How to Start a Conversation in American Sign Language

Most people who learn American Sign Language (ASL) look forward to signing with others. Attending functions with other Signers gives ample opportunity to practice. At Deaf functions, signed conversation happens everywhere.

If you’re invited by a Deaf person, allow him or her to introduce you to the others — great conversations start this way. If Deaf people correct your Signing, view this as a compliment and take no offense. They see you as a worthy investment.

Getting a Deaf person's attention

Attracting someone’s attention is easy in English. A simple yell turns many heads. To get a Deaf person’s attention, you have several options:

  • Tap him or her on the shoulder or the back of the arm between the elbow and the shoulder.

  • Wave at the person.

  • Stomp on the floor (an acceptable and even popular attention-getter). Deaf people feel the vibration on the floor and turn to see its origination.

  • Make and maintain eye contact.

    After eye contact has been made and you’ve approached one another, you can proceed with a conversation. Non-signers may view this action as staring and think that it’s rude, but in the world of Sign, making and maintaining eye contact is a necessary common practice.

Never throw objects at a Deaf person to get his or her attention. Besides being just plain rude, it’s also dangerous. ASL is a visual language, so Deaf people really value their eyesight. Accidentally hitting someone in the eye could be devastating, and you could get hit back!

Conversation starters in Sign language

You can also start a conversation with a simple hi or hello, followed by a nice to meet you. These greetings work with Deaf people of all ages.

HI/HELLO

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GOODBYE

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NICE TO MEET YOU

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Asking questions is probably the most popular way to start a conversation. You can ask a person’s name, sign yours, ask what school a person attended, and so on. Raised eyebrows and head tilted forward show others that your sentence is a question and that you’re waiting for a response:

  • English: Do you sign?

    Sign: SIGN YOU Q

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  • English: Are you deaf?

    Sign: DEAF YOU Q

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  • English: How are you?

    Sign: WHAT’S UP

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