American Sign Language is a vastly different language than most people think. The grammar rules, or syntax, are completely unlike speaking English. Though the syntax is different, sign languages are still considered languages because they follow specific rules just like speaking languages. Being a native speaker of English, it was hard for me to understand American Sign Language at first. I am currently in my second semester and I am still finding myself trying to translate the sentence I have in my head word-for-word in sign language. This is a no-no! A typical sentence in sign language isn't the English "subject-verb" norm. There aren't really any auxiliary verbs in ASL as well as any articles like "the" or "a". Going from English to sign language, this takes awhile to get used to.
When I walked into class of my first semester, two translators were present and I got to see them sign with the teacher. Besides watching their methodical hand gestures, I couldn't help but notice their general posture and facial expressions. These two elements play a crucial part in ASL grammar. My professor stresses how we have to show emotion in all of our sentences. We even have to do eyebrow exercises sometimes if we aren't focusing (eyebrows up, eyebrows down, eyebrows up, eyebrows down...)!!! These facial expressions in any speaking language could be thought of as over-dramatic but in ASL as well as any other sign language, these extralinguistic gestures are very important.
There are many myths about sign language. One of the main myths is when children are born deaf to hearing parents, people might think that they cannot acquire language like hearing children do. However, this is false. Deaf children can acquire language like anyone else. In fact, the parts of the brain that process spoken language are just used to process sign language. Also, children that are born deaf go to through the same developmental stages as hearing children do. For instance, when hearing children start babbling, deaf children babble with their hands. Here is a video of a deaf parent signing with her deaf child...very cute!