It is common knowledge that many different spoken languages exist, such as English, French, and Chinese. Slightly less well known is the fact that sign language has multiple forms as well. Therefore, just as with spoken languages, two people attempting to communicate via sign language must not only know sign language, they must know the same sign language. For example, a person using American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with a person using Chinese Sign Language (ZGS) would have just as much trouble conveying their message as would a person speaking English to another who knew only Mandarin Chinese.
As the name suggests, people who use sign language in the United States generally use American Sign Language. Furthermore, there are approximately half a million people in the United States who claim that American sign language is their primary language. There are several other countries across the world that also use American Sign Language. Examples include Canada, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. Importantly, American sign language is based on French sign language, but the two are not identical. There are also plenty of elements of local sign language that are wrapped up in American Sign Language. Therefore, French sign language is not the same as American Sign Language.
Even though Americans and British people can understand each other easily because they speak the same language, they do not use the same sign language. British sign language would develop during the late 18th century and the early 19th century. Then, it quickly spread to Australia and New Zealand. These islands used to be part of the British crown, and that is why they also use sign language. Over the years, British sign language has been influenced by Australia and New Zealand, but this form of sign language is nothing like American Sign Language. Therefore, anyone who goes to the United Kingdom and tries to use American sign language will be disappointed when they have difficulty communicating with someone else.
It is difficult to say exactly how many different forms of sign language exist all over the world. In addition to American Sign Language and British sign language, there are several other comment examples. They include the Irish sign language, French sign language, Chinese sign language, Indian sign language, and Brazilian sign language. In all likelihood, there are dozens of forms of sign language worldwide, but these are just a few of the most common examples. Just as it can be difficult for someone to learn a second spoken language, it can be difficult for someone to learn another form of sign language as well. It requires a lot of practice for people to get used to using sign language.
Estimated # of Users
|United States||408,000||5 (Developing)|
|Ivory Coast||130,000||5 (Developing)||Estimates range from 77,000 to 155,000 users|
|Burkina Faso||102,000||6a* (Vigorous)||Estimates range from 60,000 to 120,000 users|
|Togo||40,000||6a* (Vigorous)||Estimates range from 24,000 to 48,000 users|
|Canada||38,000||5 (Developing)||Estimates vary widely, from 3,660 (2011 census) to 357,000 (2015 Canadian Association of the Deaf)|
|Mali||25,000||5 (Developing)||Estimates range from 40,000–65,000 people with profound hearing loss, of which approximately half are assumed to use ASL|
|Central African Republic||24,000||6a* (Vigorous)||Estimates range from 14,000 to 28,000 users|
|Gabon||7,000||6a* (Vigorous)||Alternate estimate places population at 2,000|
|Belize||3,000||Unestablished||Alternate estimate places population at 800–1,600|
|Guyana||2,000||6a* (Vigorous)||Estimates range from 1,500 to 3,000 users|
|Grenada||340||6a* (Vigorous)||Estimates range from 225–450 users|
|Saint Lucia||200||5* (Developing)||Estimates range from 160 to 300 users|
|United States Virgin Islands||110||5 (Developing)|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||100||5 (Developing)|
|Cayman Islands||65||5* (Developing)||Alternate estimate places population at 50–200|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||40||5 (Developing)||Estimates range from 40 to 100 users|
|El Salvador||6b* (Threatened)|
ASL is the most common type of sign language in the world and there are over 400K users of the language. Most countries have their own official sign language for their citizens and cannot understand other countries' sign languages.