Sign languages are expressed in the visual-gestural modality and have a different structure than spoken languages. Among other things, characteristics of sign languages are that they use the space in front of the body to place signs, can express several linguistic elements simultaneously, and are highly iconic. Previous research on L2 acquisition for spoken languages cannot simply be transferred to the teaching of sign languages, because the modality differences also have to been taken into account. Hearing learners with no previous knowledge in sign languages learn to understand and express the language through another modality and can therefore be described as M2-L2 learners (Chen Pichler and Koulidobrova 2015), where M2 stands for learning a language in a “second modality”.'

Although there is a growing body of research on sign language L2 acquisition internationally, research on the teaching of an L2 sign language is almost non-existent. Therefore, teachers have been forced to use trial and error approaches in order to continuously adjust and improve their lessons and activities (Quinto Pozos 2011). In the project UTL2 (Holmström 2018), L2 teaching of Swedish Sign Language (STS) has been studied, where one sub-study focuses on modality-specific features. In this presentation, results from this study will be presented. Data comes from video recordings of the classroom instruction during the first half-semester of STS training, in two different cohort students (2016 and 2018). Among other things, the analysis shows that the students learn structures and features that are far away from those of spoken languages. For example, they learn to use facial signals to express grammatical content, to mark discourse through hand and body positions, to utilize the space in front of the body to create meaning and references, to use visual turn-taking in interaction, etc.

In the presentation, recurring content and patterns from this instruction and the students’ experiences will be presented and discussed in relation to general L2 teaching.