Signed languages are visual-manual languages that are natural to the Deaf community that are important to their identity. The structure and grammar of signed languages may differ from the spoken languages in the general society. Signed languages are not a visual representation of spoken languages; they exist as separate languages. Signed languages do not refer to miming and gestures, though it does incorporate these elements, just as spoken languages do.
Many people have the false impression that sign language is a universal language. Just like spoken languages, each sign language has its own cultural influences. Each Deaf community around the world has its own sign language that is unique to them. There are certain sign languages that are more widely used while there are others that are yet to be officially recognised. This highlights the importance of the sign languages in representing the different cultures of Deaf communities.
There are international signs used when Deaf individuals from different Deaf communities communicate with each other. These individual signs are combined with gestures and used as a tool for communication when they do not have a common language among them. There is no International Sign Language.
Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) is the native sign language recognised and used by the Deaf community in Singapore. SgSL consists of local signs and is believed to be influenced mainly by Shanghainese Sign Language, American Sign Language, and English (through Signed Exact English II), which were used in Deaf education in Singapore.
Not all deaf people know or use sign language. In fact, some may also use speech and hearing to communicate. These deaf individuals would have been educated through the following approaches:
Natural Auditory Oral (NAO)
This approach focuses on the use of the individual’s residual hearing through amplification and visual cues as aids in communication. The use of hearing aids and cochlear implants with the visual cues aims to allow the deaf person to acquire speech and language through years of training.
Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT)
Another oral-based approach, AVT emphasises the teaching of spoken communication via the development of listening (auditory) and speaking (verbal) skills. It teaches deaf children to use their residual hearing aided by assistive devices to the fullest extent possible. The use of audition is the only modality used to promote spoken language.
Other Approaches in Communication
Speech-reading (commonly known as lip-reading) is a technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue. It also depends on non-verbal information provided by the context, knowledge of the language, and amount of residual hearing of the deaf individual.
Writing is a simple way for a hearing person who is not skilled in sign language to speak with Deaf individuals. Deaf people who belong to the Deaf community are bicultural and bilingual. While they have a rich and fulfilling life with the Deaf community, Deaf people also live and interact with hearing people in the wider society.