (Australian Sign Language) :
from baby sign to fluent signing.
People new to Sign Language are often daunted by the terms.
What is Auslan? What is Baby Sign, Key-Sign, Makaton, Signed-English? What does it all mean?
Below you will find a Brief Glossary of Terms
, after each you will find a link to a section lower down on the page that goes into more detail.
You will also find a brief introduction to learning Sign Language, titled Learning Sign Is Easy
full of hints and tips to help you start off.
Glossary of Sign Language Terms
is the native sign language for Australian signing people. There are many other sign languages used
internationally. Australian Sign Language differs from the sign language used by signing people in other countries
in linguistic structure and grammar similarly to oral languages between nations, say English and Italian for example.
Most Auslan users are children and adults who need it as their main means of
communication; however everyone else who shares their lives may also use Auslan.
These include the families, carers, friends and professionals such as teachers,
speech and language therapists, social workers, playgroup staff, college
lecturers, instructors, nurses, and psychiatrists.
...more about Auslan vs. other sign languages
refers to the use of sign language with pre-verbal babies and toddlers. It has become increasingly popular
in recent years with hearing babies, as hearing parents begin to discover the advantages Deaf parents have known for some time,
that comes from having a 4 or 6 month old who is able to communicate their needs, such as hunger, nappy and thirst.
...more about baby sign
refers to a semi-adoption of sign language where only the key words in each sentence are signed. Key-Signing
is often the first step to learning AUSLAN for both non-signing adults and children. It is often used in teaching sign to Pre
and Primary School children and forms a large part of the Auslan as LOTE curriculum in formative years.
...more about Key signing, its uses and applications
refers to a symbols and key-sign system. IT IS NOT A LANGUAGE.
This is the most common mis-conception and area of confusion.
The Makaton system comprises a small signed vocabulary derived (in Australia) from both Auslan and Signed English signs.
Makaton is most commonly used with persons with multiple disabilities usually including an intellectual disability who can usually hear but who either
cannot talk or whose speech is difficult to understand.
...more about Makaton Signing
is a word-for-word translation from spoken English to signs. It is laborious and has been found to be ineffective as a language and teaching tool. However elements of Signed English are often adopted with signing children in the lead up to reading, to assist in the exact translation of words in written form.
...more about Signed English
Learning sign is fun and easy!
We have found the easiest way to introduce yourself to sign is to first learn some "keysigns"
for everyday things. Many signs quickly become obvious, you may recognise them
from your own natural gestures, so remembering "Keysigns" can be easy!
If you are wanting to sign with adult signers then it is then a good
idea to learn the Australian Sign Alphabet, so if you ever don't know the sign
for something, you can resort to fingerspelling. A tip with fingerspelling that
is rarely emphasised is that the vowels , 'a', 'e', 'i', 'o' and 'u' are the
thumb and fingers on one hand, pointed to by the other hand.
You can look-up signs online at Sign Planet
, or view signs by
category. So keep practicing and expanding your sign knowledge. Try and find
other people who sign you can practice this method of communication with. Soon
you'll be able to hold reasonable conversation in sign and will begin playing
with it's own little puns, humour and slang.
By now you may feel you are ready to think about doing a course in sign. In the past these have largely only
been available at the more serious level, usually through a Uni or TAFE. We are
pleased to report that recent years have seen dramatic increases in the number
of people learning sign language. As a result you can often find "beginner" or
"First" signer courses at many local community centres, adult learning centres
and alike. There are also a number of tutors specialising in classes for
"newbies", which are more customised to the needs of participants.
Please see our online BABY/STARTER SIGN COURSE PROVIDERS
for provider details.
Perhaps you feel you are ready for a
more advanced course, where you can expand your range and understanding of sign,
and come to understand the logic behind the grammar of the language. If you wish
to continue learning sign from here, the most obvious step is to become a
qualified interpreter. These are in high demand, so pay rates are well in excess
of a suffering teacher's wage. Still higher rates are paid for interpreters with
specialised AUSLAN knowledge, such as medical, legal or engineering terms.
Please see our online ADVANCED SIGN COURSE PROVIDERS
for provider details.
More about Auslan verse other Sign Languages
In Australia we use AUSLAN, AUstralian Sign LANguage.
AUSLAN differs to the sign language
used within other countries. Within the UK they use BSL (British Sign Language), Americans use ASL (American Sign Language),
in New Zealand they use NZSL and so on. Auslan is a visual language, with no oral form. It uses hand shapes and movements,
facial expressions and body expressions to express a visual means of communication.
Each sign is made up of 5 main parts; Handshape, Orientation, Location, Movement and facial Expression.
Each sign language differs in handshapes used, location of signing (signing space), grammatical structure and alike.
A sentence in English is often shorter when translated into Auslan. For example “I’m going to catch the bus at 8:30
this morning” would be “Me catch bus 8:30 am today”. In contrast, 'Signed English' (discussed below
) is estimated to take
1.5 to 2.5 times as long to sign as the oral sentence would be to say!
Auslan evolved from British Sign Language (BSL) but also includes influences from ASL, Irish sign language and indigenous signs (learned from
our own indigenous aboriginal sign languages). Sign usage can vary across Australia based on these regional influences and the natural and
rapid evolution of the language on a regional basis. It is hoped that the advent of websites such as
, and the use of video conferencing and alike will assist
signing people to communicate new and variant signs across Australia as quickly as they evolve.
The recent introduction of Auslan as a lote subject throughout an increasing number of Australian schools will also bring rise to a dramatically increased
number of Australians utilising and facilitating the development and communication of this truly beautiful and versatile language.
The number of Signing People in Australia is difficult to accurately ascertain. Untouchably signing people are majoritively members of our Deaf community
but also includes those members of our community with DOWNS, Speech dyspraxia, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, ADHD and varying levels of hearing impairment.
As a result the parents and extended family, carers, therapists and other professionals, and of course educators of signing people also become
signing people, to varying degrees.
Interested in learning Auslan?
Please do be aware that a number of BSL and ASL resources have entered the Australian market place and often DO NOT IDENTIFY WHICH
SIGN LANGUAGE THEY USE. Some may even include terms like 'Australian Edition', or based on 'Australian Sign Language'. Please do check
the authenticity of the images used before learning them. All products distributed by Bilby Publishing have been authenticated by members
of the Australian Deaf community, Translator association, or sign language associated education facilities.
If you would like to learn AUSLAN visit our AUSLAN course provider database
(all course providers are reviewed, to the best of our ability, for authentic AUSLAN content) or visit SignPlanet.net
from where you can view and print images of
Australian Sign Language by direct search, by category and by learning level. Sign Swap receives requests for almost 1 million images and is accessed by almost 20,000 people each year. It is hoped that the facilitation of
a visual means of communicating new and 'current' signs will dramatically improved the ability of signing people to access signs used in
other regions of Australia and quickly document new signs they develop within their own daily communication.
About Australian Baby Sign Language.
What is Baby Signing?
One of the reasons children's songs such as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" are so
popular with children are the actions, which serve to make it simpler for the
child to understand. This technique has simply been taken as step further with
the adoption of baby sign.
So it is no surprise that the use of sign
language by hearing parents, with hearing children, around the world has
provided impressive research results. Proving that not only are babies able to
communicate simple sign expressions from before 6 months of age, but also that
these children tend to develop oral language earlier.
An extensive study in the UK, by Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (funded by the National
Institutes of Child Health and Human Development), found that there is "a clear
advantage to using signs with pre-verbal children". Parents within the study
experienced "reduced frustration" and "stronger bonds with their babies".
Does it really increase IQ?
For a great number of years now baby signing
has been widely utilised throughout the US, UK, Europe and Canada. This has
triggered many research studies and trials, which have generated astounding
In the UK, by Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (on behalf
of the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development) conducted a
study that has now spanned over 8 years. Within the study hearing children were
provided sign language as a supplement to oral language in their "pre-verbal"
years, and then compared to their peers.
The doctors have found that
signing children outperform non-signing children in both language development
. Seven years after initial, infant testing, the children were re-evaluated, now in early primary school years. "The results were even more
extraordinary, indicating that as a group, children who signed as babies had a
mean IQ of 114 compared to 102 for non-signers." Royal Association for Deaf
What is Key signing?
Key-Signing is often the first step to learning AUSLAN. Key signing refers to the use of key words in each sentence
in sign language, without the full adoption of AUSLAN grammar and perhaps with only the 'essential words'.
Key signing is sometimes also used in teaching hearing Pre and Primary School children,
in the lead-up to reading.
Key signing, on its own, does not constitute a language, but does form the first stage to learning Auslan. As with the development of
any second language, nouns and basic adjectives are often the first to be learned. In most areas of Australia, Key sign constitutes the
first 2-4 stages in Auslan as a LOTE and most beginner level courses in sign language.
The SignPlanet website includes Bilby Publishing's Sign Image Bank of over 5000 words. Each year over 1 million sign images
were viewed and printed from the site by a little over 50,000 users.
You can look up signs by single word search, or by category, for free...why not start now : SignPlanet : Search
You can also look signs up, for free, on your mobile ph at http://m.signplanet.net
About the Makaton Key-Signing System.
"Makaton is a key word signing system that aims to provide a basic means of communication and encourage language development.
Makaton comprises of a small vocabulary derived from Australasian Signed English and Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) . "
(Source: Latrobe University)
The Makaton key-signing system utilises gesture, pictures and diagrams to assist communication.
The core system includes a short list of approx 320 signs, divided under 9 stages of learning. These are based on words
most frequently used in everyday communication. The system was originally developed in the UK using signs from BSL (British Sign Language),
however in Australia Makaton presenters and users actually utilise a blend of AUSLAN and Signed English signs.
When using Makaton principles the speaker generally slows down, simplifies their language and uses more repetitive speech (Makaton Workshop, 2005).
"Makaton borrows features from both Auslan and Signed English.
Makaton is used with children and adults who can usually hear but who either cannot talk or whose speech is difficult to understand.
Makaton use a key word approach. This means that people use speech with their signs but they do not sign every word."
Karen Bloomfield, SCIOP (1998)
Makaton uses signs matched to words and pictures, so that as you speak you also sign at the same time. Makaton users are first encouraged to
communicate using signs, then gradually, as a link is made between the word and the sign, the signs are dropped and speech takes over.
For some children and adults, combining symbols, signs and speech together is proving to be an effective way of developing literacy skills; however
"There is little research specific to the success of using Makaton with children with autism." (Latrobe Uni) The child needs to have some social, imitative, and
communicative intent before communication can develop (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998).
Makaton is generally used in the disability field as either an alternative to spoken and written
language, or as a language support tool, where a child or adult has either very limited
or no effective speech and written skills. It is an augmentative communication system, it is not a language
and is often used in
intellectual or developmental disability areas.
About Signed English
Signed English, like Makaton and keysign, is not a language. Signed English is a word-for-word translation from spoken English
to signs, augmented with finger-spelling for the end of words.
Signed English shares or borrows Auslan signs wherever possible, in fact in Australia the 'Signed English' system was developed utilising Victorian based Auslan.
Regrettably Signed English remains the most common language taught to Deaf children. Research in the area has been extensive and it is
obvious to anyone attempting to provide a signing child equal access to information within the classroom that Signed English is quite
clearly a less concise language than Auslan. In fact one study indicated that to sign translate communication within the average day within a
'preschool class' in Signed English would take 2 1/2 sessions. In other words, to utilise Signed English in the classroom is to limit the child to only
40% of the average class communication and thus only 40% of the input received by their non-signing peers. Signed English requires a dramatic
deterioration in the rate of speech to sign at the same time.
Signed English is entirely different from Auslan, although it does borrow many signs from Auslan and this is where some confusion occurs
between the two. Signed English is English, a manually coded English, so it is English delivered in a different format and is mainly used
in education settings. It is not a sign language as it is not a language separate from English but a signed form of English. Signed English
uses English grammar and syntax so that it uses a sign for word system.