In American Sign Language for Everyone, Dr. Julia Silvestri—a native user of American Sign Language (ASL) and member of the Deaf community—will show you how to use this unique language to meet people, share information about the world around you, express your opinion, and enjoy ASL literary forms. In 24 engaging lessons, Dr. Silvestri will teach you the manual alphabet, and many dozen signs to enable you to converse in this powerful visuospatial language.
American Sign Language for Everyone
Julia Silvestri is a Lector of American Sign Language and the coordinator of the ASL program at Yale University. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor for the Program in the Education of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing at Columbia University, where she completed her PhD in Physical Disabilities: Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She holds an EdS in Educational Leadership and Administration from George Washington University and has worked as an educator and administrator. Among her research interests are inclusive arts education and language program development.
01: Gestural Language and Communication
Explore the elements of gestural language and learn the difference between ASL signs and gestures. You’ll also learn some iconic gestures that are used as signs in ASL, such as “walk” and “hit.” As your professor illustrates, you already have access to a solid foundation of gestural communication.
02: The ASL Alphabet
In this lesson, you’ll learn the entire ASL fingerspell alphabet, a coded system for the letters of the English language. You’ll have the opportunity to test your knowledge as you try some letters and blends and learn three-letter words and acronyms.
03: Numbers in ASL
Explore the world of numbers in ASL and learn how to sign up to 1 billion! You’ll also learn how to sign phone numbers, birthdays, and zip codes, as well as the arithmetic functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division—and that all-important equal sign.
04: The Importance of Introductions in Deaf Culture
To interact with the Deaf community, it’s important to be able to identify your hearing status and your sensory environment. Are you deaf, a child of deaf adults (CODA), someone who became deaf late in life, or an ASL interpreter? Also, discover why your ASL name might be very different than the name you’ve used as an English speaker.
05: Facial Expressions and Greetings in ASL
Explore the fascinating role of facial expressions in signed language, and how the intensity of movements of the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth can change the meaning of a sign. Learn the signs and corresponding facial expressions for numerous positive, negative, and neutral feelings.
06: The Linguistic Parameters of ASL
In this lesson, you’ll explore the five phonological parameters of every ASL sign: handshape, palm orientation, movement, location, and non-manual signals such as facial expression. Consider how changing even one of these parameters can change the sign’s meaning. You’ll also learn about Pidgin Signed English and Signed Exact English.
07: Asking Questions in ASL
Discover the important ASL structure of topicalization—establishing the topic first and then providing commentary and/or questions. Here, you’ll learn the signs, facial expressions, and syntax for asking questions. You’ll also build vocabulary by learning multiple ways to sign the questions who, what, and how.
08: Making Commands in ASL
In this lesson you’ll learn the signs for making commands related to objects and the body, as well as the importance of spatialization in conveying meaning. You’ll also explore the differences in facial expressions as you make commands with your new vocabulary versus the questions you learned to ask in the previous lesson.
09: Using Semantic Classifiers in ASL
Discover how classifier handshapes can add meaning to your conversation and help you communicate about an activity whose sign you might not know. In this lesson, you’ll increase your vocabulary about activities you might like to do—watch TV, shop, cook, run, read, and more. You’ll also learn the all-important ASL kiss fist!
10: Signing about Food and Dining in ASL
Explore the vocabulary and phrase structures you’ll use when discussing food or eating out. Your new vocabulary will include water, eggs, pancakes, pizza, and more. You’ll also learn about DeafSpace, the architectural approach that allows the greatest communication opportunities for those who use a signed language.
11: Time Expressions in ASL
Learn how to express time using ASL in terms of precise hours and minutes, as well as the vocabulary of the days of the weeks and months. Discover how the physical body acts as its own timeline in ASL, using sign placement to indicate the past, present, and future.
12: Discussing Location and Transportation in ASL
Did you grow up in a small town or a big city? Did you live in a condo, apartment, or house? You’ll be able to ask and answer these questions and more with the vocabulary in this lesson. You’ll also learn when to use fingerspelling as you refer to a city or state.
13: Describing Educational Experiences in ASL
Discover the history of Deaf education in the United States. While researchers recognize today that ASL leads to robust language development and builds a strong community, there was a time when teaching ASL was controversial. Build your vocabulary by learning the signs for elementary, middle, and high schools; and curricular subjects, including social studies, business, drama, math, science, and more.
14: The Importance of Community in Deaf Culture
Explore the significance of community in Deaf culture, connecting those who are geographically disparate via a shared language and living experience. Your professor will use semantic classifiers as she helps you build vocabulary with signs including near, far, hospital, highway, police station, and more.
15: Topicalization and Spatialization in ASL
Just like an English word carries part of its meaning by the way it is said, topicalization and spatialization affect the meaning of ASL signs. Using those tools, your professor will teach the signs for colors, size, and patterns. Your new vocabulary will include bright, light, dark, soft, left, right, center, rough, bumpy, plaid, and polka dots.
16: Describing Settings in ASL
The power of ASL really comes across when describing a physical place; you can get a stronger spatial sense of the environment much more easily than with a written language. Using semantic classifiers as appropriate, your professor will teach signs such as setting, environment, sunrise, moonrise, wind, reflection, cloudy, cool, dry, and humid.
17: Describing People in ASL
Learn how to describe a person’s appearance and talk about relationships, occupations, and personalities. You’ll discover that ASL pronouns contain no gender identifiers, helping to create an inclusive community. In addition to vocabulary describing height, hair, age, and personality traits, you’ll also learn the signs for nonbinary, gender fluid, transgender, straight, and queer.
18: Discussing Social Activities in ASL
Indexing is another powerful tool in ASL communication. In this lesson, you’ll use indexing and plural classifiers to communicate about groups of people. You’ll also learn to describe your hobbies, interests, and sports with new vocabulary, including chat, party, theater, concert, soccer, hiking, festival, and more.
19: Narrative Structure in ASL
Learn how to create simple narratives in ASL using the body movements of role shifting to denote different characters and using bulleting to describe sequential action. Discover the specific order of an ASL narrative. Then, then practice with those tools plus new vocabulary including: one day, then, first, second, next, later, and more.
20: Storytelling and Handshape Stories
Discover the fun of handshape stories, in which a limited number of handshapes are used to tell a story. Although most genres of Deaf literature are like that of other cultures—drama, film, storytelling, poetry, etc.—handshape stories are unique to signed language. You’ll also learn some vocabulary to use in your own storytelling: once upon a time, monsters, dialogue, happily ever after, and more.
21: Visual Vernacular and ASL Performances
Explore the excitement of Visual Vernacular, another literature genre unique to Deaf culture. It relies on gesture, role playing, iconic signs (as opposed to signs unique to ASL), body movement, and mime to tell a story—often a story that both educates and celebrates the culture. Your professor will share some visual vernacular as well as suggest other videos by famous performers you might want to check out.
22: ASL Poetry
Poetry in Deaf culture is used to share feelings and ideas, to connect as a community, to promote the community values, and often as a tool for advocacy. It incorporates a wealth of visuospatial phonological devices including handshape, movement, orientation, location, and facial expression. Discover the rhythms of beats and repetitive handshapes for rhyming as you experience ASL poetry.
23: Symbolism and Figurative Language in ASL
Consider the use of symbolism in ASL creative literature. Just as symbols are used in spoken and written language as a stand-in for strong sentiments or abstract thoughts, the same is true in the world of ASL. In addition, you’ll learn how to employ contrastive phrase structure to translate and create ASL similes and metaphors in your own creative work.
24: Bring It All Together: Opinion Statements
Learn to create compound sentences in ASL using a form of contrastive structure with role shifting to indicate the two phrases or sentences. You’ll also practice expressing your own opinions in ASL with the diamond structure of a topic, supporting details with role shifting to separate the ideas, and then your conclusion.