Lesson Tutor: American Sign Language (ASL) vs. Signed English (SE)

American Sign Language (ASL) vs. Signed English (SE)
By Elaine Ernst Schneider

When communicating with the hearing impaired, both American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed English (SE) are used. The basic signs for words are the same; however, with Signed English (SE) a sign is executed for every word in a sentence whereas American Sign Language seeks to convey a concept. For example, if I were to sign “I have two sisters” in Signed English, I would make a sign for each word. In ASL, I might make the signs for “two” and “sister” and then point to myself, conveying the thought “two sisters, me.”

Signed English is used most often in a classroom setting where sentence structure is being emphasized. A.S.L. is used in settings where the focus is on the thought or message. As a classroom teacher of the hearing impaired, I have used both. When I taught science, for example, I used ASL because the point of the lesson was to focus on the science content. However, when I taught reading or English, I used Signed English. Hearing impaired students often have a difficult time writing in complete sentences that utilize tense or in making use of articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. They don’t hear it to learn it incidentally, and when we “talk” in ASL, those parts of speech are generally not present. Therefore, Signed English is used to introduce students to sentence structure.

Initialized signs are another tool for teaching as they help students differentiate between words that can be represented by one single sign. For instance, one sign can mean car, bus, or truck. But by using a “C” when car is made, a “B” when bus is made, and a “T” when truck is made, the signer can increase the expanse of vocabulary introduced. Initialization can or cannot be used in ASL, although often it is not. For the purpose of these lessons, signs will be introduced in “families.” There is indeed a unit where the signs for family members are introduced using the sentence “I have a sister,” “I have a brother,” etc. This method seems to best lend itself to an online course.

Please know that when speaking with the hearing impaired, you will likely encounter less sentence structure than this. But, the signs are the same for both ASL and S.E., with only a few exceptions. If you learn these lessons, you will be able to communicate. I have hearing impaired friends who use ASL and others who use SE. I adapt my sentence structure depending on the friend I am with.

Away in a Manger adapted for ASL Signs
This download sample .pdf file is part of our ‘Sing and Sign a Song for Christmas’ package available in the Lesson Tutor Store. It shows the lyrics, a few of the signs used and a word description of the concept or action used. If you have trouble opening the file, review our Download tips page here

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