How many sign languages ​​are there

Sign language: how it works

Talking with your hands is a matter of course for the deaf. Here we explain how sign language works and how deaf people talk. You can also learn the finger alphabet and some signs in no time

What is sign language?

Sign language is a visual language. That means that you don't hear them, you see them. You form words with your hands. But also the facial expression (the facial expressions), the movement of the mouth (the mouth image) and "noises" (word image) that one makes while signing are important.

Sign language has emerged over the centuries, but has only been recognized as a separate language in Germany since 2002. Of course, signing is not only used in Germany, there are also many deaf people in the rest of the world who make themselves understood in this way.

That is why there is not only the German Sign Language (DGS), but also many others such as the Chinese, American, French, Thai and English sign languages. And even in Germany, every federal state has its own sign dialect.

History of Sign Language

Just 200 years ago, deaf people were forced to speak because it was thought that access to "our world" was only possible by speaking and reading from the lips. Their hands were even tied together to prevent them from signing.

Fortunately that has changed! Thanks to many people who have worked to research and develop sign language, hearing and deaf people can communicate today.

How does the German sign language work?

You always use your dominant hand for the gestures. That is, if you are right-handed, use your right hand and if you are left-handed, use your left.

There are also signs that are performed with both hands. But your "writing hand" always remains the dominant.

It is also important where a gesture is made. Whether on the head and face, neck, arms or body. Deaf people have a very fine perception of moods and moods. Since they cannot hear the tone of voice in which someone is saying something, they pay more attention to looks and body language.

For example, if you answer a question with yes or no, you can also see a difference in facial expression.

It is very important not to move your mouth excessively. That falsifies the image of the mouth. Then the deaf person can no longer read from the lips.

Sign Language: The Alphabet

The most important language of the deaf is of course sign language. But there is also a finger alphabet - you can see this in the graphic below. The German "Sign Language Alphabet" is used when, for example, a certain sign is not known or someone wants to spell something. Then you can make use of the finger alphabet.

Names, for example, are also a typical case for the finger alphabet - these are passed on when a person is mentioned for the first time and only then mention the sign of the name.

Not all countries in the world use the same finger alphabet. Deaf people also have to learn "foreign languages" if they want to understand the Russian finger alphabet, for example. This is because some countries, such as Russia, work with a different font and therefore also use different symbols.

Note: The expression "Sign Alphabet" or "Sign Language Alphabet" is actually incorrect because you cannot spell signs. Besides, that is Finger alphabet originated completely independently of the sign language. So it is more correct if you use the word "finger alphabet".

The numbers from 1 to 10

Some signs for numbers are also used in everyday life by people who can speak and hear. In the overview below we show you the signs for the numbers from 1 to 10.

Click on the image of the signs for the numbers to enlarge it!

Difficulties in the life of the deaf

You may be wondering how deaf people make phone calls or hear their doorbell. Quite simply: there are bells that emit a light signal in every room. Alarm clocks for the deaf work in the same way. It is more difficult with the phone. There are writing and video telephones. But not every deaf person has something like this.

New technology such as Skype make it easier to make calls, but even then the person you are talking to needs a sign language interpreter. Television is also not so easy for the deaf. There are some programs that are translated or have subtitles - but most of the television program does not.

How do I talk to deaf people?

Despite all the hurdles, deaf people do not see themselves as disabled. They actually only "speak" another language and have their own culture. Just like other nationalities have their own language and culture. Deaf people like to get in touch with hearing people and are happy when they do the same.

If you approach a deaf person, they will not be able to hear you coming. That is why it is important that you make yourself noticeable. To do this, you simply stomp on the floor, so the deaf person will notice that someone is nearby. Then you make eye contact, for example by winking at him or her or by lightly touching the shoulder.

When the deaf person turns towards you, always make sure that your mouth is not covered and that your back is not facing the sun. Many can lip read, so they should always be able to see your face.

It is also important that you never pretend that you have understood the deaf person if you have not done so. That unsettles and offends him! He likes to repeat it again, just like you must repeat something. You want to be understood too.

Tip: Further materials on gestures can be found at