Everyone knows that learning another language is a valuable skill, but have you ever considered learning a sign language? The local sign language here in Australia is called Auslan, but most of our society still doesn’t know very much about it. Like any sign language, there are multiple benefits to learning it, including improved mental retention and stimulated brain development, and you will also gain a way to communicate with the Australian deaf community. This article explains exactly what Auslan is, how it differs from other sign languages, and where you can start on your journey to learning this rich and varied language.

What is Auslan?

Auslan is the shortened name for Australian Sign Language, which is the sign language used by the Australian deaf community. As with other sign languages, Auslan combines facial expressions, hand shapes, and movement of the hands, arms, and body to communicate a person’s thoughts. It’s not just a replication of Australian English but is its own unique, visual language, which equals spoken languages in its communication of nuance, force, and solid information. There are two main dialects of Auslan, Northern and Southern, and these dialects differ in a variety of ways, including the signs used for several colors and animals. In Australia, there are also multiple indigenous Australian sign languages, and some of the signs from the indigenous dialect in Queensland have been incorporated into Far North Queensland Auslan.

How Has Auslan Evolved?

Nowadays, 20 000 people across Australia use Auslan to communicate, but how did it evolve in the first place? In the 1800s, members of the deaf communities from Ireland, Britain, and Scotland immigrated to Australia and introduced sign language to the country. Over time, these sign languages combined and evolved naturally, eventually creating Australian Sign Language – which was shortened to ‘Auslan’ in the early 1980s by Trevor Johnston. Sign language is influenced by culture and traditions, just as spoken languages are, so it makes sense that each country would have its own different sign language. As with any spoken language, Auslan is continuously evolving to meet any new communication needs of the Australian deaf community.

How Does Auslan Differ From Other Sign Languages?

Even though the spoken languages of Australia and the USA are similar, the sign languages are as different as spoken English and French. Auslan originated from British sign language and so has many similarities with it, but American Sign Language (ASL) comes from French Sign Language and therefore is completely different from Auslan. The main difference between Auslan and ASL is that Australian Sign Language, like British and New Zealand Sign Language, uses a two-handed alphabet, while American Sign Language uses a one-handed alphabet.

Some people also wonder whether Key Word Signing is similar to Auslan. The difference is that Key Word Signing is not a full sign language, it’s a tool that people with communication difficulties use to support their spoken language. Key Word Signing does borrow signs from Auslan, but it doesn’t use them in the same way. Someone using Key Word Signing would sign while they spoke aloud, using signs to communicate the main message or certain words from each sentence. Another way that Auslan differs from Key Word Signing is that Auslan has a unique grammatical structure, whereas Key Word Signing uses Auslan signs in the same order as spoken English.

How Long Does It Take To Become Fluent?

If you have started to think that learning Auslan might be a good idea, then you may be wondering how much work it will take. It takes about two years to become fluent in Auslan if you dedicate yourself and spend a lot of time practicing and immersing yourself in the deaf community. This is obviously an estimation, as the amount of time, it takes to learn Auslan will be different for every person, just like with learning piano or learning any other language. Also, just like with other languages, your goal doesn’t have to be fluency – even if you just begin by learning a few phrases, then you will at least be able to communicate a little bit with the deaf community.

Where Can You Learn Auslan?

Once you have decided that learning Auslan is an idea you’re going to pursue, then you might be unsure how to begin your sign language journey. There are plenty of resources for starting to learn Auslan, and you can easily try it out for free with online video tutorials. When you’re ready to commit to a proper course, then there are several TAFEs in WA offering Auslan courses, including the North Metro TAFE and South Regional TAFE, as well as options from The Auslan Company and The Deaf Society.

Other Services That Assist With Communication

If you’re looking for other services to assist with communication, like Key Word Signing lessons, or NDIS speech pathology, then you should look into disability support services. Choose a reliable disability support organization that can assist you with any communication difficulties you may be experiencing due to a disability. Some organizations can help you apply for NDIS funding, and look after you throughout the process.