Fingerspelling is a method of spelling words using hand movements. Fingerspelling is used in sign language to spell out names of people and places for which there is not a sign. Fingerspelling can also be used to spell words for signs that the signer does not know the sign for, or to clarify a sign that is not known by the person reading the signer. Fingerspelling signs are often also incorporated into other signs.
One Handed Alphabet
There are two main types of manual alphabet used around the world. The 1 handed alphabet is the most common and is used in sign languages such as American Sign Language (ASL), Irish Sign Language (ISL), and many of the European sign languages. The two handed manual alphabet is used by British Sign Language (BSL), Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN), New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), among others.
Why not use fingerspelling instead of ASL signs?
People often ask why not just use fingerspelling instead of American Sign Language, that way you would only have to learn 26 signs, and more people would be able to understand. That is a good point, but it would be impractical just to use fingerspelling. Conversations would take hours, and it would be very hard to add feeling and expression to a conversation that just used fingerspelling.