The Basics and Importance of American Sign Language Interpretation

Language is the basic tool for human communication. Just like we use language to speak and convey our thoughts and emotions to other people, there are languages for hearing-impaired people as well. Well, language is not just a construct of words. Rather, it is an instrument whose job is to describe what is going on in our minds. It is a complex system of communication that holds certain spoken, written, and sign languages. Of course, we all know that there are more than 7000 living languages in the world but do you know that there are more or less 300 sign languages? These sign languages are associated with professional interpreting services. These interpreting services recruit professional interpreters who have specialized degrees, giving them the ability to facilitate communication between hearing-impaired people.

The American Sign Language is one of the many sign languages spoken around the world. British Sign Language (BSL), Japanese Sign Language (JSL), French Sign Language (LSF), and Chinese Sign Language (CSL) are also spoken but it is ASL that is used the most. The most important parts of ASL are the hand movements and facial expressions that are the medium of communication. ASL interpretation is necessary in order to convey the exact intended meaning. So now let’s talk about ASL interpretation in detail.

American Sign Language and Its Historical Significance (ASL)

American Sign Language is not a new language at all. It is more than 200 years old. It is a natural language that comprises facial expressions, and gestures to express feelings and impart thoughts. In other words, it is a visual-gestural language. There are similarities between ASL and the English language such as the ASL sign for “computer” is formed by fingerspelling the letter “C-O-M-P”. Fingerspelling is one of the parts of ASL where alphabets are formed with the gesture of hands.

However, these languages differ as well as they both have their own grammatical and cultural factors. For instance, ASL has its own word order and structure, while English has its own.

Historical Significance

It was in 1817 that Thomas Gallaudet started ASL in his school, the American School for the Deaf (ASD). It was the formation of this school in France that laid the foundation for ASL. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the main reason behind the hearing-impaired community’s acceleration of ASL as a sign language. This law prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, etc., but did not explicitly mention any disability. This aggravated the acoustically challenged community and they came forward with a demand to designate a language for them.

Later, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 mentioned legal protection of individuals with disabilities which included deaf people.

ASL Interpretation – Importance of Hand Movements and Facial Expressions

ASL interpretation services are significantly important for hard of hearing individuals as they provide them access to vital information. These interpreters are responsible for making communication understandable for individuals with hearing disabilities.

Differentiating Between Manual and Non-Manual Features of ASL

Manual and non-manual are the two features of ASL. Manual features account for the use of hands, palms, and fingers. On the other hand, non-manual features include facial expressions and head movements.

Manual Features

These features include hand gestures such as fingerspelling and handshape. Each handshape refers to the different shapes which constitute alphabets and words. For example, to make the sign “B” the index finger and middle finger are bent while keeping the other fingers extended. Movements of hands matter a lot too. These movements can be linear, circular, oval or extended. The location of the hand gestures to the subject, or person. For instance, if the interpreter is talking about himself/herself the hand will be close to his/her body, but if he/she is talking about the person in front of him/her, the hand will be close to the other person.

This calls for professional interpreting services that make sure that acoustically challenged people can understand the language. The most common example of interpretation is seen in educational institutes and even in business meetings.

Non-Manual Features

Non-manual features include facial expressions for example raised eyebrows show wonder and indicate a question. Eye gaze is considered very important in ASL. It shows that a person is attentive and is showing interest in the conversation. Mouth movements also matter a lot such as puckering of lips shows a small object is being discussed while opening the mouth wide indicates a large object is the center of discussion.

Importance of ASL Interpretation

It is the importance of ASL interpretation that there are certain laws that demand ASL interpretation in several departments for the ease of deaf people. For instance, in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses, educational institutions, government agencies, and other organizations to include ASL interpretation services to ensure accessibility for disabled individuals.

Last Words!


To sum up, ASL is the medium of communication between deaf people. ASL interpretation makes sure that these individuals get to understand things in their own language and they don’t feel different because of their disability. These services are needed in almost every field such as education, business, entertainment, etc., to make these people feel like normal human beings.