|  Volume 1, Issue 4, November 2003  |  William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor

This Issue:

●  The sign for "radioactive"
●  Dealing with tardy students
●  Initialized signing
●  Is it okay to use "heard?"
●  Bilingual/bicultural vs. Total Immersion
●  Simultaneous vs. Consecutive
●  Am I too old to learn this language?
●  Possible Deaf Penpal from Brazil
●  A question about signing colors
●  The sign for "PEN"
●  "I LOVE YOU" Stamp
●  Teaching a tough crowd

●  Disneyland Immersion Excursion

The sign for "radioactive"

ASL Vocabulary

In a message dated 10/29/2003 5:35:44 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Good morning bill, is there a sign for radioactive? could not find one
anywhere.. thanks...


How you go about expressing the concept of "radioactive" depends on the situation.  In general, after introducing the concept via explanation and fingerspelling, I'd sign "GLOW" using two hands and a serious facial expression. Then I'd limit my use of that sign to that particular discussion or classroom.

Dealing with tardy students

Classroom management

In a message dated 10/27/2003 9:14:58 AM Pacific Standard Time, (Anne) writes:

"For your in-person classes, how late do you consider a student tardy. For sure half hour once class starts. Perhaps at least 15 minutes once class starts? Any ideas?

Anne (Champaign, IL)

Hi Anne,
If I were in a situation in which the administration required me to count tardiness against a students grade or to track it on a report sheet then I'd ask the administration what amount of lateness they consider to be tardy.  If they told me it was "up to me" I'd interview fellow teachers to see what they have traditionally used and then, if that seemed reasonable, I'd set up a consistent policy for my class.  Lacking any of the above input, I'd say that the amount of time for tardiness should depend on the environment.  In a small school where classes are close together and walking distance isn't great, then tardiness should be five minutes.  In a larger environment with greater walking distances then tardiness should be ten to fifteen minutes.  It also depends on the age and capabilities of your students.

I personally consider a student "tardy" if he comes in one second after the time class is supposed to start.

I recall attending a real estate class.  The instructor had a simple but effective policy.  If you came to class late, you owed the class fund $1.00.  Then at the end of the course he spent the money on pizza for the class.  It was an effective policy.  I've often longed to implement it in my ASL classes, but it wouldn't fly with college students who are generally just scraping by.
But, being a college instructor, I don't have to play the tardiness game of making a notation in a gradebook.  I do have to report attendance though.
Rather than call roll everyday, what I do is I give a mini-quiz (worth one percent of their grade) at the very beginning of every class. If the student wants credit for the quiz toward his or her grade, he shows up prior to the beginning of class so he can get in on the quiz that I begin giving a few seconds or minutes after class "starts." The students who take the quiz are the ones who get counted as being there that day. The downside is I have to grade a LOT of quizzes each week.

I feel that "any" allowance for lateness is counterproductive.  If students can't make it to class on time, "What is the problem?"  If the distance is too great, then a campus wide policy needs to be established to increase the time between classes or to install a "people mover" or otherwise solve the underlying problem.


Initialized signing

ASL Linguistics

In a message dated 10/29/2003 3:26:29 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Hello Mr. V.
I am a 13 year old who wants to learn ASL and your website has helped me tremendously. I also had a question on signing "drive" when your hands are in a "C" position doesn't that mean "car" and when you have your hands in a "D" position doesn't that mean "drive"? Or have I gotten mixed up with something else.

Thanx :)


Hi Chickie,

What you are talking about is called "initialization." Initialization is the practice of using the initial letter of the English translation of a sign as the the handshape for that sign.
While it is true that quite a few signs in ASL are "initialized," initialization is not something that applies to the majority of signs in ASL. It is also true that most Deaf people here in America are, to some degree, bilingual (know two languages). Most "culturally Deaf" people know both ASL and quite a bit of English. Often that knowledge of English influences a Deaf person's use of ASL. But whether an influence from English becomes an accepted part of ASL depends on how many users adopt the innovation (the new sign or method of signing).

So, back to your question about the signs for drive and car. If you've seen "drive" done with "D" hands and car done with "C" hands it means that the person doing the signing was probably using Signed English rather than ASL. (Signed English is a communication system that attempts to represent English visually.)

ASL and Signed English express most concepts in vastly differing ways.  In ASL, "DRIVE" is signed larger and in a more "mime-like" fashion than car. CAR is signed smaller, quicker and in a more arbitrary way ("arbitrary" in this sentence means that it doesn't look so much like you are actually steering a real car). Both signs use "S" hands. Later as you continue your ASL studies, you will learn variations (inflections) of the sign DRIVE that mean "drive-to," "drive carefully," "drive quickly," and so forth.


Is it okay to use "heard?"

Deaf Culture

In a message dated 11/2/2003 9:37:48 PM Pacific Standard Time, Sonia writes:

"Heard any good jokes lately? "Heard" is that politically incorrect? I have tons of questions about mundane life as a deaf person but I'm not quite sure who I should ask or how to phrase. What's your best advice? Be gentle :)

The concept of "heard" is common in the Deaf community. We often ask others if they've "heard" some bit of news. This is no different from blind people using the phrase, "I see what you mean," or people who use wheelchairs stating, "I've got to run to the store before the party tonight."
A good source to answer you questions about Deaf people and their community is the book, "For Hearing People Only."
Here are the ordering details so you can order online or at your local bookstore:
Moore, M. S., & Levitan, L. (1993). For hearing people only: Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the Deaf community, its culture, and the "Deaf reality" (2nd ed.). Rochester, N.Y: Deaf Life Press.


Bilingual/bicultural vs. Total Immersion

Curriculum Design

A student and I were discussing curriculum.

Here are some portions of that conversation:

<<As you know, I've been developing my own curriculum at Lifeprint. It is very structured, paced and interactive. I introduce new vocabulary embedded in questions composed of prior learned material. The students use questions (AGAIN, SLOW, SPELL, MEANING, ALL AGAIN, etc.) to ferret out the meaning of the new sign and then respond to my question with personally relevant information.
Then I review the signs and have them ask me the same questions. Next I have them work with a partner or in a small group and ask each other the questions (which I provide to them on a handout.) After class, the students can go home and access my website to review the signs they may have forgotten.

Anyway, that's how I like to teach. I have found it to be very effective, and equally important, the students feel comfortable, learn quickly, and enjoy the class.

Occasionally I end up teaching via the Vista Signing Naturally curriculum.  Vista adherents either tend to be extremists/purists or they tend to end up modifying the curriculum extensively. Vista extremists are adamant about not using ASL gloss, written handouts, word lists, or written English in the classroom.

Which is to say, my "teaching method" is severely restricted when I teach from Vista. I find myself spending many hours trying to compensate for its lack of "student friendliness."

While I fully understand the concept behind "immersion," it is my observation that a bilingual, bicultural approach works better and faster for helping adult second language students learn ASL. I believe that speakers of multiple languages have and make use of an underlying cognitive proficiency (as declared by Dr. Jim Cummins and other experts in the field of second language acquisition).

Don't misunderstand.  I recognize that immersion is indeed a powerful tool for acquiring language. I set up "no voice" trips to distant locations for my students. I call them "immersion excursions." They go for three days without using their voices. Some of them learn as much in those three days as they would in a semester of a traditional ASL class. Immersion (when properly utilized) works.

But let us not confuse "immersion" with what happens in an ASL class that meets a couple times a week for an hour or two. That is not immersion, it is "slow drip." The students are not immersed in a classroom setting. The dynamics are wrong. The situation lacks context.

Context can be brought into the classroom though.

I've found two methods that work well for providing context in the ASL classroom. The first of which is to use PowerPoint slides with numerous graphic examples of the topic. The second is to use the student's native language to establish context. (Which it to say, a bilingual approach.)

The first of those methods works well only if you have the time to create the hundreds of slides, and the money to pay for visuals (unless you are not concerned about copyright or you have thousands of hours to go out and take pictures of everything you want to show your students and then photo-edit them into slideshows). Plus you need to have a smart classroom with an LCD projector, and a computer. (Or pay for hundreds of transparencies). I'm developing "thousands of PowerPoint slides" because this is what is necessary to provide accessible context for Vista. But on occasion I find myself teaching in classrooms without an LCD projector.

Even after you've managed to provide context without using the students "native language," a problem remains though in that once the instruction is over, practice needs to occur. Again, practice requires context.

I'm not satisfied with a total immersion/target language approach to second language instruction for hearing adults.

By next semester, I should have most of my visuals prepared and things will be smoother. I'll also prepare a course-pack consisting of Vista's own "handouts" and worksheets contained in the instructor's manual. (Vista seems to assume that instructors have unlimited access to free photocopying.) I'll provide the handouts to the bookstore, and they will make copies of the handouts (and handle the copyright issues) for my students to purchase when they purchase their course text.


Simultaneous vs. Consecutive

Interpreting Issues

In a message dated 10/27/2003 10:28:07 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Dr. Vicars, first I would like to thank you I received your CDs.
 Second I have a question.
 In class we are discussing consecutive and simultaneous signing.
 The class thought consecutive would be the way to go, but the teacher feels simultaneous is better and used more. Well, I am not so sure. What are you feelings about this?
 Thank you


"True" ASL cannot be signed simultaneously with spoken English. To do so would require sacrificing several important features of the language, including syntax, and various mouth morphemes.
In my family (a mixed hearing/HoH/Deaf family) we do a lot of simultaneous communication (signing while talking) but it isn't "ASL" it is simply "contact signing" with a bit of ASL thrown in here and there. In my classroom, (live, in-person classes) I turn off my voice completely.
Now, if you are talking about "interpreting" as opposed to signing and talking for yourself at the same time (sim-com) -- that is a different issue.
I think that simultaneous interpreting with a reasonable lag time is effective for most interpreting situations. For "critical situations" such as certain medical and/or legal situations involving highly complex interpretations I think that consecutive interpretation would be more appropriate since it allows for and encourages a more full and perhaps even an "extended" interpretation of the intended meaning for clarification purposes.


Am I too old to learn this language?

ASL acquisition

<<Dr. Vicars, I'm 43, my children are grown and happily on their own and I am searching for a new career for myself. I've long wanted to learn sign language and am interested in perhaps, pursuing a career using this skill.
Am I too old to be considering this? Also, can you point me in the direction of learning more about positions that could utilize this type of service? Is this something I can learn on-line or do you need a degree in order to use it professionally? I also have three very young grandchildren and would like for them to learn sign language as a "second language", would that be difficult for young children and if not, when should we begin?

Sorry for all the questions, thank you for your time and consideration.

Rachel Thompson>>

If you want to get good enough to do this professionally, you are going to need intense immersion, a signing friend, or a good ASL / Interpreting program.
The web can and will be helpful, but it would be difficult to achieve the level of skill you are desiring without actually interacting with other skilled signers.
Kids' brains are primed for language acquisition. Your grandchildren can and will pick up ASL very, very, quickly. As we get older, it becomes more and more of a challenge to acquire ASL.  I once had an lady in one of my ASL classes who was over 80 years old.  She put forth an enormous amount of effort and managed to learn quite a bit.  It took her five times the work that it took the younger students in class to learn the same amount of material. But she did it.

Possible Deaf Penpal from Brazil

Global Deaf Community

The other day I received the following email. I'm not in a position to be developing new penpals and such, but thought perhaps one of you would like to explore a possible friendship with a Deaf person from Brazil.

Ulysses writes:

<<to Bill and Belinda Vicars
Hi, my name is Ulysses, i am from Brazil and I am deaf.
I know a litle about ASL, I like very much ASL and want learn more to chat using ASL.
I know very well LIBRAS that is the language used here.
I want a friend, you.>>

A question about signing colors

ASL vocabulary

-----Original Message-----
From: JOY_______  []

Thanks for the new fingerspelling quizzes. They are helpful in my homeschool sign language class.
I have a question about colors. I am using the Random House American Sign Language Dictionary. That shows colors with a more jerking motion that a shaking motion as illustrated in your lesson. For instance, blue in the dictionary says to use a b hand and twist the wrist whereas in your illustration it specifically says not to twist the wrist but to move from the elbow. Is this preferential? Please advise, thanks,

Hi Joy,
I say "not the wrist" because I don't want people thinking they should pivot the hand at the wrist using a back and forth motion. If you do the sign you'll notice that the wrist itself is incapable of twisting "in isolation." Try this...grip your right forearm with your left hand so that it can't move. Now try to "twist" your wrist. What do you feel? It is the whole forearm that is twisting isn't it?

Anyway...the actual movement is very similar to that of using a screwdriver to loosen a screw.
Feel free to write a new description that explains this more clearly. I can use all the help I can get.

The sign for "PEN"

ASL vocabulary

 TaLl [7:56 PM]:  i visited your website and I was wondering if there was a certain sign for "pen?"
TaLl [7:56 PM]:  (I found your site to be quite useful)
BillVicars [7:56 PM]:  Pen as in writing instrument?
TaLl [7:56 PM]:  yes
 BillVicars: No...there is no specific sign for pen.    It is short.  I just spell it out.  Most of the time when a sign for pencil/pen is used it simply means "writing instrument." (A generic sign that could mean either a pen or a pencil.)  

Extended answer:

This sign is done by forming the handshape that you would have if you were holding a actual pen or pencil. Then keeping your hand in that shape you bring the hand to your mouth (in the old days when pencils were made out of lead instead of graphite people used to wet the tip of the pencil to make it write better) and then you mime a brief writing movement on the palm of the left hand (if you are right handed, or vice versa if you are left handed).   That is the sign.   Some people might "initialize" the sign "PEN" with the letter "p."   But that doesn't make it mean "pen" any more than it would mean pencil. 

Another method for indicating pen/pencil is to use a sign like HAVE, WANT, or NEED prior to signing "WRITE."  For example, if I sign, "YOU-MIND LEND-(to me) WRITE?" That would mean in English "Can I please borrow a pen?" or "Would you mind lending me a pen?"

You might ask, "Why would it mean pen and not pencil?" Good question, and the answer is that the meaning of "WRITE" depends on what is happening in the real world.  If I'm standing in at a checkout counter in a grocery store getting ready to write a check, then obviously I'm asking to borrow a pen rather than a pencil because in our society we sign "checks" with pens and not pencils.  The same is true if I'm sitting in a bank in front of legal documents--obviously I'm asking for a pen and not a pencil.  This whole process of assigning meaning according to situation is called "pragmatics."

"I LOVE YOU" Stamp

ASL novelties

In a message dated 11/16/2003 1:51:49 PM Pacific Standard Time, Kathy  writes:

I know you're a very buzy person, but if you have a minute, i could use your help. I have a client who is despirately looking for an ASL stamp with the "I Love You" sign on it....I've been looking and haven't had any luck. Thanks!! I'm thoroughly enjoying your ASL learning program on-line (actually on CDs). Please remember my name, I believe that my company TimetoSign and you need to hook up....I'm kathy
Thanks alot!

Hi Kathy,
An ASL "I Love You" stamp can be easily made by any large rubber stamp company. Just take a drawing of what he wants to a your local rubber stamp place (yellow pages will tell you where to find one) and have them do it for you.

On the other hand, if you are talking about a "postal stamp" with an ILY sign on it--you can get one of those by contacting a stamp dealer.  Stamp dealers buy up old stamps and resell them at a profit. To find a postal stamp dealer check the yellow pages or do an online search.

Teaching a tough crowd

ASL instruction

In a message dated 11/20/2003 9:48:27 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

I'm team teaching an ASL I class with my Assistant Principal. I'm hearing, have been in the community for about 20 years. I took a few classes, but learned to sign from Deaf friends, co-workers, etc. I'm now moon-lighting as a terp and teaching full-time in a semi self-contained program of 40-odd students in a hearing HS of about 3,000 students.

My AP is late-deafened, signs well, has a full-time terp in her office. There are 5 full-time terps in the school, so NO ONE raises and eyebrow at the sight of hands 'flying'...

Our class is composed of about 15 hearing special HS students who have been diagnosed Learning disabled or Emotionally Disturbed. There are also 6 deaf/hoh students, most of whom appear to have learning disabilities separate from their hearing loss. The d/hh students feel *NO* connection to 'deafness' and want NOTHING to do with it or any kind of sign. They HIGHLY resent being forced to take this class to meet their foreign language requirements.

Some more background info:

Every student is in this class against his will. There is not one student who wants to be in it. They are all angry at having to take it and want OUT! They don't care if it means giving up all chance of getting an academic HS diploma so the fact that is a graduation requirement is not leverage.

All but 3 students are male and most are non-white. My AP is a white female and I think there are some gender and power issues involved. They have a lot of anger about school and when my team AP is absent I'm subject to a lot of venting, not directed at me personally, but at the school and the AP.

The reading level class is about 2nd grade.

We're using Signing Naturally as our curriculum guide augmented by our own activities.

Many activities we've found in Signing Naturally and in other sources require either a higher reading level, more world knowledge, or more co-operation than we can elicit from the class.

I'm at my wits' end. I've scoured the web but have found little of help. it seems that everything connected with teaching ASL assumes that the students are willing, co-operative students who want to be in the class. We don't have that....sigh.

Sorry to have ranted like this, but do you have any suggestions?

BTW, like your web site:)



Hello ______,
Tough situation eh? Sort of like trying to climb a fence that is leaning toward you, or kiss a girl that is leaning away from you--teaching disinterested students is a challenge.
If it were me, I'd move to a totally game-oriented approach with such a group.
Let's brainstorm here.
While I personally don't like to "bribe" students to get them hooked on ASL, I'm certainly not above it, heh.
Suppose one day you were to bring a hot, yummy pizza to class? (I'm only half-serious on the pizza, but we are talking "hypothetically" here.)
Suppose you were to simply put the pizza on the shelf behind you and start teaching? What would happen? How would the students behave differently? What if they got a one inch square of the pizza for volunteering to sign in front of the class or for answering questions in ASL?

What if you were to bring in a camcorder? And videotape them signing things?
What about teaching them signed songs and having them perform at old folks homes or for a school assembly?
How about playing sign bingo? Making bingo cards that have vocabulary instead of numbers.
What about buying a box of earplugs at the hardware or sporting goods store and handing earplugs to the students as they come in the door?
What about setting up a "peer tutoring" program wherein you use more skilled classmates or students from other classes to work one on one with the students in your class?
How about doing a "student as teacher" program wherein the student learns certain signed phrases and then "teaches" them to the class?
How about using my curriculum on them instead of the Vista curriculum?
How about playing "go fish" by using vocabulary words on index cards?
How about doing theater in ASL? Pick a short but cool play for them to "put on." Better yet, let them pick the play.
How about picking the 10 coolest students in school and having them make a "commercial" talking about how "cool" ASL is and then show that commercial to your students. Each "cool" kid would talk for a minute or two about how terrific ASL is. This would be videotaped.
How about holding class in the gym and then giving them a set of concepts or phrases to learn and then whomever gets done learning (and can demonstrate it) can then play basketball for the remainder of the period.
How about inviting the parents to come to the class and learn ASL with their kid?
How about taking pictures of the kids signing and then post them around the school?
How about showing a sign-language related movie in class and then rehearsing the signs that were in the movie?
How about setting up a token system. 20 tokens are good for a movie pass. Hand out a token when a student's behavior approximates the type of behavior you are seeking.
How about setting up a class reward (substantial) based on total number of tokens and then allowing "peer pressure" to keep the students on track?

One overriding fact needs to be faced. Any particular "method" will only work for a short while...then it is time to move on to a new method. Continued attention requires variety.

Best of luck.

The rest of this newsletter talks about a Disney trip.


Disneyland Immersion Excursion

ASL Acquisition


For more information see:

11th Annual

Disneyland Immersion Excursion '03

 A cosponsored event between the CSUS Sign Language Association and


Hosted by William Vicars, EdD. (ASLTA certified instructor) in cooperation with the CSUS Sign Language Association.


Each year I set up a three day no-voice trip to Disneyland for a small group of students who desire an accelerated ASL learning experience. We all pile into a van or small bus and drive to Disneyland.  Voicing is not permitted during the trip. Students learn an incredible amount of instruction in that amount of time.  A typical vocabulary acquisition goal is 500 new signs. It is not uncommon for participants to learn as much in three days of accelerated immersion as would normally be acquired in a semester-long ASL course.


 I know that many of you receiving this newsletter are not able to participate in this event due to living outside the Sacramento area.  If you'd like, you could fly to Sacramento and then ride with me down to Disneyland.  The plane ticket would add a couple hundred to the cost of the experience, but for some of you it would still be worth it.


Here are the details for the 2003 trip:


Date of event: Weekend in December closest to December 14.  (This year it is Dec. 12-14)

Days of event:  Friday - Sunday
Starting and ending location: Sacramento, California

Event location: Disneyland in Anaheim California

Mode of travel:  Large passenger van or similar

Modes of communication permitted: signing, writing, gesturing, miming, laughing, (Screaming is permitted, but only on rides and as long as you are not screaming intelligible words.)

Modes of communication NOT permitted: talking, whispering, exaggerated mouthing

Cost:  $295 plus a $20 refundable no-voice deposit (If you voice you lose your deposit incrementally)


Includes: Two nights hotel accommodations, Disneyland ticket, transportation, food for three days, and unlimited access to an ASLTA certified, college-level ASL instructor with 15 years experience.


Accommodations: Hotel or motel, average of 4 persons to a room.

Food provided: (Along the lines of) Lunchmeat sandwiches, bagels, apples, oranges, bananas, nuts, cheese, chips fruit drinks, milk, etc.

Ticket:  One all-day passport to Disneyland

Transportation: We will ride together in a large passenger van

Point of departure: At CSUS Eureka Building. Will pick up people there, and then will pick up others at my house in Sacramento. (Registered participants contact me for addresses and maps.)

Time of departure:  Friday around 11 (Stay in touch with me.)

Time of return:  Sometime Sunday.  Certainly before midnight.  Best estimate if we are slow is 6 p.m.  Typical time is 4 p.m.


Questions and answers: 


Q: Can I bring my hearing friend who doesn't know ASL and isn't an ASL student?

A: No.  I let that happen one year and the results were not in keeping with my high standards.


Q: Can I bring my child? 

A: That might be possible.  I think my wife will come on this years' trip and bring our kids.  Which means we might take two vans.  One for the no-voice participants and a separate one for the kids.


Q: Would you like help driving the van?

A: Yes, please.  The more volunteers I get to help drive the van, the more I am freed up to teach ASL and answer questions. Note: To help drive the van you have to be at least 25 and have a driver's license.


Q: What's up with the $20 "no voice" deposit?

A: You get that back at a the end of the trip as long as you didn't use your voice during the trip. 


Q: Do you mean I lose $20 if I talk once?

A: No, you lose a dollar each time someone catches you talking.  Plus you lose self-esteem and the respect of your classmates. If you make it to the end of the trip with any of your deposit left you should still be very proud of your accomplishment and consider your performance a resounding success.


Q: Do you pocket that dollar?

A:  No, I donate "speaking fines" to the CSUS Sign Language Association


Q: How do you keep track of the money?

A: I give each person a "necklace" of "tokens" (mini-safety pins, or beads).  Whenever someone "catches" someone else talking they sign "you talked" and then hold out their hand so you can give up a token.  They then the "catcher" trades that token to me for a special token to put on their necklace as a symbol of pride and perseverance.  At the end of the trip, you get back one dollar for each original token you still have (up to the original 20).  All of the "captured" tokens are totaled up and that amount is donated to the Sign Language Association. 


Q: When do I need to register and pay by?

A: December 5 is the deadline.  But let me advise you, positions in the van are filled on a first come first served basis.  So don't wait until December 5 and expect that you can get in.  If you want to go, register and pay right away. 


Q: How do I submit my payment? 

A: Request a registration form from me.  Then fill out the form and hand it in with your payment.


Or go to: and click on "Payment submission."


Q: What if I get sick at the last minute and can't go?

A: I'll keep your deposit and give you back your $295 payment.


Q:  What if I don't like lunchmeat sandwiches?

A:  Then let me know what sort of easily portable food you do like.  Generally I or my assistant goes shopping the day before and fill up a couple coolers with various types of lunchmeat, cheese, mayo, ketchup, mustard, etc. --plus all of the items mentioned before.  Then when we stop, you can make your own sandwiches and choose whatever munchies you'd like.


Q: What if I have other questions?

A: See me in person, or email me.


For more information visit:


American Sign Language University William Vicars