Considerations for American Sign Language (ASL)

For ASL proficiency targets, click here.

American Sign Language, or ASL, is a complex visual-spatial language used by the Deaf community in the United States and Canada. It is a vibrant, linguistically complete and natural language used by people of all ages to communicate everyday life experiences, needs, thoughts, and abstract ideas in a visual way. ASL is a language with a rich culture and heritage. Other countries also have their own signed languages, like Mexican Sign Language and French Sign Language (LSF).

It is important to note that ASL shares no grammatical similarities to English and should not be considered in any way to be a broken, mimed, or gestural form of English. In terms of its syntax, for example, ASL utilizes a topic-comment syntax, while English uses a subject-object-verb syntax. Some linguists note that, in terms of its syntax, ASL shares more with spoken Japanese than it does with English.

ASL and other sign languages are often incorrectly characterized as "gestural" languages. This is not absolutely correct because hand gestures are only one component of ASL. Facial features such as eyebrow motion and lip-mouth movements and other factors such as body orientation are also significant in ASL as they form a crucial part of the grammatical system. In addition, ASL makes use of the space surrounding the signer to describe places and persons who are not present.

Sections 3313.604 and 3345.09 of Amended Substitute House Bill 216 (1990) recognize American Sign Language as a foreign (world) language in Ohio. A middle or high school student who successfully completes a high school caliber ASL course taught by a licensed teacher is entitled to receive credit for that course toward satisfaction of a high school world language requirement. Any state postsecondary institution may offer and count ASL as a foreign language towards undergraduate requirements.

 

Since ASL is a visual-spatial language, the communication modes involve different skills:

  • Interpretive Listening is labeled Interpretive Receptive, meaning that information is received visually, not through audio means. This category includes receptivity to both signing and fingerspelling.
  • Interpersonal Speaking is labeled Interpersonal Interactive, which means that information is exchanged through visual interactivity rather than via audio means.
  • Presentational Speaking is labeled Presentational Expressive, because information is being conveyed visually through signs and fingerspelling, not verbally.

 

The following chart contains recommended proficiency targets for American Sign Language (ASL) learners who are enrolled in programs that incorporate practices proven to be most effective:

Middle School/High School Proficiency Targets for Visual Languages

These languages include American Sign Language (ASL).

MODE AND SKILL

LEVEL  I

135-150 hours

LEVEL  II

270-300 hours

LEVEL  III

405-450 hours

LEVEL  IV

540-600 hours

LEVEL  V

675-750 hours

LEVEL  VI

825-900 hours

INTERPRETIVE

Receptive

Novice Mid

Novice High

Int. Low

Int. Mid

Int. High

   Int. High
 Novice High  Int. Low     Int. Mid

INTERPERSONAL

Interactive

Novice Mid

Novice High

Int.  Low

Int.  Low

Int. Mid

Int. High

Int. Mid

PRESENTATIONAL

Expressive

Novice Mid

Novice High

Int.  Low

Int.  Low

Int. Mid

Int. High

Int. Mid

When using this chart, it is important to keep in mind that different learners develop language proficiency at different rates as the result of a variety of factors. It must be clearly stated there will be students who fall below and students who surpass the targeted levels.

 

To assist school and districts with setting appropriate proficiency targets for K-12 learners, the Ohio Department of Education has conducted extensive research and actively engaged with the ASL-teaching community in order to create this set of ASL proficiency targets. These recommended targets take into consideration a variety of factors, including the program model used, the time and intensity of instruction, and the difficulty of the language. It is important to note that these targets may not be immediately obtainable by a language program if communicative standards- and proficiency-based practices have not been previously implemented. Programs that have not yet established rigorous, standards-based expectations for learners will likely require a number of years for practices that have proven to be most effective to be implemented and for learner proficiency to subsequently reach the targeted levels. It is important to note that these research-based recommendations are designed to provide schools and districts with rigorous yet attainable proficiency targets for their language students. They are intended to provide local language programs with informed guidance and should in no way be construed as a state mandate.

 

The state of Ohio recognizes that there is no written form of ASL. However, some programs might incorrectly equate Presentational Writing in other languages to Glossing, which refers to a system for writing down ASL sign-for-sign pictorially and including notations to account for the facial and body grammar that goes with the signs. However, whether or not an ASL learner has the ability to gloss has no bearing on that learner’s proficiency in ASL. Furthermore, glossing is not considered to be a part of the culture of ASL. Programs should not feel pressure to incorporate an artificial writing element into an ASL program when one simply does not exist for this language. If a school or district has an initiative that emphasizes writing across the curriculum, English can be used by learners in the ASL classroom to write about the language and culture of ASL.

 

Source: Deaf Resource Library. “About American Sign Language.”  March, 2008. www.deaflibrary.org/asl.html.

Last Modified: 11/18/2014 9:07:59 AM

Pursuant to ORC 3301.079 (B) (3) and 3313.60, it is the responsibility of Ohio's local boards of education to vet and approve curriculum and educational materials for use in the public schools within their district. The use of any materials posted or linked to on the Ohio Department of Education website, including materials within Ohio’s Learning Standards or Appendices or any state model curricula or other educational resource material, is entirely up to the discretion of each local board of education.