JSL: First Impressions

With some inspiration from a fellow Japanese learner, I started studying Japanese Sign Language during the last few weeks of college.

First of all, it’s really fun. I loved practicing 指文字 while walking around campus, despite the stares. So far I have 指文字 down, and some pretty basic vocabulary, so I’ll be working on actual conversation from now on.


I was surprised by how intuitive JSL is.  For example, the signs for “夜” and “こんにちは”combine to create こんばんは. Little things like that, along with my background in Japanese, make this language really easy to absorb and retain, even if I stop for a (very) short while.


I love how expressive the language is.  I’m not a very expressive person, so I think taking this language further will be very helpful for me. People often have trouble figuring out how I feel since I pretty much have the same expression on my face no matter what. I’ve learned that that is not really an option in signed languages, so I have no choice but to work hard in order to make myself easier to understand.

I’m having a lot of fun watching the videos and picking up new signs, but I still have several questions about what to study. First and foremost, the difference between 日本手話 and 日本語対応手話. Should I learn both? I feel like I’ve been focusing on 日本手話, but sometimes I see stuff I don’t recognize and I wonder if it would be beneficial to learn both. Also, it seems that knowing American Sign Language would be beneficial as well, or at least the alphabet.  For now I’m just watching videos and mimicking the signs I want to focus on. It is very likely that I will pick up ASL as well. I’d love to hear some opinions from those who are more experienced in JSL than I am.

Random tidbit. At my graduation there was a lady signing for the entire ceremony. It was awesome. So I watched a random person sign for a few hours instead of actually paying attention to the ceremony. Oops.


Anyways, I’ll be stuck in several books from now until the end of June, since I’m still several thousand pages away from my goal in the Tadoku contest. And I do plan on reaching that goal.


Have you any experience in sign languages? How did you go about studying them? Leave a comment and let me know!

Author: Koyami

I'm Koyami. I am a freelance Japanese-English Translator and I enjoy learning new skills and reading in my spare time. Current pursuits include juggling, piano, and collecting all of the 十二国記 books. Follow me on Twitter and Google+ for blog updates, my Japanese word of the day, and more!

  • lumiina

    I wouldn’t say that learning ASL would help your JSL, but there are people in Japan who are interested in ASL so it may help you make connections. They are two completely different languages and cultures. So, if you take on ASL, do it because you want to get into that language too!

    Watching videos from DeafJapan and JSLVideoDayo definitely leads to picking up a little ASL here and there while learning JSL.

    I find it really hard to differientiate 日本手話 and 日本語対応手話 and am still getting a grasp on it myself! JSL hasn’t been studied much by linguists so it’s hard to find resources on the differences between the two. Learning 日本手話 will definitely benefit you when you decide to become immersed into Deaf culture, while 日本語対応手話 follows Japanese grammar so it’ll benefit your Japanese.

    • Thanks for the advice. You’re probably right in that watching DeafJapan and JSLVideoDayo played a major part in me starting to think of tackling ASL. I guess I’ll start it if I feel the inspiration to pile on another language, but for now I think I’ll stick with JSL.

      There’s still so much left to learn! For now I’ll just keep enjoying all of the great JSL channels on YouTube.

      Thanks for the comment, Rachel!

  • Agnieszka ‘Mizuu’ Gorońska

    I’ve written a book on beginner’s JSL in Polish.

    To answer your doubt: the difference between 日本手話 and 日本語対応手話 is that 日本手話 is a natural language, with its own grammar and idioms. 日本語対応手話 on the other hand (oops) is a language taught to hearing people wanting to communcate with the Deaf – lterally replacing each word in a normal Japanese sentence with a sign. So you can see 助詞 missing from the 日本手話 but not the other one, for example. 日本語対応手話 is for the Deaf like a bad Google Translate from Japanese to English and if they were hearing impaired from birth and had contact with Deaf culture – extremely hard to comprehend.

    But, of course, a lot of signs are the same. It is highly advised (IMHO) to stick with Nihon Shuwa.

    • Thank you for the explanation and advice. I think the difference between 日本手話 and 日本語対応手話 makes more sense to me now. I think I will focus on 日本手話 since I do have an interest in Deaf culture.

      Thank you for the comment, Agnieszka!

    • lumiina

      助詞 aren’t always used in 日本語対応手話. It’s like SEE vs signed English. SEE (Signed Exact English) contains a sign for everything in English, even “ing”, while signed English follows English grammar. You’ll find 日本語対応手話 with signs for 助詞 being used in 聾学校 to teach Deaf students 助詞, but outside of that, I haven’t seen it used. Rather, just 聴者的 signs that follow the rules of Japanese grammar. The hard thing is that many organizations teach 日本語対応手話 instead of 日本手話 to hearing students, so really the only way to learn 日本手話 properly is to get involved with the Deaf community and immerse yourself, as well as watch video blogs by the Deaf community. But that’s the best choice in the end, since you’re learning 日本手話 to become involved with the Deaf community anyhow. But it can be difficult when there are scarce resources on the differences between the grammar of 日本手話 and Japanese.

      • I really appreciate all the the clarification I’ve been getting from this post. I think I’m starting to understand 日本手話 a bit more now.

        Thanks for the comment, Rachel!