Did you know that ASL involves much more than just signs? Did you know that signing involves using more than just your hands? Have you ever wondered how you can convey your feelings in ASL; how to express yourself? Look no more, because facial expressions are the answer! In this article we’ll look a little closer at facial expressions in ASL; we will talk about why they are important, how you can use them, and some pointers to keep in mind.
First, what are we referring to when we use the term facial expressions?
They are expressions shown on your face including the use of your eyebrows, mouth and so forth. Why do you need these expressions in ASL? They are your tone of voice, so to speak, and your punctuation marks.
To illustrate, when you talk to someone in person, you can discern how they are feeling based on their tone of voice. For example, imagine the following scenario: A parent says “Go clean your room!” You can even imagine hearing the frustration the parent has. Not only that, but you could hear that they weren’t whispering to their child, rather they raised their voice. Now imagine the exact same scenario, but in ASL.
How would that work? How can you convey the frustration? Or convey their loud voice? With none other than facial expressions. Yes, with facial expressions, you can convey the same feelings. Your face wouldn’t necessarily be showing a smiling face😀, but rather a face of frustration😒. Many of us may not even realize it, but we show these expressions naturally, each corresponding to our feelings.
Facial expressions don’t have to be a difficult task.
Showing facial expressions in ASL, is just like expressing them when talking. For example, showing a face of fear after finding a spider in your shoe 😨, you don’t need any words or signs to show that face! Or showing a face of excitement when receiving a special gift from a friend 😄. No difficulty there!
Now granted, some feelings can have a negative side and a positive side. For example, surprises can vary; some are good, some are bad. When your friends throw you a party, what a surprise! But when you come home to find your dog tore your furniture to pieces, not quite a good feeling, right? Both cases had you feeling surprised and no doubt you expressed that in your face, but was it the same facial expression? No doubt they were different.
Aside from showing emotions, our faces provide our punctuation.
Take questions, for instance. For example, all the “Wh” questions, a question that uses a “question word”, a question that requires specific answers, you will simply move your eyebrows down, furrowed. A yes/no question or one that doesn’t have a “question word”, you will simply do the opposite and move your eyebrows up. Nothing fancy or complicated here, just moving your eyebrows up and down.
Let’s look at some examples…
Think of a serious situation. What comes to my mind is back when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everyone was quarantined. As you watch the news talking about social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, etc. what kind of facial expressions do you picture on the person who is giving us all this critical information? A serious, concerned look? Or a smiling, care-free look? Obviously they are concerned, because they are receiving life-saving information. Similar situations to that may be, for example, at a funeral or at a hospital.
So, what happens if you do not show facial expressions?
Have you ever seen a robot? In short, that is basically what we would look like…talk about embarrassing. Yes, showing absolutely ZERO facial expressions will make you look robotic, to the point where people will start asking you if everything is okay, or if there is something wrong. Remember, no facial expressions means no tone or feeling in your signs. Trust me, you do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT want to look like that! But don’t worry, just like we have discussed, showing facial expressions does not have to be difficult.
What can you do to practice facial expressions in ASL?
As an example, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself. I was enrolled in the Interpreter Training Program. One of the program requirements from the very beginning was to take a drama class. Doing so really helped many of the interpreters become more expressive, to show more facial expressions. Yes, it really paid off. Am I forcing you to pay for a drama class? Not at all. But it was a tool that helped lots of us as we learned ASL.
What else can you do? Take out your phone or tablet, look at your keyboard, or even Google them if you want to, and find these special little “emojis.” 😆😊😴😞😖😘😑 Yes, all the different emojis showing different feelings can be used as practice. Try to imitate them. You’ll probably get a kick out of doing that! Look at yourself in the mirror and watch yourself sign. Make sure that your facial expressions look natural, but very visible and obvious.
Overall, facial expressions in ASL are important because they show your tone of voice and how you feel.
They are also your exclamations, periods, and question marks. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t worry too much. Remember that they are supposed to be natural, and related to whatever you’re speaking about. So, keep it simple and don’t overthink them. And trust me, you don’t look funny! Your facial expressions tie everything together, and give real meaning to everything you say.