My apologies for the poor quality of videos: I am still in the learning stages of that particular skill :-)
ASL, or American Sign Language is a language all it's own. There would be no way for an instructable to do the entire language any real justice, but I would like to introduce everyone interested to enough of the language to get a feel for it. There are a few ways to sign also that vary a bit from each other: English (which includes the finger-spelling of one letter at a time), and of course, each language has some of their own signs, and the International signs that are universal. Then, there is ASL, which is what our main focus will be on, as it is looser and more open to interpretation than other forms.
In every country, the language normally employs the sentence structure generated by those that use the language, and they do come across differently from language to language. In ASL, because of not always having a complete word for word relationship in the communication using ASL, sometimes the sentence structure is not as important as how a sign is employed.
I hope to touch on just enough to pique the interest of those that occasionally come into contact with the deaf, or at least to help you feel less uneasy about being around a group that happen to be signing to one another. And maybe, I will inspire someone to take it further, if they think they may need to (or would like to) communicate with any deaf persons.
TOOLS and implements needed:
A mirror can come in quite handy, but is not absolutely necessary.
Patience, you will need lots of this if you plan on going any further with this.
Most of the times it helps to have a partner to communicate with and practice with.
And finally, more patience :-)
Step 1: Fingerspelling: the alphabet
Although many of us learned our native alphabet by reciting it to a tune (and this is effective to a point) it does not really assist one in "using" the alphabet. When one gets stuck for a word sign, one can simply spell it out with their hand/fingers so it becomes important not to have to go through the alphabet to remember how to sign a letter (learning them in a specific order promotes association of one letter with the one next to it).
I have found it is better to practice with pangrams (sentences with all the letters of the alphabet in them) :
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dogs back.
Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.
Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz
How quickly daft jumping zebras vex
Quick wafting zephyrs vex bold Jim
Sphinx of black quartz judge my vow.
Waltz, nymph, for quick jigs vex Bud
Bawds jog, flick quartz, vex nymph
Mr. Jock, TV Quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx
A Google search for Pangram will give you an almost unlimited number of them, in the event you become bored with my list. Here is one place that lists quite a few more:
You will no doubt note that I have difficulty signing the letters M, & W. I have always had trouble getting my thumb to reach my little finger. To explain then, the M is signed with the first three fingers downward (pressed together) and slightly curved (palm towards the signer), the little finger tucked in and held by the thumb. The W is much the same sign, but pointing upward, fingers spread, palm away from the signer.
An excellent place to test and practice "interpreting": ASL fingerspell test / practice site