Start Learning Sign Language Online (ASL 1 – Unit 4)

ASL 1 – Unit 4

In this unit, you will learn more about the five sign parameters because you are learning sign language online.

Animals, Home, & Transportation

Visit the Online Course Vocabulary Category for this unit to view videos of these phrases and vocabulary words.


  • Are your parents Deaf?
  • Can you read lips?
  • How did you lose your hearing?
  • I have a question.
  • I’m studying to be an interpreter.
  • I’m taking ASL classes.
  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Yes, please.
  • Yes, thank you.


  • BALL
  • BARK (dog)
  • BEAR
  • BIRD
  • BUS
  • CAR
  • CAT
  • COW
  • DOG
  • DORM
  • DOWN
  • GAS
  • GO
  • HERE
  • HOME
  • IN
  • LION
  • OFF
  • ON
  • OUT
  • RAT
  • ROOM
  • TREE
  • WALK
  • WITH

Conversation Practice

If you are learning with a partner, practice this conversation together:

A: Are you deaf or hearing?
B: I’m hearing. Are you deaf?
A: Yes, I’m deaf. Are you taking ASL?
B: Yes, I am taking ASL.
A: Where are you learning ASL?
A: Really? What is your teacher’s name?
B: (name sign “B wave(long hair)”)
A: That’s great.

If you do not have a partner, practice signing with Christine! In the video below, Christine will be person B. Pause the video when prompted, and reply as person A.

The Five Sign Parameters (cont.)

Parameter #3: Palm Orientation

The palm orientation of a sign refers to the position of the palms of your hands and the direction they are facing. If you change the palm orientation of a sign, you can change the meaning of the sign.

For example, the sign for “my” is made by placing your palm on your chest and the sign “your” is made by pointing your palm toward the other person. A simple change in palm orientation changes the meaning of that sign.

It is also important to know how to refer to the palm orientation of a sign:

  • Forward – Palm is facing away from your body
  • Inward – Palm is facing toward your body
  • Horizontal – Palm is parallel to the floor
  • Palm toward palm – Palms are facing each other
  • Palm to palm – Palms are applied to each other.

Because you are learning sign language online, it is important for you to know this terminology. Textbooks and dictionaries will use these words to teach you how to form signs.

Parameter #4: Location

The location of a sign is where you place and form the sign in your signing area. If you change the location of a sign, you can change the meaning of a sign.

Some examples of locations include:

  • In front of your body,
  • Your whole face or head,
  • Your upper face (brow or forehead),
  • Your mid face (eyes or nose),
  • Your lower face (mouth or chin),
  • Your side face (temple, ear, or cheek),
  • Your neck,
  • Your trunk (shoulders, chest, or belly),
  • Your upper arm,
  • Your forearm or elbow,
  • The inside of your wrist,
  • The back of your wrist, and
  • Your non-dominant hand. In this case, your non-dominant will most likely use one of the ABCOS15 handshapes explained above.

For example, the sign for “mother” is formed by tapping your open-five hand on your chin and the sign for “father” is formed by tapping your open-five hand on your forehead. This simple change in location changes the meaning of the sign.

Parameter #5: Non-Manual Markers (NMM)

Non-Manual Markers are very important in American Sign Language. They consist of the various facial expressions and body movements that are added to signs to create meaning. Non-manual markers can be facial expressions, head shakes, head nods, head tilts, shoulder shrugging, etc.

For example, when you raise your eyebrows, lean your head forward, and hold the last sign in your sentence when signing a question, you are asking a yes-or-no question.

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are one of the non-manual behaviors of American Sign Language. The meaning of your sign will be affected by the type of facial expression you use while signing it.

For example, if you use an exaggerated facial expression while signing the word “HAPPY,” then you are signing “very happy.” This also works to change “FUNNY” into “very funny.”

Facial expressions can also determine what type of question you are asking. If you raise your eyebrows while asking a question, you would be asking a yes or no question. If you lower your eyebrows while asking a question, you would be asking a question that requires more than a yes or no answer (generally a “wh” word question).

Facial expressions also add clarity to what you mean when you are signing. In ASL, it is very important for your facial expressions to match your meaning. If you sign “HAPPY” with a sad face, then your sign will not come off as meaning “happy.”

Facial expressions are part of the group of body or face movements called “non-manual markers.” While facial expressions only refer to the expressions on your face, non-manual markers refer to facial expressions, head shakes, head nods, head tilts, or any other body movement that can change the meaning of your signs.

The Five Parameters Practice 4.1

Turn to page 6 in your workbook. Watch the video below. I will sign 10 pairs of words for each number. Determine the parameter that is different between the two words. Circle the best answer in your workbook: HS=Handshape, MV=Movement, PO=Palm Orientation, LOC=Location, NM=Non-manual Markers. The first one has been done for you.

When you’re finished, check your answers in the back of the workbook. Go back and review the questions you missed. Make sure you understand the differences between the signs. Then, go back and sign each word for practice because you are learning sign language online.

Reading Assignment

In DJSC! A Student’s Guide to Mastering ASL Grammar, read Chapter 4 (American Sign Language Phonology). This reading will review everything you learned about the construction of signs. It also includes a little more information than what you learned here.

Deaf Event

If you haven’t done so already, go to and find the next Deaf event in your area. Plan to go.

Going to these community events and getting involved in the Deaf community is very important as you’re learning sign language online. Our lessons are no substitute for real conversation. The only way you can grow in the language is to use it! Plan to go to one Deaf event within the next week.

If, for some reason, you are unable to find a Deaf event in your area, there is another way! The Start ASL Tutoring Program gives you the ability to meet and interact one-on-one with a Deaf person online. And even if you can find Deaf events in your area, practicing with one of our Deaf tutors is one of the best things you can do. You will get one-on-one attention and the ability to immerse yourself and practice what you’ve learned at the same time. Check out the The Start ASL Tutoring Program today!

Are You Enjoying the Class?

Many new ASL students are very interested to know about your Start ASL class experience. Have you been able to successfully learn sign language? What is your favorite part of the class? Are you learning everything you want to? Do you have any useful tips? Share Your Experience!

End of Unit 4

You’re done with unit 4! Move on and keep learning sign language online!