Effective Living > Language > Silent Communications

Many Uses of Sign Language
by Greg Johnson

If you have family and/or friends who are deaf, American Sign Language (ASL) or the sign language common to your country or region is probably an important part of being able to communicate easily and effectively.

There are many additional uses of ASL that most people have not considered. ASL is increasingly considered to be more effective than speech as a means of communications for numerous venues and situations.

There are many professional and personal applications for ASL being discovered every day.

Below is a list of sign language uses compiled by Greg Johnson of the Silent Communications Resource Group.

  1. Nature Walks. You’re taking a hike with some friends and want to converse without startling the wildlife, or you want to visit while bird watching.
  2. Loud Venue. You’re at a location such as a bar, construction site, or rock concert where there is too much background noise to have a normal conversation with the people you are with. Using ASL, you can easily converse even from a distance regardless of how much background noise there is. You can even put in earplugs to protect your hearing and still communicate just fine.
  3. Eating. It’s inevitable. You’ve just taken a huge bite of food and someone asks you a question. It seems like an eternity while you finish chewing and then answer their question. At that point, their mouth is full of food and now you must wait for them to chew before they can reply. With ASL, two people can easily communicate while eating or drinking.
  4. Injury Recovery or After Surgery. Certain surgical procedures (such as oral surgery) impede a person’s ability to talk during recovery. With ASL, people can communicate without trying to talk.
  5. Listening to Headphones. You are listening to music or speech with headphones and would like to have a conversation with someone at the same time. With ASL this is possible.
  6. Motorcycle Helmets. You and your friend are each wearing a motorcycle helmet. Speaking and hearing are impaired. With ASL, communications are possible.
  7. Auto Travel. You are with friends driving in separate cars. You need to communicate between vehicles. It is cold or raining outside, so you don’t want to roll down the windows, and even if you could roll down the windows, their car is behind you so you couldn’t talk anyway. With ASL, you can communicate between two vehicles at a distance.
  8. Interjection. You need to make a brief point to someone engaged in a conversation, but you’re not able to get a word in edgewise without being rude. With ASL, you can make a direct comment to someone and not interrupt the flow of the conversation.
  9. Event Stage Crew. Teams of people who work in music, theater, or similar settings benefit from being able to communicate over distances without yelling.
  10. Music Industry. For people who play live music on a regular basis, ASL is is an imperative skill if they want to keep their hearing. It is especially important for people who play loud amplified music or loud instruments. With ASL, it is possible to wear ear plugs and communicate.
  11. Service Industry. You are catering a very formal party and need to communicate with various staff people at the event. You could yell at people from across the room, but this would disturb the mood. With ASL, you can quietly and effectively communicate with anyone in sight.
  12. Theatre. Imagine the benefit of being able to communicate with a co-working in theatre by making a few gestures. Or, as a director, being able to communicate without interrupting the flow. With ASL, this is possible.
  13. At The Movies. It always happens. You’re at the movies and want to talk with the person you came with. However, getting into a conversation would be rude and a distraction to those around you. Using ASL, you can communicate without disturbing others.
  14. Stadium Event. You’re at a public event such as a football or baseball game. Your friends are seated several rows away. With ASL you don’t need to shout to communicate.
  15. Extended Distance Communications. You’ve setup camp on the far side of a lake or mountain and need to communicate with friends or family on the other side. With binoculars you can see each other clearly. At the top of the hour, you plan to communicate with ASL using binoculars.
  16. Classroom. There are various applications for ASL in the classroom. Imagine a setting where students in a classroom are seated in study groups or teams all watching a movie or presentation and need to discuss what is being presented. If they all talk, nobody will be able to hear what is being presented. This is an ideal situation for ASL communications.
  17. On the Job. You’re working in customer service and want to communicate with a customer who is deaf. You could write notes to each other, however, ASL is a faster, easier, and more direct way to communicate.
  18. Private Conversation. You are at a restaurant sitting in a private booth. You’d like to have a private conversation with the person across from you. With ASL, your conversations can’t be overheard and are only intelligible by those who know ASL and are in the line-of-sight.
  19. Video Production. You are working on a video project with several people at a large event. With ASL you can communicate silently from behind the camera with other people and not create background conversation noises that would interfere with the video recording. You can even communicate across a crowded and noisy room without shouting.
  20. Radio Station. You are in a radio station sound room with several people participating in a live talk show. With ASL you can communicate with people during a live recording without talking and interrupting the show.
  21. Recording Studio. You’re in a recording studio. On the other side of the sound-proof glass is the recording booth with the sound engineer. With ASL, you can easily communicate back and forth through the glass even while recording.
  22. Music Concert or Theatre Event. You’re need to communicate from the stage back to the person in the sound booth for the purpose of making slight adjustments to sound levels during a live event. With ASL this is possible.
  23. Military Operations. You are on a special ops assignment and need to maintain complete silence (including radio silence). With ASL you can communicate clearly with other members of your team. Using binoculars, you can communicate over longer distances easily.
  24. Sports. You’re coaching a sports team. You need to communicate something to the players on the field. With ASL you can communicate clearly and even include encoded messages for special plays.
  25. Business Meeting. You are in the middle of a business meeting and need to communicate with a colleague who is sitting across the table or across the room. With ASL you can communicate without disrupting the meeting or interrupting the person speaking.
  26. Group Collaborative Work. How often have you been in a meeting where someone said, “Quiet down! One person at a time!” Voice communications can be confusing if too many people are talking at one time. With ASL there is no limit to the number of people who can communicate simultaneously. Just as fiber optic cable provides greater bandwidth in data communications, ASL uses light rather than sound resulting in greater ‘bandwidth’ and efficiency. For this reason, group collaborative work is much more effective among people who are using ASL rather than voice communications.
  27. Under Water. You are scuba diving with a friend. With ASL you can communicate under water.
  28. Library Visitor. You are in a very quiet library and need to visit with a colleague about a project. With ASL you can communicate clearly and collaborate on a project without disturbing others in the room. You can even communicate from across the room without making a noise.
  29. Library Employee. Throughout the day it is necessary to communicate with co-workers at the library. With ASL, you can communicate easily, even across the room, without disturbing patrons.
  30. Hospital Visitor. You’re visiting someone in the hospital. The person has just fallen asleep. With ASL you can visit with others in the room without disturbing anyone.
  31. Hospital Employee. Throughout the day it is necessary to communicate with co-workers at the hospital. With ASL, you can communicate easily, even across the room, without disturbing patients. This is especially important at night when wanting to visit while walking down the hall.
  32. Shared Hotel Room. Three people are sharing a hotel room. One person who is a light sleeper has just fallen asleep. With ASL you can visit with the other person you’re sharing the room with and not wakeup the light sleeper.

You can understand why many people believe that sign language is the future of personal and professional communications. Culturally, many people are accustom to using speech to communicate, yet it is very ineffective and limiting in numerous situations. After reading the above list you are probably wondering how it is even possible to communicate effectively using speech at all!

Some people assume ASL is an ‘inferior’ or ‘limited’ language used by people in the deaf community. However, as the list above demonstrates, ASL is more advanced than spoken language in many ways and has many benefits over spoken communications. Please let us know if you can think of more examples for using ASL.

It was once assumed that sign language was use exclusively by people within the deaf community. However, sign language is quickly being adopted by hearing people as a preferred method of communications. Many business professionals consider ASL as an essential skill for effective communications.

The Arizona Languages Articulation Task Force has established a Statement of Expected Learning Outcomes for American Sign Language for their state with the expectation that students will be able to “Maintain a conversation on immediate needs . . . (and) Demonstrate comprehension of main ideas of lengthier discourse, including details on increasingly complex content areas and unanticipated topics.” [source]

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Document History. This document was first published in 2002. It was reposted on 20090313at1739, and then refreshed on 20120924mo0918. The bulleted list was changed to a numbered list and a photo of Greg Johnson was added. Some words are now linked to Wikipedia. Footer advertising was removed. Tags were added.

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