One Sign Does Not Fit All for Sign Language

Did you know American Sign Language is commonly said to be the fourth most-used language in the United States? While it is difficult to know exactly how many ASL speakers there are in the U.S., the estimation ranges from 500,000 to 2,000,000 speakers.

What many people do not realize is that there is not a single, universal dialect or version of sign language. Just as languages vary between countries and regions, so does sign language. In fact, more than 100 types of sign language exist!


Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your use of sign language was different from the local variety? Sign Language varies so much that even American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) have completely different alphabets. BSL uses a two-handed alphabet, such as the one on the left. ASL, which is used in the United States and Canada, uses one hand to indicate letters (as seen on the right).


The official language of both Brazil and Portugal is Portuguese. However, as you can see in the graphic on the left, Brazil did not adopt Portugal’s version of its hand alphabet and instead have their own unique alphabet.

Because hearing impairments come in many forms and individuals have different learning opportunities, our sign language interpreters are trained in a variety of visual languages.




The comprehensive list of the world’s sign languages is too long to post here, but here are some examples:

Algerian Sign Language 
Kenyan Sign Language 
Brazilian Sign Language 
Honduras Sign Language 
Mayan Sign Language
Bengali Sign Language 
Chinese Sign Language 
Hawaii Pidgin Sign Language 
Malaysian Sign Language 
Bulgarian Sign Language 
Greek Sign Language 
Israeli Sign Language 
United Arab Emirates Sign Language

This post was originally published on September 14, 2010 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy.