ASL: Which Hand Do I Use? Unveiling the Secret

ASL which hand do I use?
I'm learning ASL... but which hand do I use to sign???

For folks who are used to speaking, mastering sign language can present a challenge. A big part of this journey is the art of communicating with your hands, perfecting those handshapes, and mastering the specific movements for each sign.

As you venture into the world of signing, you’ll likely have plenty of questions about how to make those hands work their magic! Let’s dive into one of the most common questions that new signers ask about hand usage:

Which hand should I use while signing ASL?

It’s a good question! It’s an important one, too.

Is Choice of Hand Important in ASL?

Signs in ASL can be categorized into two groups: one-handed signs and two-handed signs. For two-handed signs that aren’t symmetrical, one hand performs the primary action and the other hand has a supporting role.

ASL which hand do I use when signing ASL
One of the signers here is signing a one-handed sign and the other is signing a two-handed sign. Can you tell which is which?

Dr. Melanie Metzger, a retired Gallaudet University Linguistics and Interpreting professor, explains that “people typically have a dominant hand when signing ASL.” This dominant hand plays a crucial role in fingerspelling and the production of two-handed signs.

Therefore, one of your hands will take on the role of the “dominant” hand when you use ASL.

asl which hand do I use
Six different signs by the same signer, all signed with the same dominant hand!

But… which one?

Here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter!

What truly matters is consistency.

Whichever hand you choose as your dominant hand is perfectly fine. The key is to use the same hand consistently at all times.

Switching hand dominance while signing can be noticeably distracting, even though Deaf individuals will still understand you. It’s akin to non-native English speakers speaking with a strong accent.

The bottom line is, to communicate clearly in sign language, it is important to choose a dominant hand and use it consistently.

How Do I Know Which Hand Is Dominant?

Let’s take a break from the word “dominant” for a second.

So, are you a righty or a lefty? Which hand is your go-to for writing or brushing your teeth? Is it your right hand or your left hand?

asl which hand do I use, which hand is dominant
Which hand do you use when you write? That's your dominant hand!

That’s your dominant hand!

And guess what? That’s the hand you’ll want to use the most when you dive into the world of signing ASL.

Which Hand Should Ambidextrous People Use To Sign?

asl which hand do i use
The question of "which hand do I use when signing ASL" is harder to answer when you're ambidextrous!

For those blessed with ambidexterity, the question of which hand to use for signing ASL can be a bit harder to answer. Ambidextrous individuals have the remarkable ability to use both hands with equal skill. It’s also very rare; only 1% of the population are ambidextrous.

Some left-handed people have adapted to use their right hand pretty effectively so that they could be considered somewhat ambidextrous. Their left hand doesn’t feel all that dominant.

So, which hand should they use as their dominant hand when signing?

Remember, what really counts is consistency. So, whether you opt for your right or left hand, just be consistent with it! For those with ambidexterity and equal skill in both hands, choose the hand that feels most natural to you and stick with it.

ASL which hand do I use
This is the sign for CHEAT. Note the difference in hand dominance between the two signers! The signer on the left is left-handed, while the signer on the right is right-handed.
However, it’s worth noting that there are certain advantages to choosing your right hand as your dominant hand. Since the majority of people are right-handed, yfou’re likely to see more sign models signing with right-hand dominance. It might be easier to learn new signs by simply copying the sign models rather than having to adapt the signs to be left-dominant. Moreover, a study showed that due to right-handedness being prevalent, ASL users tend to process simple signs more swiftly when signed with right-hand dominance. For more complex signs, ASL users generally process them faster when signed by someone with the same hand dominance. In both cases, right-hand dominance emerges as a slightly smoother choice for embarking on your sign language journey. However, rest assured that this small advantage is not something to worry about if you happen to be left-handed. The key is to choose a side and stay consistent throughout your signing adventure!

Final Words

ASL learners often inquire, ‘When using ASL, which hand do I use?’ The beauty of ASL lies in its adaptability to individual preferences. Whether you’re a righty or a lefty, remember that what truly matters is consistency.

Like any skill, practice makes perfect! By regularly practicing signing with your chosen dominant hand, you’ll build muscle memory and confidence. Embrace the art of repetition, and you’ll notice how naturally your dominant hand takes charge during signing.

Additionally, immersing yourself in sign language conversations, videos, and classes will reinforce your hand dominance and improve your fluency. Embrace every opportunity to sign and communicate, and soon enough, it’ll become second nature to use your dominant hand consistently.

Practice your hand dominance consistency with a subscription to What’s the Sign?, the ultimate resource for ASL learners. With over 10,000 signs demonstrated by both right-handed and left-handed ASL signers, you’ll find the perfect platform to enhance your signing journey. Embrace the opportunity to learn from both hand dominances and develop a well-rounded understanding of sign language.

Curious to explore? Give What’s the Sign? a try with a free 3-day trial!

Happy signing!


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