ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library

SEE and ASL, a comparison:

 Rhiannon Wilt
April 28, 2007

A Comparison of ASL and SEE

There are many sign language systems.  This paper will show comparisons between SEE (Signed Exact English) and ASL (American Sign Language).  There is a difference of opinion on which system is more appropriate for a deaf student.  The opinion you hold would depend on different experiences and background information.  One of the experiences would be whether you are connected to a Deaf community or not.

Signed Exact English which will be referred to as SEE is a set of signed words used in English word order, there are also sign markers to indicate the use of prefixes and suffixes.  The use of SEE generally uses one set sign for any of the English terms used in spoken English.  An example would be ‘run’; there is one SEE sign used for all the different definitions of run.  The sign markers used to show the usage of pre or suffix usage is also listed in the Signing Exact English dictionary.  A SEE sign can have two but no more than three hand shapes for one English word.  The theory to support the use of SEE with deaf students is for the students to better understand the English vocabulary.  It is also noted in the Signing Exact English dictionary, the preferences for many hearing parents of deaf children to use SEE with their children.  The reasoning is that it is difficult for hearing people to attempt to learn a second language referring to ASL.  There are according to The Comprehensive Signed English Dictionary; there are four major problems with deaf students learning ASL.  One, only 3% of children in programs for the deaf have 2 deaf parents, not all of those individuals use ASL. Two, it is impossible to speak English and sign ASL. Three, ASL is not visible in a deaf child’s environment. Four, English speaking parents prefer not to learn a different language.

American Sign Language is different from SEE because ASL is a visual-gestural language used primarily by members of the American Deaf Community. There is extensive research done by linguists to show that ASL has its own grammatical rules.   There are numerous studies done that shows the language growth of deaf children when taught ASL as a base or native language before introducing an English mode of sign language to help with their English usage.  ASL is a more visual language, which supports the deaf user when learning language.  If there is a doubt of how to sign a word using ASL then typically it is fingerspelled.  In recent years, the desire to learn or be fluent in ASL has grown even among the hearing population.  There is still some bias against using ASL, but it does seem that growth is occurring within the American community.

After taking the ASL lessons with the Electronic High School, and using SEE most of my life, it has been a learning experience for me.  ASL, in my opinion, is better because it has been easier to understand due to its visual-gestural nature.  I have learned a lot through the course and hope to pick up more as time goes on.


Gustason, G., & Zawolkow, E. (1997). Signing exact English. Los Almitos, CA: Modern Signs Press, Incorporated.

Sternberg, M. L.A. (1981). American Sign Language: A comprehensive dictionary. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Bornstein, H., Saulnier, K.L., Hamilton, L.B. (1983). The comprehevsive signed English dictionary. Washington D.C.: Clerc Books.


Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy Dr. Bill's "Superdisk."

Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is now available!   CHECK IT OUT >

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >