American Sign Language: Basic Conversational Communication and Holiday Greetings




Introduction: American Sign Language: Basic Conversational Communication and Holiday Greetings

By Keri, Aly, Gara, and Phuong

This is an introduction to the basics of American Sign Language (ASL) and how to apply it for social purposes and holiday greetings. Learning ASL is a helpful skill in order to communicate to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Learning ASL will vary depending on the person. It is recommended to practice these ASL skills daily in order to master them. Everyone learns at their own pace. Take your time and have fun with it. Don't be discouraged. Good luck!


  • Hands
  • Time

Demonstration videos are provided. Word descriptions follow each demonstration as well.

Things to Know About ASL:

As a college student studying to become an American Sign Language interpreter, there is some information you should know about the language. ASL is a visible language that is manually used. Facial expressions and body movements are also part of grammar and syntax structure. Keep in mind that ASL does not have the same grammar rules as spoken English.

ASL uses a "Topic-Comment" structure. For example, in English the phrase " What is your name?" while in ASL is "Your Name What?". You sign this phrase while your eyebrows are down. Putting your eyebrows down is equivalent to the question mark of the English sentence. ASL also cancels the word "is".

There are no signs for "it","the", "of","is","are", and "by". The words "to" "and" and "or" are rarely used in the language as well. It takes practice to adjust to the grammar structure of ASL in order to fully grasp the language. To learn more about grammar of ASL, review the workbook "Signing Naturally".

Another fact is that ASL not a universal language. It is used in the United States and in some parts of Canada. ASL has its roots of French Sign Language (FSL) from the works of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc during the 1800's. It is also important to know that Britain Sign Language (BSL) is distinct from ASL, even though English is used in spoken language for both.

Step 1: Deaf Culture

Before you begin learning the language, it is best to be acquainted with Deaf culture.

Terms that should never be used to refer to a Deaf individual:

  1. "Deaf and dumb"
  2. "Mute"
  3. "Hearing Impaired"
  4. "Disabled"

Deaf pride is the idea of embracing Deaf culture and language.

In the Deaf community:

  • There is a difference between "Deaf" (aka. "Big D": accepting an identity) and "deaf" (aka. "Little D": a medical term)

Step 2: Alphabet Fingerspelling

Here is a chart of alphabet finger-spelling. First, become familiar with alphabet finger-spelling before learning signs. Many signs use the hand shape of a letter.

Step 3: Conversational Phrases: Greetings

"What is your name?"

As mentioned before in the introduction, in ASL it grammatically correct to sign "Your name What?"

YOUR: Use your dominant hand and face your palm out in front of your body

NAME: Have both hands form the letter "U" (Go back to fingerspelling chart if needed). Position both hands so that fingers are intersecting on top of one another. Remain in that position and tap fingers a few times (about twice).

WHAT: Use both hands with palms facing up. Move both palms side-to-side Remember to also put your eyebrows down which indicates a 5 "W" question for appropriate ASL grammar. (Who, What, When,Where,Why,)

"How Are You?"

HOW: Curve both hands and have them touch at the fingernails. Turn them so that the fingertips are facing you.Turn one hand against the other downward.

ARE: No sign. YOU: Point forward with index finger.

"Nice to Meet You"
NICE: Position your non-dominant hand with palm facing up in front of your body. Place your dominant hand face-down and horizontal on top of non dominant hand. Slide dominant hand forward.

TO: No sign.

MEET: Position both index fingers up and turn facing each other. Move both index fingers close so that they touch. (This sign will look like two people and walking to each other to meet). YOU: Point forward with your dominant index finger.

Step 4: Conversational Phrases: Responses

GOOD: Have both hands outstretched in front of you with palms facing up and criss-cross each other. Bring first three fingers of your dominant hand on chin. Make sure your hand is flat. Bring your hand back down to cross other hand.

FINE: Have your dominant hand in front of you with palm facing the side and fingers spread. With this hand, bounce your thumb on the middle of your chest.

"Thank You"(one sign)

THANK YOU: Have your dominant hand flat with palm facing towards you. Tap tips of first three fingers on your chin.

Step 5: Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

In ASL the sign "happy" is the same sign for "merry","glad",or "joy".

MERRY/HAPPY: Position both hands horizontally in front of chest with palms should be facing your chest. Move hands in a forward circular motion.

There are two different ways to sign Christmas:

CHRISTMAS (1): Position your non-dominant arm bent horizontally. Place dominant elbow on top of your non-dominant hand. Make a "C" shape with your dominant hand and flick your wrist (a quick twist).

CHRISTMAS (2): Position your dominant arm on top of the other with both elbows bent. Form a "C" with your dominant hand. (Go back to the alphabet fingerspelling chart if needed). Raise up the "C" until your arm is vertical.

Step 6: Happy Kwanzaa

HAPPY: Position both hands horizontally in front of chest. Palms should be facing your chest. Move hands in a forward circular motion.

KWANZAA: "Kwanzaa" is fingerspelled. (Go back to alphabet finger spelling chart if needed)

Step 7: Happy Hanukkah

HAPPY: Position both hands horizontally in front of chest. Palms should be facing your chest. Move hands in a forward circular motion.

HANUKKAH: Position 4 fingers on each hand side by side in front of body, palms facing you (both hands holding up four fingers with thumb tucked in). Make sure your fingers are spread out. Move both hands apart.

Step 8: Happy New Year

HAPPY: Position both hands horizontally in front of chest. Palms should be facing your chest. Move hands in a forward circular motion.

NEW: Position non-dominant arm horizontal with your elbow bent. Position non-dominant palm facing your body.

Move up your dominant hand between the space of your body and non-dominant hand. Make sure the front of your palm of you dominant hand faces you when you move it up.

YEAR: Have both hands form sideways "S" (go back to fingerspelling chart if needed). Move your dominant hand over the other, keeping the "S" form starting from below the non-dominant hand and move it in a semi-circle. Stop and stack it on the non-dominant hand.

Step 9: General Rules for Etiquette

Here are 3 important tips for etiquette:

  • Wave or lightly tap shoulder to get their attention
  • Do not yell or overly mouth words. If there is a communication barrier, you can always use alphabet finger-spelling or write notes when needed. If a person who is Deaf or HoH (Hard of Hearing) can lip-read, mouth words the way you normally talk.
  • Always use eye contact when communicating. For spoken languages, eye contact is not always needed, but since ASL is a visible language, it is considered rude to disconnect eye contact when communicating.

Step 10: Additional Resources

Here are some sources where you can learn ASL and Deaf Culture:

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    4 years ago

    It appears that all of your videos are unfortunately unavailable.


    6 years ago

    I've been looking for something like my son and I are trying to learn american sign language :) thank you


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    You're very welcome! :) Good luck to you both.