What’s Your Animal Sign?

By Ellen Lambeth; photos by Joanna B. Pinneo

What are these kids talking about? Animals, of course. Come join the conversation!

Click image for a closer view.

Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate with their hands. But anyone can do it, allowing even more people to communicate with each other. One way to begin is to spell out words with the fingers on one hand. (See the fingerspelling alphabet in the blue panel.) But the fast way is to use your hands to sign whole words or ideas. It’s called American Sign Language—ASL, for short. Are you ready to learn?

Meet Nyla, Grace, Joshtav, and Yoleth—from left to right in the photo above. All are students at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. And they’re here to teach you the signs for some common animals. Try it—you’ll like it! You’ll also discover that these signs make perfect sense.

Grace is covering her fist with her other hand, while wiggling her thumb. That mimics a turtle hiding in its shell, peeking out to see if the coast is clear.

What do you think Nyla’s fanned-out fingers tapped against her head stand for? A buck’s antlers, of course! If she uses just her thumb and pinkie and twists her wrist, it’s the sign for COW (imagine horns instead of antlers).

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See how Yoleth is moving her fingers to “draw” the tiger’s whiskers? If she wants, she can also make a scary, growly face—as if to say, “Grrr!”

It’s easy to see how Nyla’s crooked finger against her nose says “eagle.” It looks just like the big bird’s hooked beak!

Joshtav is opening and closing his first two fingers against his thumb to look like a quacking duck’s bill. If he uses just his first finger and thumb, he’s saying BIRD.

Don’t Grace’s wiggly fingers look like a spider’s wiggly legs? Crossing her hands on top of each other makes the spider’s body.

Click image for a closer view.

Joshtav uses curved, open fingers to trace the lion’s shaggy mane on top of his head. The grander the motion, the mightier the lion! Joshtav can make a growly face, too.

Did you ever have an insect land on your nose and wave its antennae? That’s what Yoleth is demonstrating with this sign. If you “throw” the sign down off your nose with a disgusted look, it means LOUSY (because a louse is a kind of insect).

There’s no mistaking this sign—the added body paint gives it away! Even without the paint, just hook your thumbs and flap your hands to sign “butterfly.”

(Did you know that some butterflies, including this monarch, are in big trouble? You can help! Learn this sign and become a Butterfly Hero. To find out more, visit nwf.org/butterflyheroes with an adult.)



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