ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library  |  Volume 1, Issue 7, Feb 2004  |  William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor

●  The Deaf World: "Learning to sign in Bangalore, India"
●  Interpreter Issues: "Can Deaf People Interpret?"
●  Teaching ASL: "When immersion is really just slow drip"
●  Teaching ASL: "Who is qualified to teach a language?"
●  Outside of Class Activity Participation: "On the other hand..."
●  Ambidextrous signing, Inflecting Classifiers, & Team Teaching
●  Learning to sign: "Speech therapy for the hands?"
●  ASL Terminology: "What is Amslan?"
●  Conceptual Design: "Enhancing Assistive Technology through Psychology"
●  The Deaf Experience: "Finding your own corner in the Deaf World"
●  Teaching ASL: "Voicing in class. Is it time to rap knuckles?"
●  ASL GRAMMAR: "Should adjectives come after nouns?"

Hello ASL heroes!!!

We're back for another extra exciting extravaganza of extraordinary examples and exclamations!


- Dr. Bill
William G. Vicars, Ed.D.

The Deaf World:  "Learning to sign in Bangalore, India"

In a message dated 2/4/2004 9:56:43 PM Pacific Standard Time, crystalgate@_____ writes:

<<Dear Bill:

It was a thrilling experience visiting your site on ASL. I'm a working Medical Transcriptionist and my name is Antonita Geetha Nishanth. I had this fascination toward learning Sign language right from the age of 10. It was only now (I'm 24 now), that I found a suitable course for myself. I'm from Kerala, India and presently I've registered with an institute here called Dr. Chandrashekar Institute of Speech and Hearing in Bangalore, India, since in kerala I couldnt find a place to learn this. I've started my course already but I needed some practicing online since most of the time I'm working full-time and I just have classes just once a week. Your site has been a great helping hand in helping me master the skill of signing.

Out here we are taught a whole lot of signing in a mixed up manner since India is a diverse country i.e., both ASL, BSL and a lot of Indian signs which is very, very different and out of the world. My main objective in learning signing is to help others understand me and vice versa. I have a few friends who are deaf and they really help me out, but since being a beginner I find understanding their signs a bit difficult.

Can you pls give me a few tips on what I should "focus on" trying to understand my deaf friends??? I will be really grateful to you for this. I'll be awaiting your reply.

Thank you,

Hi Antonita,

When ASL students are first starting out I often get the question, should I watch the hands or try to watch the face. The word "try" in regards to watching the face indicates that they feel that they miss a lot of information if they aren't watching the signers hands. Beginners who focus on watching the hands sometimes look as if they were trying to keep their eyes on a fly buzzing around in front of them.

In personal one on one conversations you should indeed watch the signer's face and not focus on the hands. After enough practice you will find yourself "catching" the signs via your peripheral vision.

There is a time to watch the hands though. In a classroom environment, when your teacher has slowed down to show you a new sign for the first time you need to make sure you can see the specific handshape, movement, location, and orientation. But after you know how to reproduce the sign you will want to go back to watching the face. 

As the receiver in an ASL conversation you keep your eyes on the signer. But if you are the signer you will be using your eye gaze to add meaning and support to your signing. For example, if you are going to set up a pronoun or absent referent you will glance to some area in space that you will associate with the referent for the rest of your conversation.


Good ASL storytellers use eye gaze to model the characters in their story as the characters communicate with each other (short person looking up, tall person looking down, etc.)

Something that confuses beginning signers is that often a Deaf person will start signing to and looking at an "imaginary" person. You may be tempted to look over your shoulder to see if that person is really there. Try to stifle the urge. In ASL we often turn our bodies and sign to a spot in mid air as if we were having a "real-time" conversation, when in fact we are just using an ASL principle of role-taking (role shift) instead of using the English method of saying, "he said" and "she said" before quoting.

Sometimes a Deaf person will look away for a moment while he is thinking of his next sign. That prevents you from thinking that it is your turn to talk.

If you have other questions please feel free to ask.

William Vicars, EdD
Asst. Professor, CSUS
Dept. Special Ed., Rehab., and School Psych.

Interpreter Issues:  "Can Deaf People Interpret?"

In a message dated 1/28/2004 6:28:01 PM Pacific Standard Time, a student writes:

<<Dear Dr. Bill,
Hello, my name is Lauryn T______, I m fifteen years old from Michigan. I have always wanted to learn sign language, but really never had a reason to. i have three friends are deaf, 2 of them lip read. But my one new friend Nicole uses sign language. I want to be able to talk to her in sign language instead of writing everything down. i know the alphabet and a few signs but i usually end up confusing her. is there another way that i can learn sign language other then having to spend alot of money. nicole tries to help but that just confuses me! Your website has help me alot i wrote down some of the signs that i would need for a general conversation. but i wanna talk to her so she can understand her. Im probably going to be an elementary school teacher when im older, but Ive thought of being and interpreter. I took that course for our school's carerer day.
I was just curious , can a deaf person who signs be an interpreter?

i apreciate your time, and thatnks for the great website!
Lauryn T________>>


Yes, there are a number of "Deaf interpreters." (Interpreters who are deaf themselves).  There is a certification called, "CDI."  The letters stand for "Certified Deaf Interpreter."

The idea behind "Deaf Interpreters" (sometimes called a "relay" interpreter) is that native ASL signers (Deaf children of Deaf parents) tend to be very good at understanding a wide variety of ASL signing.

Suppose you are a hearing interpreter and have been called in to interpret for a court case wherein the defendant is a man (or woman) accused of molesting a young deaf girl.  Now suppose the young girl starts explaining her version of what happened.  Her signing is likely to be very different from what you see in an ASL textbook.  It is critical that you understand "every sign" that she makes and interpret her message in a way that truly reflects her message.  Wouldn't you prefer to have a native ASL speaker at your side helping out?

Communication between individuals of different cultures is fraught with misunderstandings arising from cultural differences.  To interpret a message correctly requires an understanding of the culture of the person for whom you are interpreting.  A "word" in one culture can have a similar meaning in another culture but depending on the context can  have subtle but important differences.

Let me give you an example.  The sign for hard of hearing, (HOH), involves holding an "H" hand in-front of you, palm left, fingertips pointing forward, the location of the hand is at about the height of your rib cage and a bit to your right.  The movement is a bounce (small arc) further to the side.

Now, that sideways bounce (arches up and then down again) is either done rather small with a subtle yet approving nod of the head, or the bounce is large with a wry (twisted/disapproving) facial expression.

One version of the sign is done if the person has only a small amount of residual hearing.  The other version of the sign is done if the person has a very large amount of residual hearing.

Now, most Hearing people would think that the "large movement" should be done when describing someone with a "large hearing loss."  Which is to say, a hearing person would describe such a person as "very hard of hearing." Hearing people tend to do this sign with a negative facial expression.

Hearing people also tend to think that a person with a very small hearing loss should be described by doing the HOH sign with only a very small bounce of the hand and a patient or "not too bad" facial expression.

Stop and think though.  In the Hearing world, a lack of hearing is viewed as a problem or disease.

In the Deaf world however, a person who "lacks" hearing is considered to be "one of us."  In the Deaf world, a lack of hearing is not a problem.  People who don't sign are the "problem." If everybody were deaf, there'd be no problem. If everybody signed, there would be no problem.   Since Hearing people tend to rely on speech instead of signing--the more hearing ability a person has, the more likely that person is to not know sign, and thus cause a problem for the Deaf.

So, a Deaf person would tend to use a very small bounce of the hand while using a patient facial expression and/or approving nod of the head when using the sign "hard of hearing" to describe a  person with a large hearing loss.  This is the exact opposite of how Hearing people tend to sign this concept.

A Deaf interpreter and a Hearing interpreter seeing the same sign (an inflected version of "HoH") would tend to interpret it two different ways based on their differing cultural values.

Certainly, there are many highly skilled "Hearing" interpreters out there who are indeed able understand and appropriately interpret culturally laden phrases. But these tend to be CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults) or others who have had long-term intensive interaction with Deaf people.  These individuals are actually "bicultural" and are able to recognize the cultural nuances in both languages.

Hearing interpreters having only recently learned ASL in high school and/or from community colleges tend to be woefully lacking in the "gut" when it comes to ferreting out what "that little deaf girl" really meant.

Such being the case, there will always be a need for skilled "Deaf Interpreters."


Teaching ASL:  "When immersion is really just slow drip"

In a message dated 2/4/2004 10:01:32 AM Pacific Standard Time, TONIS_______ writes:

Hi Bill,

     Thoroughly enjoy all your stuff...going home to count my pennies ... would love to order some of your stuff. I wrote asking before, not sure if i used the right email address. But the question I have is: when teaching, there are different schools of thought and I am not sure if I read somewhere that you agree with teaching ASL with the voice on at times? Did I read this correctly?  Would you be kind enough to share your thoughts on this? There are others who support the total immersion theory in the delivery of ASL. (Signing Naturally) Just doesn't feel right for me. What do you think?

    Looking forward to chatting with you. Thanks.

    Toni S_____

  Hi Toni: Here is that discussion from my files:

Question:  <<What is your opinion on speaking during class?>>

Answer:  << Voicing can either be a crutch or it can be a tool.  Too often it takes the place of skillful voice-off instruction.  Let's get that very clear in our minds.

There are numerous successful ASL instructors (both hearing and deaf) who don't voice in the classroom at all--ever.  They have invested the time, energy, and resources necessary to provide effective no-voice instruction.  

I believe in a bilingual/bicultural/multi-modality approach to ASL instruction.  I think that, if managed appropriately, a limited amount of voicing can facilitate and expedite ASL instruction.

The key words in that sentence are "managed appropriately."  

"No-voice" instruction and "no-native-language" instruction are two different things.  For example, writing the word "cheese" in English on the blackboard then demonstrating the sign CHEESE is not the same as holding up a block of cheese and signing, "CHEESE."

Carrying a block of cheese to class isn't exactly convenient. 

Adult or young-adult second language learners already have a language foundation.  To ignore that foundation-- or pretend it doesn't exist--is silly.

How do we take advantage of a student's native language (existing cognitive foundation) to support ASL instruction--while seeing to it that the student does as much actual signing as possible?"  Talking about ASL is not the same as signing ASL. Students who go to class and hear about ASL do not sign as well as students who go to class and use ASL to negotiate meaning.  On the other hand you can say or write on the board the word "God" or the word "for" in your student's native language and then show him the sign much faster than you can "mime out" the concept of "for" or "God" before showing it to him.

There are tradeoffs:  Comfort level, frustration, drop out rates, skill level, etc.

Telling a student what a sign means in his native language saves time and expedites "vocabulary development" (which is to say he learns lots of signs quickly) but doesn't do much for his "visual-receptive decoding" skills (which is to say he can't figure out a signed sentence to save his life).  What if you teach a student lots of signs via voicing during the first few class sessions then you turn off your voice and require them to sign and respond to questions using that vocabulary? 

Also, think about this question, "At the end of a class with an initial enrollment of 30 students, is it better to have 20 really good signers and 10 drop outs; or is it better to have 30 fairly good signers?"

Obviously it is not that cut and dried-- and there will much variation in every class--but the concept is clear.  The more challenging you make a class, the fewer students there are that can handle it. A total no-voice class is more challenging than a voiced class. 

It takes time, heat, and pressure to produce diamonds from coal.  The more heat and pressure you apply, the less time it takes. Students are not lumps of coal. If you apply lots of heat and pressure to students some will deal with it, do extra homework, pay attention more, and become great signers.  Many others however will simply drop out.

It may be tempting to simply say, "Great!  Let's get rid of the deadwood!"  But this is pie in the sky thinking.  In the real world, administrators become concerned when they see high dropout rates because it's warm bodies in seats that pays the bills and pays your salary.  If you are insensitive to student tension at the high school level you end up with an irate mom or dad wanting to know why you are being so inflexible with their student.

If you decide to teach no-voice class either by choice or by circumstance, my suggestion is to make sure you do your own homework.  Prepare plenty of materials, handouts, overheads, and props so that you can provide sufficient context for your students to be immersed in a learning environment.

Don't fool yourself that you are providing a learning environment if all your students do is come suffer through an hour of frustration then go home and learn from their books, videos and deaf friends.  

Keep in mind two different scenarios. If a teacher works hard and prepares appropriate supports, then his students tend to work hard and learn. Most stay with it.  If a teacher doesn't prepare and is lazy his students will get frustrated and give up, or they put up with him in class then go and learn it on their own.  Later they take advanced classes from someone other that teacher.

If you decide you'd like to incorporate voicing into your class, an approach that I recommend is to allow voicing only on certain days or at certain times. You alternate class days with one being "voice available" and the next being "voice off." 

For example, on a Monday/Wednesday class schedule you can let the students use voice on Monday but not on Wednesday. That way on Mondays you can have the students do "interpreting-type" activities where their partner signs a statement and the student interprets it. You might want to play vocabulary building games on "voice days." That way you can explain the game to the students in their native language. 

Explaining a game to the students in ASL (in a beginning level class) often takes way too much time away from the game itself. I prefer for the students to spend time "playing and using ASL themselves" rather than watching me "mime and fingerspell" the rules of a game. 

Explaining games can be done in a no-voice class though by typing up the instructions for the game and sending the instructions home with the students to read prior to the next class period.  Then play the game at the next class period. The students (most of them anyway) will have read about the game and readily pick up on how to play it in a no voice environment. You might want to use email for this or use a video display.

In any case, whether you use voice or not, the real secret to success is preparation and teaching ability.  Preparation is a matter of getting off your duff and doing it.  If you lack teaching ability I suggest you take a public speaking course, a drama course, and a course in classroom management. Also you might consider reading a few books on improving your interpersonal communication skills.   And remember...have a good time!


Next phase of thinking:

Remember how I said it isn't very convenient to bring a block of cheese to class?
Technology has totally changed that. I now use PowerPoint slides and literally bring thousands of objects, people, places, and scenarios to class with me and display them using my laptop and an LCD projector.
This is leading to a fascinating examination of "computer-assisted ASL instruction" methodology.
I will write more on this later.
If you will recall the instructor above (Toni) mentioned that a certain curriculum didn't "feel right."  That instructor questioned the appropriateness of using "immersion as an instruction technique."

I'm going to make a comment on "immersion" and then I'm going to share with you a comment from another instructor, (named Marianne).

Let us not confuse "immersion" with absence of voicing. They are two very different things.  Suppose we were to use water as a metaphor for language instruction.  Would it be possible to immerse yourself in a cup of water?  How about a gallon? Obviously not. "Immersion" can only take place if there is an abundance of that which a person is intending to be immersed in. 

Most supposedly "immersion-based" ASL classrooms would be better defined as "slow drip" than immersion. Now before you bristle at the accusation and/or excuse yourself and your class from inclusion in that group, ask yourself just how much context to you provide your students.  There is nothing "natural" about learning language in a classroom. 

Children acquire their native language in-real life situations.  They learn food vocabulary while sitting at the dinner table.  They learn clothing vocabulary while getting dressed in the morning.  They acquire vocabulary regarding relationships during trips to grandma's house and other relatives.  Children are thus truly learning in an immersion environment.  Another thing to realize is that very young children are receiving a special and "unnatural" type of language input (unnatural in terms of everyday adult conversation).  This language input is typically called "motherese."  Mothers, when speaking to their young children tend to speak in a special way that emphasizes certain parts of words, stretches certain parts, and in general distorts the language considerably. This form of language is very different from the everyday language used between adult language users.   Linguists have studied motherese at length and have found that is very beneficial in helping first language learners rapidly acquire language.

So, it seems to me, that a truly "natural" approach to language learning would focus on the provision of a high context environment.  Additionally the curriculum would initially introduce language in ways similar to how a mother teaches her child language.  Such an approach must allow first time users to become aware of certain aspects of the language.  (Teacherese).  Any curriculum that attempts to present everyday language samples to students in a low context environment will indeed feel unnatural.

- Bill

Teaching ASL:  "Who is qualified to teach a language?"

In a message dated 9/28/2003 7:42:56 AM Pacific Daylight Time, Marianne writes:

<Much of my life has been spent working with the Deaf, as they are the true experts with regards to both ASL, and Deaf culture>

Marianne also asked my opinion about teaching with or without voice.


Just for thinking purposes, let me ask you series of questions:

"How do you define an 'expert' on a language?"

"Are most Hearing Americans "experts" on spoken English?

"Are most Hearing Americans able to explain the rules of their language to other Americans?"

"To what extent would an average American be qualified to teach his language to a non-native speaker of English?"

"Would teaching one's native language to a foreigner be more or less difficult than teaching someone indigenous to (who grew up in) America?"

"Is it really immersion when an American goes to another country and learns their language?

Or does that American find himself in an environment where while much of the target language is new, there is quite a bit of English available for support. (For example, the locals know a few words in English, and quite a few of the documents and/or signs are in English. There is just enough English available to point the traveler in the right direction or to bridge certain gaps.)"

"Should Deaf children be placed in an all-English classroom and voiced to?" Why or why not? If not, why would a person think it good to place hearing students in an all-ASL classroom and signed to?

"Is it better to teach Deaf children general topics using ASL?"

"Is it better to teach Deaf children English using a graduated combination of ASL and English?" Should the English used be in spoken or visual format?

Now, if we should be teaching English to Deaf kids by using ASL, then why or why not augment the teaching of ASL to hearing adults by using English?

You answer those questions for me and I'll respond to your answers.

Outside of Class Activity Participation:  "On the other hand..."

In a message dated 1/25/2004 9:14:54 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

In response to your take on the Outside Activity Participation
requirement... I am a single mother, full time student, work full time, and
have a negative bank balance but I found my experience with ice cream
socials, bowling, bingo, and various other deaf culture experiences to be
invaluable. The experiences encouraged me to step way out of my comfort zone
and embrace a totally foreign culture. The only negative aspect (that I can
think of right now) is the initial feeling of voyeurism; With so many
students observing, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the many people
trying to have person conversations.
You didn't ask for it, but ya got it...that's my take on the whole
situation.... as an added bonus to the outside activity participation I have
many new deaf friends.
- Sonia H.


Thanks Sonia,  I appreciate your feedback.

Teaching ASL:  Ambidextrous signing, Inflecting Classifiers, & Team Teaching

Hi Bill,

Thank you so much for you last letter regarding my concerns. I have come to a conclusion that I am the only person who decides what to do with my future. Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts and feelings. It is much appreciated.

Now...I have a question for you regarding right handers and left handers...My students are always asking me which hand to use the most when fingerspelling or signing...and I always respond to them that they can use whichever hand they use the most...They always tell me that I use both hands at times when fingerspelling or signing...I was amazed at how confused they can be because when I hang around deaf people...they don't mind at all...I explained to my students that I am ambidextrous as I write mostly with my right hand but with sometimes with my left when I feel like it...I also eat with my left hand at all times...I wash the floor and vaccum with my left...So...I told them that the most important is that they can use with whichever hand they feel the most comfortable with...and not to worry about me...Believe me...I tried using my right hand throughout the class session and found myself switching hands at times. They laugh about it..but now...they are used to it. Bill...I hope I told them the right thing.

There is this other thing...ASL classifiers. Last night, I was explaining to my class the handshapes they should be aware of and how it applies to classifers. As I showed them examples, I kept getting this common question..."How would I know whether the object is bigger or not?" I told them that once they learn most signs and they will eventually see how it works. They seem to want to learn it overnight...and I had to remind them that it isn't the case. I found that this class has very high expectations. In other words, they want to learn everything so fast...I told them that no one learns ASL overnight and that it would take time for them to understand the concept of classifers. I simply explained to them using examples like "very large" and that we don't use the word "very" in our daily conversation depending on the person himself or herself...Am I clear about that? I reminded them that is is just the beginning of everything in this course. (this is part one) They seem to be in a hurry to learn this language. I went home scratching my head and chuckling about it...(They are all hearing)

It is a challenge teaching hearing people ASL. I enjoy teaching them and will continue to do so...My husband is culturally deaf and is volunteering to teach ASL to my class. He found that he doesn't understand hearing culture. I knew he'd come to that point. He is frustrated but is willing to learn all he can...(I grew up in the hearing world) It was interesting to watch him and I learned a lot from him as well. The two of us take turns teaching the class. Then...we talk to each other in front of the students...This motivates them to learn more...They keep asking us to do more...I think two instructors teaching the same class is a big help. What do you think? My boss agrees.

I look forward to hearing from you real soon.

Take care.

Julie ______

Hello Julie,

I'm glad you decided that you are the one that decides your future. Many people never reach that point in their lives.

You brought up three topics:

1. Advice to students regarding right or left handed signing
2. Your students who asked how they can know whether objects are "bigger or not."
3.  Team teaching

...Southpaw Signing...

Regarding right or left handed signing:  I tell my students to choose a dominant hand and stick with it.

Here are some "rules" for you regarding right/left hand usage:

a.  Signs that use one hand:  For these signs you should use your dominant hand

b.  Signs that use two hands but only one hand moves: Use your dominant hand as the hand that moves.

c. Signs that use two hands and both hands move: Use both hands unless you are holding a drink in one of them.  Heh.

It is interesting to note that for almost all signs if both hands are moving and not in contact with each other then both hands use the same handshape. (Examples:  SIGN, HAPPY, WONDERFUL, FRIENDLY, SUNDAY.)

There are a few signs in which both hands move but have different handshapes.  But  you will notice that the hands tend to touch each other and stay in contact with each other throughout the whole movement:  Examples:  (SHOW, HELP, SURF)

Now, for the sake of discussion, there are times when the non-dominant hand should be used during one-handed signing. Suppose you are right handed and are signing about an event you went to last weekend and you wanted to indicate that someone came up to you on your left and tapped you on your left shoulder.  Even though you are right handed, you should use your left hand in a "classifier 1" handshape to show the approach of the person and the tapping of your shoulder.  This is basic kinesthetics. It is physically uncomfortable to reach across your body with your right hand to show the location of someone standing on your right.

But, back to the point, ambidextrous signing for no particular reason is the equivalent of having an accent. Even though most deaf people are reasonably tolerant regarding ambidextrous signing, I still expect  my students to choose a dominant hand and be consistent in their usage.

...Mouth Morphemes and more...

Your mentioned that during your lesson about classifiers your students keep asking how they would "know whether the object is bigger or not?"

As you know, we often use classifiers to specify the size and shape of an object.

Size can either be absolute or it can be relative.  By absolute I mean we can show the actual size of the object with our hands or we state that it big, or small or some other absolute condition.

Size is also relative.  A "huge" diamond is still very small when compared to small whale.

In talking about my friend's new engagement ring I might indicate (relatively speaking), "WOW, IT HUGE" using the "bent L" classifier handshapes and the "BIG" movement.  Next I might hold out a modified "G handshape" classifier to show the actual size of the thing. 

You can indicate relative size is through "comparatives and superlatives."  Comparatives consist of morphemes and/or words such as "er" and "more."  Superlatives use "most" and "est."

Another method of indicating size is to use a "mouth morpheme."  "Morpheme" is a linguistic term that refers to bits of language that have certain meanings and that cannot be make smaller without losing that meaning.  For example, in English the letters "ed" are bound to other words and change the meaning of those words to "past tense." 

By "mouth morpheme" I'm talking about a type of facial grammar employed by ASL.  This facial grammar can be used to show size or manner.  For example, you might notice that when talking about something huge, skilled ASL signers might make a mouth movement that looks as if they were pronouncing the letters "cha."  When describing something that is very thin or small they use a mouth morpheme that looks as if they are pronouncing the letters "oo."

Suppose a person was describing two large objects.  Now, suppose he describes the one on the left as being large, then he bodyshifts to the right and uses the same sign for "large" but also adds the "cha" mouth morpheme.  Which object is bigger?  The object on the right.

Yet another way to indicate size is to specify measurements. After using a classifier to show the general size and shape of an object you can follow up with a measurement statement such as "15 I-N-C-H."


The third item you asked about was my thoughts regarding "team teaching."

A while back a school district in Utah was faced with a very challenging situation.  A number of deaf schoolchildren would be entering the district soon and needed interpreters.  The District contacted me and asked me to set up an interpreter training program that would produce interpreters in the shortest amount of time possible.

I won't go into the details here, but sufficed to say that it was a rare opportunity to "push the envelope" on what is possible to accomplish via a training program.  Having total creative and fiscal control of the program I was able to go beyond the boundaries of what is normal and expected in a program. 

In the very first course of that program I hired two additional instructors to team teach with me as a threesome.

The benefit to the students was amazing.  They progressed at an astounding rate.  Throughout the next 18 months I brought in over 30 independent contractors to help teach various courses and workshops in that program.

It is clear to me and anyone who has tried it that team teaching is much more effective and valuable than individual teaching.  I particularly like Deaf and Hearing teams.  I find this brings a very strong bilingual, bicultural environment into the classroom that helps Hearing students become well-rounded, open-minded signers. 

As you know, no two people sign exactly alike.  Any two instructors are going to sign various words a bit differently (or a lot differently).  Students who take their first class from two instructors at the same time will learn up front to become flexible and deal with variations in signs.

It think it also helps protect students from "know it all" instructors.  Some instructors go into a classroom with the opinion that they know it all and that their signs are the "right" signs.  Team teaching seems to put a lid on this and helps instructors to be more patient with their students.


Learning to sign:  "Speech therapy for the hands?"

In a message dated 2/8/2004 4:46:51 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Hi there,

I am currently taking ASL with a private instructor with my 6 year old and 4 year old. We have been reinforcing our vocabulary (we are still signing English) by teaching their dad. The problem is that my husband can’t do signs that require him to put his thumb across the palm of his hand. (ie. N, M, he can barely do 6) Do you have any suggestions? If he were to lose his hearing would he have to have a surgery or something? Thanks in advance. I am hoping to be able to buy your book sometime and I appreciate all of your hard work!
Melanie H_____
Bradley Method Natural Childbirth Educator
Duvall, WA

I'll throw out some brainstorm-type options for your husband who has a thumb of limited range.

1. Don't worry about it and just make the signs as close to normal as is physically comfortable. Signs don't have to be done perfectly for them to be recognizable.

2. Consider using the other hand as the dominant hand for signing and spelling.

3. He could do his own homemade physical therapy by using the other hand to gently pull on the thumb a half-hour a day. While this may sound ludicrous, it is actually quite plausible and easily accomplished if your husband will take advantage of the "spare moments" of his day. For example, suppose he is standing in line at the super market. He could very easily get in 5 minutes of stretching. Whenever he watches TV he could be stretching the ligaments in that thumb. I could list off 20 more "spare moments" that show up during the day...but I'm sure you get my point. If he were to take advantage of those--who knows, he might end up with a full range of movement in just a few weeks.



ASL Terminology:  "What is Amslan?"

In a message dated 2/1/2004 8:54:29 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Hello Mr. Vicars, thank you for all of your great information you have on your site, it's been a big help top me. I do have a question, I was wondering if you can explain to me the meaning of the term AmSlang. I recently read a post by someone on a public MB saying that AmSlang is actually ASL and ASL is more SEE, I was totally confused by this as the person posting it is deaf, but not cuturally Deaf, can you please clear this up for me, thanks. Piglet~

Dear Piglet,
It is my opinion that anyone making reference to "AmSlang" is not very familiar with today's  Deaf World. 

Many years ago, the term "Amslan" (without the "g" on the end) was bandied about  and achieved a small measure of popularity but never really caught on and has declined in use. 

Hearing people and individuals on the fringe of Deaf Society seem to be the only ones perpetuating the term "Amslan."

It would be unusual to catch a leader in the Deaf community using that word.  One very simple reason for this is that the term ASL has fewer letters than the word Amslan.  The three letters in ASL "roll off the fingers" more quickly than the longer word "Amslan."    Terminology is an ever changing phenomenon.   For what it is worth, at this point in history (early 21st century) ASL is the proper term for referring to American Sign Language.  Note:  ASL is not English on the hands.  It has its own grammar and syntax, and was not derived from English.
For a while people referred to the type of signing that often occurs between deaf and hearing people as Pidgin Signed English.  I've noticed that this term seems to be losing ground with the linguists and is being replaced by the term  "contact signing." It will be interesting to see if the term PSE is still around in 20 years.

The term SEE is still used  but some people have started referring to that type of signing as "Signed English."
  One way for you to gauge what "terms" are popular and or gaining strength is to do an Internet search for a particular phrase or word.  Then note how many times the term shows up and compare that number with the number of times other terms show up.  

- Bill

Conceptual Design:  "Enhancing Assistive Technology through Psychology"

Dr Vicars;

Hello, My Name is Sean Fagan. I am part of a design team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that is working on a conceptual design for a Deaf Alert technology. I recently came across your article “Psychology of Deafness” and was interested in several of the things you had to say. We were wondering if you’d have any interest in discussing some of the criteria we are designing for. We want to develop something that will provide an actual benefit to the deaf community by getting the insight of those who would be In a position to know best, rather than rely on the opinions of those who, as you say, see “deaf” more of as a pathological condition. Thanks for your time.

-Sean Fagan

Hello Sean,

I'd be happy to help.  Feel free to forward your criteria to me for review.
[Note to readers, that article is posted at the library. Comments or constructive criticisms welcome. If you'd like to respond to Sean's request feel free to contact him directly.]


The Deaf Experience:  "Finding your own corner in the Deaf World"

In a message dated 1/24/2004 5:05:50 PM Eastern Standard Time, Jane writes:

Dear Bill,
[You posted] a wonderful and poignant quote - I am grateful that you posted it and hope you won't object if I use it, appropriately cited of course, in the future.

<<...share this thought from a speech given by President Theodore Roosevelt in Paris in 1910:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and come short again and again, because there is no effort without great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.">>

Your response to Julie is beautiful. I am late-deafened. I began to lose my hearing about 6 years ago and have since become totally deaf.

I am also a wife and mother, Assistant Principal in a comprehensive High School in NYC, a doctoral student writing my dissertation, and President Elect of ALDA Inc, (Association of Late-Deafened Adults).

I have adapted to sign; I work with interpreters in all aspects of my life. I have a skilled team of interpreters for my classes; a skilled interpreter and teacher who works full time with me on my job.

My daughter learned sign; I actually learned to sign years ago, in a Certificate program for Deafness Rehab. Ironic how that prepared me for my own life!

One of the biggest issues of late-deafened individuals is where they fit. They are no longer hearing; they are not culturally Deaf. Your words <<I realize I'll never be in the innermost circle of the deaf community (what you in your email referred to as "hard core" deaf). So I instead work on finding my own niche.>> struck such a chord in my I wanted to write to you to say thank you.

The issue of identity, and fitting in, is often insurmountable to late-deafened people. I was very fortunate - as you are. I happened to have Deaf friends; they worked hard with me to "teach" me how to be deaf. I am comfortable signing; I can lip rather well; I work in a hearing environment but in a deaf way, with supports and accommodations for my deafness. I have a hearing family but I love deaf and Deaf events. I can hold my own in a conversation with my Deaf friends and new Deaf acquaintances. I have learned, just as you describe, to accept a compliment - Oh, you sign so well! - and change the topic of conversation back to the Deaf people I'm with. I am happy to answer questions asked by Deaf about what it's like to be hearing. I love sharing cultures.

But, I will never be Deaf Culture. I am not hearing culture anymore either. So I chose to simply identify as deaf. I function deaf. I'm happy in d/Deaf social situations. I manage in hearing family situations. I like d/Deaf things, I like sign, I like interpreters. I can voice for myself, and prefer to voice for myself. Where do I fit? Beats me - I had to and still continue to find my own level of comfort. But as you wrote, I have to find that for myself. It is impossible to be comfortable where I don't fit; yet it's also impossible to give up my hearing world or immerse myself in the Deaf world completely. Somewhere in-between is where I am learning to find a "home."

I truly appreciated your post. It was quite special.

(FYI - I teach one ASL course in my High School, to a mixed group of d/hh/ed/ld students. It's not easy, but when my students sign even just a bit to me, I know I've done something special. And yes, I refer to your curriculum. I just became aware of it in the middle of this year, but am incorporating parts of it. I hope to use it fully next year.)

Thank you,
Jane Schlau

Teaching ASL:  "Voicing in class.  Is it time to rap knuckles?"

In a message dated 2/9/2004 10:05:30 AM Pacific Standard Time, (a student in one of my classes) writes:

<<On the earplug idea… you would have about as much chance of getting everyone in an ASL class to stop talking/whispering as you would of having Deaf students abandoning their ASL and only speaking in a speech class. There is always going to be someone breaking the “no talk” rules…mostly out of frustration because we know what we want to “say” and lack the skills to convey it… or if we take the time to conjure up the ASL signs/finger spelling from the deep recesses of our brains, then we are missing something going on “up front.” ... You may have to resort to that Parochial School favorite of rapping our knuckles with a ruler.>>

Interesting comment.  I like your comparison between Hearing people wanting to voice in class with Deaf people wanting to sign in class.  I'm quite sure that many ASL teachers haven't thought of it that way. I don't think they will change their minds, but it does put another gram of weight on the balance scales in favor of bilingual/bicultural instruction.

My experience has been that "voicing" is not a problem in smaller and/or more advanced classes.  The larger the class, the further away a student sits from the instructor, and the fewer names of students that the instructor knows all seem to have an effect on the amount of unwanted voicing in class.

As you know, or at least as I think I have mentioned, I am not convinced that outlawing student talking is the way to go. Pros and cons either way. It seems to me the best route is to "encourage" a no-voice environment but not be anal about it.
However...the academic culture at this institution is one of "no voicing" and so I'm giving it an honest run. I'm doing this for two reasons, one is experimental curiosity and the other is quite simply "self-preservation."
I notice that at this university the instructors use an interpreter the first day of class when teaching a beginning level group. (Except for me, I prefer to just use my laptop instead.)

For the record, I think that the best approach to an ASL program is to start the students with a one credit-hour "Introduction to ASL and the Deaf Community" course that is taught via voice or interpreted into voice. That way students can ask questions and become better prepared for an ASL environment prior to being thrust into it.

Dr. Vicars

ASL GRAMMAR:  "Should adjectives come after nouns?"

In a message dated 6/25/2002 10:25:27 AM Pacific Daylight Time, asl4u@ writes:

...In ASL, the adjective follows the noun right? Then a sentence such as "MY DAD LIKE[s] COLD PIZZA" should be written as "DAD, MY, LIKE PIZZA COLD" right? is it a regional difference? I have noticed that in the Signing Naturally curriculum they put the adj. after the noun, yet in the ABC book by Humphries and Padded it varies. Any clarification you could provide would be wonderful! Thanks for your time. I LOVE the work you've done with the website and the curriculum!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Janice


Hi Janice,

It is a common "myth" that to sign ASL you have to always put adjectives after the noun they modify.  This is flat out incorrect.  Let me state it clearly, all adjectives are not always after the subject or noun in ASL. 

For example to say "The red car is new," you could sign:

"INDEX RED CAR NEW" (while nodding)
"INDEX CAR RED, NEW."  (Eyebrows up and head tilt while signing "car red," nod while signing "new.")

Either way is just fine!  They are both ASL.

Here is another example.  You could sign:
to mean "That small house over there is expensive."

Oh, I'm sure there are some ASL purists screaming and gnashing their teeth already. But I'm confident I can defend my position based on linguistic observation. Plus, think about your own interactions with Deaf adults. What do you see them signing? say, you see them signing both!  Right.  But the question is when do you put the adjective after the noun and when do you put it before.

The answer is that you can put certain kinds of adjectives either before or after the noun.  Other adjectives almost always come after the noun.

Adjectives that describe the way something or someone looks such as size, shape, color, or attractiveness can be placed either before or after the noun.

Adjectives that describe emotional, psychological, or physiological states such as "SMART, SICK, SAD, HAPPY, CONFUSED, EXCITED" tend to come after the noun (Valli & Lucas, 2000). 

Dr. Vicars

Hey, I've got a freebie for those of you who have read this far: 
Get a "Fingerseek"  Fingerspelled Word Seek Puzzle for free. 
Just visit:

Lifeprint Institute


Valli, C. & Lucas, C. (2000). Linguistics of American Sign Language. (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.


American Sign Language University William Vicars