Good ASL Habits to Develop

Good ASL Habits to Develop

Everyone knows that when learning something new that it’s a good idea to start off right as habits are hard to break and it takes longer to relearn the “proper” habit.

So, here’s a list of good habits to have while using ASL:


If you made a fingerspelling or sign mistake it’s often a habit to “erase” it with your hand (waving in the air). Don’t do this, instead just pause or shake your head no and start again, or sign MISTAKE and continue again.


Another habit to avoid is while fingerspelling, don’t sign “J” backwards (so it looks reversed), and signing “Z” with the little finger instead of the first finger.

Avoid the tendency to “bounce” your double letters, they’re supposed to “slide” a bit.

To help lessen the confusion between common letters like D and F, or S and A.

A helpful reminder is that D comes first before F in the alphabet, so hold up your first finger up to form D. As for the difference between S & A, just think the word “fist” has an S in it – so make a fist for S.

Eye Gaze

When watching a conversation watch the face or the whole upper body rather than concentrate on the hands. If you concentrate only on the hands, you miss other clues like negation, facial expressions and such.

Beginner signers are often confused by a Deaf person signing to and looking at an empty space.  Stop the impulse to see if that person is really there. In ASL this is establishing “role taking”, which is the same as saying “he said” and “she said” before quoting.

Sometimes a Deaf person will momentarily look elsewhere as they’re thinking of something else to say.  This prevents the other person from taking their turn to talk.

Mouth Movements

Many Deaf do mouth many of the words they sign.  The right time for mouthing these depends on numerous factors.  Some of those factors have to do with whether or not a sign is traditionally done with a specific mouth morpheme (for example: NOT-YET uses a slightly open mouth showing the tongue covering the lower teeth).

Many Hearing signers mouth inappropriately by either overexaggerating their mouth movements, or mouthing English words while doing signs that require specific mouth morphemes. So, try and avoid this habit.


When you are conversing with a Deaf person and he signs something you don’t recognize, use the “HEY” sign to stop him before he goes much further. You can also ask them to “SLOW”, “SIGN MISSED”, or “SIGN MEANING”

If you need to walk between two Deaf people chatting (like in a hallway). Just walk through at your normal pace and sign “EXC– USE” a few times. Ducking down and walking underneath as not to interrupt the signing is much more distracting.

Getting their attention

You can get a Deaf person’s attention by:

  • Waving your hand

  • tapping lightly on the shoulder

  • lightly slapping the table at which someone is sitting

  • in some circumstances–stomping your foot on the ground or flashing the lights,

Discretion should be used because not all ways are appropriate at all times and there are right ways to do it. (ex. if you flash the lights rapidly, many times you will either annoy the Deaf or you will cause some people to think there is an emergency.)

Dominant Hand

You should use your dominant hand for fingerspelling and for all “one-handed signs.”

You should use your non-dominant hand as a “partner hand” for signs in which both hands move, and as a “base” (steady) hand for two-handed signs in which only the dominant hand moves, such as in indexing.

Avoid “switching” back and forth between hands as it becomes confusing.

Know Your Limit

Please recognize your limit in your ASL skills. Do not claim to be fluent if you’re under two years of signing experience. Too often Deaf people share stories of various people coming up to them and say “I know ASL” when in fact they only can fingerspell or aren’t past Level 1.

The same thing goes for the urge to go and interpret for a Deaf person in public, such as seeing a Deaf person ordering at a counter.

Keep these habits in mind during your journey in ASL and you’ll be off to a great start.