I get this question often, 'Is ASL universal?'. Ummm, no.. First off, it means AMERICAN sign language. Second of all, does the world speak English? Sure, most Europeans learn it as a second language, but it is not their main language. Why is that, you might ask? The answer is simple=culture.
Culture plays a huge part in our language and how it evolves. Do you know that in some cultures, it is disrespectful NOT to look an elder in the eyes, yet in another culture, it is disrespectful if you DO look an elder in the eye. Did you know that Eskimos have such levels of cold that there are 50 spoken words in their language that describe snow alone!
Transfer that over to signed language. Motion, dialect, gestures, facial expression, eye contact all play a role in these visual languages. So, no , there is not a universal sign language.
When I went to Europe, I met 3 different groups of people who were signing and talked to 2 of the groups. It was comical,about as comical as me trying to speak English to someone in Slovakia who didn't know English. We tried, pointed and smiled alot. The first group I met was from Italy. How did I know-they drew the shape of the country in the air and then , yup, wrote ITALY on a paper;) Interestingly, they knew the sign for America that is in ASL-not sure if it is the same in Italian signs. They were thrilled to have me come over and chat and we muddled through with pen, paper and gestures. Later, I met a couple in Iceland. They knew English, so they could read my lips and half gestured and half spoke to converse with me. The last group I saw in the Iceland airport. It was crazy busy at the ticket counter and I was beyond exhausted, so I didn't converse. It was magical to me, though, to see signing all over Europe. It was frustrating, and mildly brain confusing, to not be able to understand it. It is such a given to me that when I see someone signing, I can understand.
My daughter is constantly pushing her brain to learn new spoken language.. I am going to look into seeing if I can find apps or something to try to learn some foreign sign languages... Keep ya posted!
Allison Schley is a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing children. She took her passion for kids with hearing loss and became an author. She wants all children with hearing loss to know they are amazing and that hearing loss will not keep them from following their dreams.