"No Voice" policy in classroom: ASL zone

You might sometimes see a yellow zone sign "SIGN LANGUAGE SPOKEN HERE" at some places, such as schools for the deaf, organizations of the deaf, offices of the ASL instructors, and so on. It is a friendly warning sign to indicate that the area is to use ASL only or where everyone uses sign language.

No voice policy is a standard policy in ASL instruction. ASL is taught entirely in classes with a "no voice" policy. From the time you arrive in class, all conversation should be in ASL until you leave at the end of class.

The classroom is a speech-free zone for two major reasons: learning environment and cultural respect. Not only it is a classroom policy, it is also a socio-cultural norm and custom in the Deaf world. Learning a language is not without learning its culture, inseparable.

Learning environment

A student's learning ability is greatly enhanced by this no voice environment. Full immersion helps develop better receptive, comprehension, expressive, and meaning negotiation skills. Using voice may distract or interfere other students' learning process.

In the early stage of learning ASL (e.g. level 100), "no voice" policy is crucial. Some students may think it is easier to or may be tempted to learn ASL vocabulary by using vocal English. Easy start but bad start -- it doesn't help in the long run in receptive skill and language acquisition through eye. It's probably challenging for some of them in the beginning but a breakthrough will be rewarding in the long run. Those who choose the easier way in the beginning may face a more challenging receptive/expressive skills in the later stage. Patience and persistence will pay off.

English ok but voice not ok

To help the students understand a distinction that "no voice policy" is not the same as "no English policy". They are allowed to use English in classroom as a last resort but still no voice. Catch 22, eh?

The students are encouraged to use ASL first using various strategies, such as meaning negotiation. Then turn to English as a last resort. How? Fingerspelling. Why waste a receptive skill practice in fingerspelling when using a spoken English word.

For ASL 101 beginners in the first weeks, some students may struggle with fingerspelling receptive skill. If this fingerspelling attempts fail, then turn to writing on the paper as a last resort. Writing on the paper usually subside as the weeks pass by as the students' receptive skill in fingerspelling improve.

Thinking in ASL

Another reason is to maintain that ASL is a language of its own. Students are taught to think in ASL, not English while signing ASL. Using voice (English) while signing ASL may interfere with language development in vocabulary and grammar: incorrect uses of ASL vocabulary in different contexts (semantics), an incorrect grammatical structure and/or a limit of grammar skill.

Respect for the Deaf culture and its language

The use of voice in Deaf space is a rude or offensive behaviour. It demonstrates an ignorance or disrespect for their culture as well as a painful reminder of hearing oppression as well as personal experience. It ties with a long history of oppression and audism that Deaf people endured for hundreds or thousands of years.

Classroom is a good place to train and learn to practice "no voice" custom that will be applied to a cultural behavior and norm in the ASL/Deaf world outside a classroom. Hearing people who know ASL usually talk in ASL in any ASL/Deaf space (e.g. Deaf club, party or event, deaf school, social gathering, etc.) or in front of any Deaf person to respect their culture and language.

Beyond classroom

A few times, an user emailed me with a message variants such as, "Your videos won't play sounds. I cannot turn the sound volume on in your videos. The sounds don't work on your videos. I tried several things -- rebooted my computer, upgraded my browser to the latest, etc. How can I fix it?"

My reply to them was that there was no sound on any videos on this website and assured them that there was nothing wrong with their computers. This website is a Deaf zone. They replied with a good-natured laugh along with sheepish embarrassment. :D

asl zone


Language and culture are inseparable, intergrated, and intertwined. Your learning involves the process of allyship. As the ASL language is the heart of identity in our culture, teaching you our ASL language is regarded a precious gift from us.

Learning ASL in class is usually a fun and interesting experience. Students often have a positive learning experience, but also make sure the Deaf ASL instructors have a positive teaching experience also. Respect is a peaceful language across all languages and cultures.

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