Auslan: What Sets Australian Sign Language Apart from American Sign Language

by | Jul 3, 2024

Welcome to the fascinating world of Australian Sign Language, or Auslan for short! If you thought sign language was the same everywhere, think again. Just like spoken languages, sign languages have their own unique characteristics depending on the region. Today, we’re diving into Auslan and discovering what makes it so special, especially compared to American Sign Language (ASL).

What is Auslan?

Auslan stands for Australian Sign Language. It is the primary language of the Australian Deaf community. Developed in Australia, Auslan has its roots in British Sign Language (BSL). It started to take shape in the early 19th century and has continued to evolve, influenced by various factors including Deaf culture and the broader Australian society.

Unique Features of Auslan

One of the coolest things about Australian Sign Language is its use of space and movement. Unlike spoken languages that rely on sound, Australian Sign Language communicates through hand shapes, facial expressions, and some unique features of Auslan that set it apart from American Sign Language (ASL) include:

Two-handed Alphabet

Australian Sign Language uses a two-handed manual alphabet, where each hand represents different letters of the alphabet. This is different from ASL, which primarily uses a one-handed manual alphabet.

Facial Expressions

In Australian Sign Language, facial expressions play a crucial role in conveying meaning. They can change the entire context of a sign, adding nuances and emotions. ASL also uses facial expressions, but Auslan tends to rely on them more extensively.


Australian Sign Language often uses directionality to indicate subject-object relationships and verb conjugations. Movements and signs can flow in different directions, providing spatial information not commonly found in ASL.

Vocabulary and Signs

While Auslan and ASL share some signs due to their historical connections, they also have distinct vocabularies. Auslan signs can be influenced by Australian culture, slang, and regional variations, making it uniquely Australian.


Fingerspelling in Auslan is more fluid and integrated into everyday conversation compared to ASL, where it is often used for specific words or names. This makes Auslan conversations visually dynamic and rich.

Community and Culture

The Deaf community in Australia has a strong presence and identity, influencing the development and usage of Auslan. Cultural aspects, such as storytelling styles and humor, can be seen in Australian Sign Language communication.

Learning Auslan

Learning Australian Sign Language opens up a world of communication and connection with the vibrant Deaf community of Australia. Here are some key points to consider if you’re interested in embarking on this enriching linguistic journey:

Online Resources

  • Courses and Tutorials: Numerous online platforms offer Auslan courses catering to various proficiency levels. These courses often include interactive lessons, video demonstrations, and practice exercises to enhance your learning experience.
  • Websites and Videos: Explore websites and video channels dedicated to Auslan, where you can find tutorials, vocabulary lists, and cultural insights. Watching signed conversations and stories can improve your comprehension and fluency.

Community Classes

  • Local Community Centers: Many community centers and organizations offer Australian Sign Language classes, ranging from introductory workshops to advanced courses. These classes provide a supportive environment for learning and practicing Australian Sign Language with fellow learners and Deaf instructors.
  • Deaf Events and Workshops: Attend Deaf events, workshops, and social gatherings to immerse yourself in Auslan and interact directly with native signers. These experiences not only improve your language skills but also deepen your understanding of Deaf culture and community dynamics.

Interactive Apps and Games

  • Auslan Apps: Explore interactive apps designed specifically for learning Australian Sign Language. These apps often feature gamified lessons, quizzes, and challenges to make learning fun and engaging. They also provide feedback and progress tracking to monitor your improvement.
  • Sign Language Games: Play sign language games and activities that reinforce Australian Sign Language vocabulary, grammar, and fingerspelling. These games can be both educational and entertaining, motivating you to practice regularly and enhance your fluency.

Workshops and Immersion Programs

  • Workshops and Retreats: Participate in Australian Sign Language workshops, retreats, and immersion programs to intensify your learning experience. These programs typically include intensive training sessions, cultural activities, and opportunities to interact with Deaf mentors and speakers.
  • Travel and Cultural Exchanges: Consider traveling to Australia for a cultural exchange program focused on Auslan and Deaf culture. Immersing yourself in the linguistic and cultural environment can accelerate your language acquisition and broaden your global perspective.

Final Thoughts

Australian Sign Language is a vibrant and expressive language that reflects the diversity and richness of the Australian Deaf community. Its unique features, such as two-handed alphabet, expressive facial expressions, and rich cultural influences, set it apart from American Sign Language and make it a fascinating language to explore and learn. So, next time you encounter Auslan, remember that it’s more than just hand gestures—it’s a language of connection, expression, and inclusion.

Seldean Smith

Seldean Smith

Seldean is a multi-skilled content wizard that dedicates herself to writing content that goes beyond merely sparking interest in the audience.

Seldean Smith

Seldean is a multi-skilled content wizard that dedicates herself to writing content that goes beyond merely sparking interest in the audience.

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