American Sign Language (ASL) has recently drawn an increasingly larger audience of eager learners. Those learners may not realize the art of ASL storytelling and the role it plays in learning the language. The quickness of the hands and the animated expressions, in some cases, far surpass the range of a skilled mime. ASL storytelling, in a nutshell, is pure captivation, and it can be hugely helpful for new signers. Why is ASL storytelling so important? Read on!
(A gif of a male in a purple button down shirt conveying the distance between two people with the “1” hand shape)
When you’re beginning to learn to sign, as a new signer or even as an infant, ASL hand classifiers are used as the building blocks of communication and visualization. ASL classifiers strengthen your understanding of objects, shapes, sizes, and movement. As we grow as signers, those classifiers are often used in everyday conversation. But in a storytelling format, they truly come to life. For example using two “C” hand shapes and cupping them in front of your eyes can say that you’re looking at something from far away. Using the “1” hand classifier and slowly moving it closer to you can say that something is approaching. The better you are at classifiers, the stronger your visualization can become.
(A gif of a person in a horse mask removing it to reveal a dog one underneath it)
In every story, there is rarely one perspective through the entire story arc alone. Stories usually need at least something or someone to interact with. ASL storytelling is a great way to convey this. For example, an adventurer who travels through a strange town with his dog could be a magical story when told in ASL. The signer can switch between the main characters and show their reactions and interactions. The characters you involve in any story can be shown through your signing and position changes.
(A gif of a person showing off their pet chameleon adapting to different colors of sunglasses)
As humans we’re quite adaptive creatures. ASL storytelling is an art form that invites constant change from the performer. Once you’ve gained the knowledge of how to take key elements of ASL storytelling, you use them again and again in fresh material. Even a story that you’ve told a thousand times can be fun to watch once your skills improve. You can welcome an even better iteration of it!
(A gif of a man making a funny face)
Smile! Frown! Scowl! Transforming your face to become the character or emotion you’re trying to portray is a must for any ASL storyteller. An expressionless performance will not get you the reaction you’re looking for from your audience. Work on making your face malleable, and its positive effects will show up in both your storytelling and your everyday vernacular.
(A gif of a woman in a black sparkling dress looks on in shock mouthing the words, “oh my god.”)
As your skills as an ASL storyteller flourishes, you’ll draw the attention of an audience that can’t look away! Performing stories in ASL can be an astonishing wonder for those who first see it. Children, who usually find any form of entertainment fascinating, will see you as nothing short of a magician if you’re able to immerse them into the world of your story. And if you think children will be impressed with you, adults will straight up envy your skill! Keep the party alive with your form of entertainment, and you’re sure to impress.
(A gif of a black woman saying, “keep it going”)
Make no mistake, even if you’re the greatest ASL storyteller on the planet, you have not truly mastered it! This is not because of you, though. The world is still turning, which means ASL, as a thriving language, is constantly evolving. This just means you will continue to learn new signs and ways to express yourself. What is new and fresh today may be outdated tomorrow, so keep your minds and hands flexible, and don’t fear the change.