ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library  |  Volume 1, Issue 11, June 2004  |  William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor


* Is ASL Universal?
* Initialization
* Presentation Fees
* Mnemonic teaching techniques
* The sign for "capital D" Deaf
* Can you learn ASL on your own?
* Can hearing people become teachers for the deaf?
* Should hearing people teach ASL?
* One student's view of attending a deaf social
* How to get students to stop voicing and participate more
* Can a student achieve proficiency without classroom attendance?
* The sign for LIKE and the sign for WHAT
* The sign for llama
* A sign you probably won't find in your ASL book
* So, you want to teach ASL?
* Dealing with the high cost of hearing aids
* Should this student go for her doctorate in Psychology?

Hello ASL Heroes!

What an exciting time to be in the ASL instruction field! I'm thrilled to be where I am, doing what I'm doing, and interacting with students and colleagues who are outstanding!

I'm sure you'll agree, this issue has got some really hot topics! Thanks to all of you who shared your opinions and expertise!

(Dr. Vicars)

* Is ASL Universal?

Dr. Vicars,

If you have the time, I have just 2 questions...The question about the universality of ASL seems to be popping up a lot lately.  Some educators seem to believe that you can go to any other country, and with the exception of grammar (yellow house vs house yellow), people can communicate effectively using ASL.  Others, who I seem to be more inclined to believe, teach that ASL is not universal and the only 'ASL signers' who can communicate effectively with each other are from the US and some parts of Canada.  I want to teach the right concepts... My other questions is...When you teach the ASL alphabet, is it called mnemonics or initialized words when you teach handshapes by using the lst letter of the word; for example, A for Ape,  O for Owl, etc? 

I know you're a very busy guy, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my questions.  I'm still looking to have you come here to Florida and present sometime...What were your fees again, and if you don't mind me you speak when you present and sign?  It might seem silly to you, but I just ASSUMED that a deaf presenter (like Dr Mike Tetracilli) would only sign when they presented...  I was quite wrong! 


 Kathy Hazzard

Is ASL a universal language? 

ASL is not a “universal language” but it is used in many places throughout the world.

In addition to being widely used in North America and Guatemala, ASL is also used in varying degrees in the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Zaire, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, Benin, Togo, Zimbabwe, Singapore, and Hong Kong.  Source:  Grimes, Barbara F. (editor), (1996). "Languages of USA" Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 13th Edition. Institute of Linguistics. Retrieved 2 June, 2004: <>

While ASL is a very popular language, it is certainly not understood by all deaf people everywhere.  Skilled speakers of ASL are however very adept at communicating with skilled users of other signed languages. If you ever attend a Deaflympics you will certainly note that signers from all over the world communicate fabulously with each other despite being from different countries.

I believe that the use of ASL will continue to spread throughout the world similar to the way spoken English has spread throughout the world.

Time will tell.

* Initialization

Initialization is the practice of using the initial letter of the English translation of a sign as the handshape for that sign.  For example, the signs “CLASS” and “FAMILY” are initialized signs.

The term “mnemonics” means a “system used to develop or improve the memory.”  A mnemonic is a device, technique, or method that helps a person remember things.  So, it would be accurate to say that a teacher who introduces a list of “initialized” signs in ABC word order is using mnemonics (or a mnemonic teaching approach).  The sign “APE” in and of itself is not a mnemonic.  It is an initialized sign. 

* Presentation Fees

A colleague asked about my presentation fees:

My presentation fee depends on a few factors, but a ballpark range would be:  $6,000.00 per day.

Just kidding.  The real price would be:
$200 to put on my suit and tie, plus $100 per hour of presenting, plus lunch and travel expenses.
For that modest sum you get all this:
A scintillating workshop on the topic or topics of your choice.
Reproduction rights to a number of limited-edition handouts provided to you on genuine tree-based paper.
A copy of my book.
The right to ask me questions while I spatter ketchup on my tie at lunch.
Wait...there's more...
An exquisitely crafted "I LOVE YOU key-chain made out of one of the most durable substances in the world!
Before you ask -- no, I'm not willing to come do the seminar without my suit and tie for a discount.
Hey, I’m flexible though.

I’m so flexible that I’ll waive my speaking expenses if I get to choose the location. (All you have to do is pay for the travel and lodging.)  For example, feel free to set up an ASL workshop at the Half Moon Beach Club in Jamaica and I won’t charge you a dime.  Just send me a plane ticket and get me a hotel room. 

But generally I charge $500 per day, plus flight or travel costs, lodging, & per diem of $35.00 per day (including one travel day), rental car to be picked up and dropped off at the airport.

A typical one day workshop consists of:
9 a.m.
  to 12 noon: presentation
12 noon to 1:00 p.m. lunch

1:00 p.m. to 3:45

 Notes:  If lunch is "off site," adjust the lunch schedule to be: 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. to allow for travel. 

You asked if I voice when presenting. It depends on the audience. I just sign when I present to an audience that knows sign language. How can someone model decent ASL while voicing English?  You end up doing "contact signing" (formerly known as pidgin signed English).  I reckon if the audience begged and fed me hummus I'd go ahead and voice while signing, but it'd have to be really good hummus.

Dr. Vicars

* Mnemonic teaching techniques

In a message dated 6/3/2004 3:39:25 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
     ..and this would only be a mnemonic technique for teaching the letters, (i.e. the kids would remember what handshape was used when the teacher pounded on her chest like an ape) not for teaching the signs...

 Kathy, A hammer can be a tool or a murder weapon.  In and of itself it is considered a tool.  By use and circumstance it can come to be considered a "murder weapon."   The sign "APE" in and of itself is just a sign.  By use and circumstance it can be part of a mnemonic system that is using initialization and ABC word order to help students remember a set of signs or the ABC handshapes.   Associating a set of signs with the fingerspelled letters representing the initials of the English translations for those signs in the order of the English alphabet will facilitate the recall of the signs and the fingerspelled letters.   Students will more easily learn and recall both.   It is a good system with only one major drawback.  It tends to lead students to erroneously conclude that there is a direct and parallel relationship between ASL and spoken English.  This contributes to the formation of "false assumptions" about the grammar and nature of ASL.  For example, when a student sees an "A" being used for "ape" he is likely to decide that to indicate the concept of "gorilla" he should pound a "G" on his chest.   Knowing that such false assumptions tend to arise when using mnemonic systems based on English, many ASL instructors have eschewed (avoided) such approaches.  Some have gone so far as to ban English in the classroom altogether--including fingerspelling. No kidding. There are several instructors in my area who don't teach their students fingerspelling.  One that I know of turns her head away when a student starts spelling to her.  She wants the student to sign or mime any questions.   My opinion is that such extreme measures and avoidance of "L1" (the student's native language) are unwarranted and counterproductive.  The real secret is to educate your students. Sure, go ahead and use mnemonic devices but also take the time to inform your students that in ASL "this sign" (APE) can also mean "gorilla" and or "chest beating."   You can easily "clue students in" by using overheads or handouts.   Dr. Vicars    

* The sign for "capital D" Deaf

In a message dated 4/9/2004 11:31:19 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Bill:

Anyway, I'm that guy here in Detroit who is studying medicine at Wayne State. Tomorrow is my first time to be in a social setting where Deaf people predominate. It's a meeting of the Black Deaf Advocates.

When the folks from DeafCAN came here recently and opened my awareness about Deaf issues and I became interested in ASL, I noticed during the conversation that Chris and Marika, the presenters, used "Deaf" and "deaf" in their speech... The voice translator used the words "capital D deaf" and "small d deaf" for us to understand. So, what are the signs for these?

And by the way, I noticed a discussion about Slovakia. It made me think, what is the sign for Ukraine?

John Stasko


Dear colleagues:

If you are interested in this sort of discussion, read on. If not, please excuse this email.

A student in Detroit writes... <<"The presenters used "Deaf" and "deaf" in their speech. The voice translator used the words "capital D deaf" and "small d deaf" for us to understand. So, what are the signs for these?>>

I'm doing a survey. What is your sign or set of signs to express "capital D deaf" and "small d deaf?"

Bill's notes so far:
The sign "deaf" is typically done by touching the tip of your dominant hand index finger to your cheek near your ear and then moving the finger in a slight arc and touching the cheek near your mouth. The orientation of the hand is such that the finger is pointing at the cheek.

Metathesis: This sign can start near the ear and move toward the mouth or it can start near the cheek and move toward the ear.

- In some cases the movement of this sign has become very condensed. Some signers use only a very small movement and arc. During rapid, casual signing, the signer is simply "jabbing" his or her cheek twice in nearly the same location.
- A historical variation of this sign used a combination of pointing at your ear and then signing "closed."

Inflection: This sign can be inflected by touching the side of your dominant hand index finger (rather than the tip) to your cheek near your ear and then moving the finger in a relatively larger arc and touching the cheek near your mouth. The orientation of the hand is such that the finger is pointing generally upward throughout the movement of the sign. The duration of the sign is increased. The movement of the first half of the sign (the rising of the arc) is relatively slower. The second half of the sign (the downward/inward movement of the arc) is very quick and ends with a definite, solid contact to the cheek. The end of the sign is held slightly longer than the non-inflected version.

Additional inflections: The head nodded once. The cheek is puffed out.

"Capital D" - Deaf: This concept means a person who is culturally deaf. One way to express this concept is to do the sign "Deaf."

"Lowercase d" - deaf: This concept means a person who is physically deaf but who is unfamiliar with Deaf Culture.

How do you indicate "capital D?"
Variation 1: Dominant "G" rests on base-hand "index finger." "G" changes to a modified "C"-hand consisting of the thumb and finger.
Variation 2: ???

How do you indicate "lowercase d?"
Variation 1: Dominant "L" resting on base "index finger." "L" changes to a "G."
Variation 2: ???


How do you indicate capital "D" deaf?

Don G.  "I sign Deaf in the usual manner, but with NMS (stronger movement, pursed lips)."

[Editor's note:  NMM is an abbreviation used to mean "nonmanual marker."  Don is using NMS to mean nonmanual markers (plural).  Nonmanual markers include such things as facial expressions, raising or lowering of the eyebrows, pursing the lips, tilting the head, shifting the body, raising the shoulder to the cheek, and so forth.]

* Can you learn ASL on your own?

In a message dated 5/29/2004 6:17:32 AM Pacific Daylight Time, A student writes:

My name is Lindsey, I'm 13 and teaching myself ASL in hopes of becoming an interpreter. Is teaching myself ASL not a good idea? should I wait until college???  thank you, Lindsey  

I think it's great that you are learning sign language!  Dive in and have fun. Just be aware that if you learn sign language from a book without a qualified instructor or a helpful friend skilled in ASL you will fossilize many small errors that you will later need to "correct."  On the other hand, you can learn a great deal about ASL, Deaf Culture, and Deaf history from reading books and visiting web sites.  Even better is to use full-motion video.  Also, you should look around for opportunities to get involved with the deaf community. I know there are some people out there who will disagree with my support of autodidactic ASL acquisition.  (An "autodidact" is a "self-taught person.") But my philosophy is if I had to choose between hanging out with a hearing person who signs a little strange vs. hanging out with a hearing person who doesn't sign at all, I'd much rather hang out with the one who signs. Then, if that person is humble, teachable, and hungry for feedback I'll go out of my way to help them improve their signing.

* Can hearing people become teachers for the deaf?

In a message dated 5/30/2004 7:29:51 PM Pacific Daylight Time, FAITHGIRL101 writes:

I wanted to ask you a question. If you are hearing can you become a teacher for the deaf in a deaf school? Would that be accepted in the deaf community?

Dear Faithgirl,
Many teachers of the deaf are hearing.
If you want to be accepted in the Deaf community make sure you learn ASL and develop a respect for our culture.
Go to Deaf events and get involved as much as you can.
Dr. Vicars

*Should hearing people teach ASL?

In a message dated 5/15/2004 2:57:13 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

Hello Bill,

In your opinion do you think it is fair that hearing teachers teach the deaf?

I am doing some research to find out the attitudes among deaf teachers and how they feel about their language being taught by the hearing. How they feel about a hearing person that has no ties to the community or any deaf family members learns asl and then assumes the language and teaches it as a profession. What do you think?



Do you have any problems with women studying "andrology" and then teaching it at a medical school? Andrology is the study of diseases and anatomical features which are specific to men, (source: Do you have any problems with men telling you that it is inappropriate for you to become an andrologist and practice medicine in that field because you are a woman.  Do you have a problem with their reasoning that you are a woman and therefore you can't possibly understand men's health issues well enough to diagnose and treat them?  What if you went to medical school and got your medical degree with a specialty in andrology--would a male plumber know more about men's health issues just because he is a man (you might say that he has "the plumbing" --heh)?  Oh, wait, what if you got a sex change and became a man later in life?  Would you then be more qualified to study and teach andrology?
I personally don't have a problem with hearing people learning ASL. Likewise I don't have a problem with a hearing person teaching ASL as long as he or she is bicultural and truly knows the language.

Many of my friends however do have a problem with hearing people teaching ASL.  Just the other day I was having lunch with some coworkers and this very topic came up.  I mentioned to one of them that the other "didn't like" so and so.  The "other guy" made it clear that it wasn't that he didn't like so-and-so (the hearing person), but just that he didn't appreciate the hearing person taking a full-time ASL teaching job that could otherwise be filled by a qualified deaf applicant (like himself).  His reasoning was that the hearing person could easily go out and get some other job such as "interpreting" or working in some other position that requires the ability to hear, whereas a deaf person needs a job where hearing isn't an issue.
He is right.
I used to teach computer classes to hearing students. The money is much better in the computer instruction field than in the ASL instruction field.  But I gave up teaching computers because I just can't hear well enough anymore to teach in a noisy computer classroom. If it were a quiet environment I could have worn my hearing aids; but aids are useless and even painful when used in an environment with so much background noise. (Digital processing and noise suppression circuits are improving though.)

On the other hand, even though I earn less, I love teaching ASL because I don't have to "hear" to do it.

Dr. Bill Vicars
In a message dated 6/1/2004 1:07:17 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

Hello Bill,

Thanks so much for getting back to me and being honest with your response. In my survey I found that a majority of deaf teachers did not like that hearing teachers teach ASL classes. In one of my responses one deaf ASL teacher told me, "do you think it would be alright if I taught African American Studies?" Of course she is white and was being sarcastic, but her point was well taken. In comparison to my deaf studies research, I also surveyed many students on campus and asked them, "How would you feel about taking an African American Ethnic class by a white teacher?" Their response was unanimous. Every student of different ethnic backgrounds all said the same thing. That they would not feel comfortable taking a class from a white professor teaching African American Studies. They also said that the white professor would not have enough knowledge or personal experience teaching such a class; therefore, feeling that it would not be appropriate. Plus, they all said they would benefit more from an African American professor, just like getting the same benefits of learning from a deaf professor in an ASL class.

In my personal opinion I don't believe there is anything better than personal experience that brings students the understanding and knowledge of culture and language from that particular teacher.



First of all, don't be offended by anything I write below.  I respect your research and your efforts to understand this line of inquiry. That being said, allow me to openly challenge some of the reasoning expressed by your interviewees.

You stated that many students felt that a white person wouldn't have enough "knowledge" to teach an African American Studies class.
That is ridiculous. I wholeheartedly disagree with that concept.
A white person with a Ph.D. in African American Studies certainly has enough knowledge to teach such a class.
The other stated issue is that a white person doesn't have enough "personal experience."
Going back to my previous "medical" example. Does an instructor in a school of psychiatry have to have "personal experience" with insanity in order to teach psychiatry courses?
How about a social work instructor?  Does he have to personally come from a broken family?
I could go on, but to what avail?  If a person has made up her mind on this subject, further argument is unlikely to change it.
Instead let me suggest that a more pertinent question is, "To what extent is firsthand experience better than secondhand experience?"  Then you need to ask questions like, "Is 30 years of intense secondhand experience combined with teaching ability" better than 30 years of firsthand experience with no teaching ability?" 
Each and every hearing student in an ASL class is going to learn about deafness vicariously--whether it be from a deaf instructor or a hearing instructor.

Let me tell you a bit about an English professor named Dr. Candadai Seshachari. 
He was hired as a professor of English at Weber State University in 1969. He taught English for over 30 years at Weber where he received numerous awards honoring his work as an educator.   He was extremely popular with his students. Two students who met in his class married and named their child after him. He served two terms as chairman of the English department for a total of 14 years.
There is no doubt that Dr. Seschachari is one of the best, most experienced, and most capable English teachers in the world.

But here is my point: Dr. Seshachari is a native of India. He grew up there and received his bachelors from Osmania University in Hyderabad, India.
It would be asinine to propose that since his native language wasn't English and that his skin is brown that he is somehow unqualified to teach English. I daresay that his knowledge of and experience with English surpasses ninety-nine percent of the American population.

You could respond, "Well, that may be true for spoken English," but a Hearing person cannot understand what it is like be deaf.  My response is, "Of course they can."  That is what language is for: transference of understanding.

Deaf people understand what it is like to be deaf.  They write it down, put it in poetry, and make videos of it.  What is there to prevent a hearing person from reading those accounts, and watching the videos and thereby developing a vicarious understanding of what it is like to be deaf?

A deaf instructor can stand up in front of a hearing audience and say what it is like to be deaf.

A hearing instructor can also stand up in front of a hearing audience and say what it is like to be deaf.

The deaf person acquired this knowledge from personal experience.
The hearing person acquired this knowledge from interviewing thirty deaf people.

To invalidate the hearing instructor's knowledge because it was learned instead of "experienced" is to invalidate the entire education profession.

-Dr. Vicars

Hello Bill,

Thanks for your response. I am not at all offended by your answers. I love when people are open and honest. You do have a good point of view and that was a very good example about the English professor. 

Well thank you so much for your input. ...
Take Care,

Lest people get the idea that I think all deaf and hearing teachers are equal, I'd better make a clarification.  The huge demand for ASL instruction has outstripped the supply of qualified ASL instructors and many schools have hired people who are only marginally qualified and some who are flat out unqualified.
Many hearing teachers are lacking in ASL skills and cultural knowledge. 
On the other hand, many schools hire an "instructor" based on no other qualification than he or she is deaf and knows ASL.
Just because a person is skilled at speaking a language does not mean they are skilled at teaching that language. 
I've also seen quite a few instructors who are deaf, (or hearing) and have "teaching skills" (which is to say, they can do things like organize a lesson, stand up in front of an audience, present the material, give a test on it, and document the results), but they are clueless as to the learning needs of adult, hearing, second language learners.

The ideal ASL instructor is one who is fluent in ASL, has superb teaching skills, possesses a vast array of teaching materials, loves teaching, and is bicultural

That is right, "bicultural."  A teacher needs to understand the culture of his students.  A teacher who doesn't understand the culture of his students often wonders why he isn't getting through to his students.
Monocultural instructors are surprised when their students exhibit frustration or get offended over seemingly simple things. They tell themselves and anyone who will listen, "Well, tough. That's just too dang bad.  We deaf people have had enough hard knocks, let the students struggle this time.  It's their turn to suffer."  Then later these instructors wonder why their attrition (drop out) rates are so high.

-Dr. Vicars

* One student's view of attending a deaf social

I was interested in WstrnLdy Cynthia's discussion of signing night at the pizza place. I am hearing and have been going to a coffee social in San Francisco. Here is the link: 
You probably have to paste it in to access the web page.
You can contact Laurie Chin
  She organized this very successful event.  A wide variety of Deaf people and of hearing people who want to communicate in ASL show up. It seems to me that at the beginning of the evening, I see many sign language students. As the evening wears on, most people seem to be Deaf. By the time Starbucks throws us out at 10pm, the people still chatting on the sidewalk as I leave seem to be all Deaf.  ASL students are invited, and I have been made to feel welcome. Communication varies widely.  Some people voice when they talk to me directly. I don't find that particularly helpful.  Sometimes I just watch other people signing.  I cannot understand yet, but just try to understand some signs.  Sometimes I will get the idea of the conversation. I have a Deaf grandson who lives far away.  I am a very slow learner of ASL.  Sometimes people with chat with me directly.  This makes it a little easier for me to understand, because I can ask them to repeat the fingerspelled words until I get it.  Sometimes I watch young Deaf boys making the acquintance of young hearing girls.  Then the signing is much clearer to understand.  Sometimes I watch political discussions as I can understand the fingerspelling of "Bush" and "Iraq."  There seems to be a good number of foreign Deaf who are learning ASL, from Cameroon, Ethiopia, New Zealand, China, etc.  Sometimes I sit with Deaf people closer to my own age.  The coffee house location seems to make it easy to chat with many groups, circulate around the room.  There are a few Deaf people there who can't be bothered with ASL students, but there are enough people in the room that it doesn't really seem to matter.  As a student, I know it can be boring to chat with me for more than a few minutes.  I seem to be learning as much on coffee nights and I do on ASL class nights.    Anyway, this is an old hearing woman's rather blunt view of a "bridging" social.                 Mary Ann Narita

* How to get students to stop voicing and participate more

In a message dated 6/1/2004 6:23:18 PM Pacific Daylight Time, JBatt145 writes:

Hi Bill,   I know how busy you are and I hope you will be able to help me out because since I've started teaching ASL in 1994, I've been trying to find different ways of grading high school students on participation.    I am Deaf (some call me hard of hearing) and I enjoy teaching ASL very much but the biggest challenge is trying to get the students to stop talking and also trying to figure out who is talking (you know how kids like to try to fool us).  What do you do or what would you do?    My grading system is on Participation, Assignments, Quizzes, and exams.  The participation points is the most difficult to figure out.  For example: I grade the students on signing efforts in class by rating them 1 to 5 points; 5 points being the highest points.  This encourages the students to sign instead of just sitting there and not earn points.  Giving these students points is not only time consuming but also I sometimes forget who deserved what...  My students also lose points for being late; they need to be there visually in order to learn the language and they also lose points for talking. I have heard of other teachers take points away for wearing a hat because they can not see their face (facial grammar) and for chewing gum because they can not tell if they are talking or not; it's disruptive.    Can you help me think of a better way to grade these kids on participation?  What would you do?  I would really, really appreciate your help!    Thank you,  Jenifer McManus :-) 

Hi Jenifer,

Here are two short answers to your problems of "getting the students to stop talking" and "grading on participation."

1. Let the students talk.

2. Stop grading on participation.

Now, before you roll your eyes and assume I'm being sarcastic, let me assure you I'm not.

I taught for 15 years without a "no-voice" policy. It is only since I started teaching at Sac State that I began requiring my students to turn off their voices. And I only do it because of the prevailing instructional culture here. When they interviewed me for my current position, the ASL coordinator here asked me how I "dealt" with students who voiced in class. He seemed surprised and skeptical of my answer when I responded that for me it has never been an issue. I explained to the committee that students voice in class mainly for two reasons:

1. They don't understand what is going on and are desperately seeking a clue from a classmate.

2. They are bored.

Thus the solution to the so called "problem" of talking in the classroom is to teach in such a way that students are actively engaged throughout the class and are able to follow the content of the lesson.  It is also important to empower students with tools to seek information without resorting to voice.

Now, I realize there are many teachers out there who will heartily disagree with me and who will insist that a "no-voice" environment is the way to go.

So, for those teachers, let me share a few techniques to encourage a no-voice classroom.
(Note: I personally find many of these approaches distasteful but share them with you since you asked.)

1.  Set an expectation level.  Type up a syllabus (yes, even for a "high school class."  In your syllabus clearly state that you reserve the right to FAIL any student for voicing during class.  Put this on your whiteboard or chalkboard as well during the first day of class.

2.  Bring a digital camera to class.  When you see a student talking, take a picture of that student.  Save all such pictures to a folder on your hard drive, count up the pictures at the end of the semester and deduct one point for each picture of a particular student.

3.  Bring a camcorder to class.  Turn it on and aim it at the class.  Explain that part of the reason for this is so that when they are caught talking it will be documented so when it comes time to assign them an "F" for having talked during class you will have documentation.

4.  Order a bulk supply of earplugs.  Require the students to purchase a pair at cost and wear them the first couple weeks of class to break them of the habit of talking.

5.  Dust up a chalkboard eraser and keep it handy.  Let the students know that if they talk you will be throwing it at them…then make sure you hit the one you are aiming for.

6.  Learn the names of each of your students.  When students can't hide behind anonymity they are less likely to break the rules.

7.  On the first day of class have students sign an awareness contract wherein they state they are aware of the no-voice policy and that they are aware that they may receive an "F" for talking in class.

8.  Give three warnings.  For the first warning, give them a verbal warning and let it go.  For the second warning write their name down and let them know you are writing their name down.  The third warning should be in writing and a copy provided to a second party such as your supervisor clearly stating that upon the next occurrence the student will receive an "F."

9. If you notice a student talking, have him or her move to a different location in class, or call him to the front of the class to engage in a signed dialog as part of your lesson.

10.  Go after the person who is "listening."  Look the listener in the eye and tell him or her in no uncertain terms to sign "SHHHH…sign!!!" to the talker the next time the talker starts talking.

11.  Use peer pressure.  Divide the class into two halves.  Set up a "score area" on the board. Each time someone from one of the "halves" talks, put a mark under their team.  Near the end of class hold a drawing for extra credit, early out of class, candy, or some other "goodie" for the half of the class that talked the least.

12.  Set up an "immunity idol."  A necklace or whatever that a student can put on if he wants to voice a question.

13.  Set up voice days and no voice days.  For example Tuesdays are no voice and Thursdays are "voice available."

14.  Get a drama student who is not in your class to come in the first day of class and do some "acting" with you.  Arrange to have him start talking in the middle of class.  Warn him once.  Then when he ignores you and keeps talking, grab him by the hair and twist his arm behind his back and throw him out of class.  Ham it up and put the fear into the rest of the students.
(If you do try this technique make sure to write me and tell me how it goes, heh.)

As far as "participation" the solution is in your curriculum.  High school students (students of all ages for that matter) want to participate.  They would much rather participate than be bored.  The problem is they have other wants as well.  They want to look cool.  They want to "save face."  They want to sleep.  They want to get home and watch TV or play video games.   Students tend to fill whichever "want" is easiest to fulfill at the moment. 

The trick is to make participation easy and or essential.  Many teachers try to make participation essential by giving or taking away points.  This is a lazy or uninformed approach. 

You can make participation a part of your curriculum via your teaching style.

For example, suppose you are teaching the concept "blue."  Call a student  up to the front and point at various examples of "blue" until she (Jane) understands the sign.  Then ask Jane if she has a blue car (or whatever).  Then excuse her to sit down.  Then pick another student (Mark) and instead of teaching your next concept, ask Mark if Jane has a car. If he doesn't know, tell him to ask her if she has a car.  Then after he asks and finds out, ask him again if she has a car and get the right answer from him. Then pick another student (Jim) and ask him what color Jane's car is.  If Jim doesn't know, tell him to ask Jane. Then ask Jim again and get the right answer from him.  By asking the other students questions about previous dialogs you "require" participation.  They don't fall asleep or "stop watching" because they know there is a high chance they will have to answer a question about what is going on at the front of the class. After you have introduced five new concepts, put students in pairs and hand to one of them a "practice sheet" with five questions on it that embed the recently learned concepts.  For example:

1.  "Wh" color your car? [What color is your car?]
(Note: "Wh" means to furrow your eyebrows a bit.)

2.  "Wh" color your eyes?

3.  Who this room have brown hair?

4.  "Wh" your favorite color?

5.  "Wh" color _______ (point at something)?

If the first student gets done asking all five questions then the second student goes.  If they both get done, they can either ask other students who have also finished or they can make up their own questions. As soon as all of the students in class have finished with at least the first partner, bring attention back to the front and move on to your next set of five concepts.

If you notice students talking instead of diving in and signing the sentences, you have failed to do your job.  It is not their fault, it is yours. Figure out which of the two main reasons is causing them to talk: boredom or confusion. Change your style accordingly.  If they are confused, add an extra layer of review to your instruction.  After teaching the concepts the first time go over them a second time prior to letting them loose on the practice sheets.  If they are talking because they are bored, (rarely happens with a "question based" curriculum) then give them less time for the practice sheets and move on sooner to teaching new concepts. Point out to them that with this system you might just move on before everyone gets a chance to finish both receiving and expressing the same five questions. Make sure though that you alternate which partner starts each time you use a practice sheet.  Also change partners frequently.  Explain to the students that only one partner is to be looking at the practice sheet.  They should not put it between both of them and both look off of it.  Instead only one partner should have access to the practice sheet at any one time.  That way the second partner will have to pay attention to and derive meaning from the first partner's signing rather than reading the question "What color is your car?" and answering "blue" without having had to engage his brain to figure out the first partner's signs.

You will notice that my ASL University curriculum practice sheets consist almost entirely of "questions." Feel free to copy and use these practice sheets in your own classroom.

Regarding giving points for attendance and taking away points for lateness.  Instead why don't you consider simply giving a daily quiz at the very beginning of class?  Those who show up late or are absent will miss the quiz and thereby be penalized.  Have students exchange papers and correct them in class.  It makes a great warm up review.  If your school has a policy against students correcting other student's papers, then buy $5.00 worth of red pens.  After signing the questions from you quiz, tell the students to put away their pencil or pen and leave it "put away" until the quiz has been corrected and collected.   Then pass out the red pens and have them correct their own paper then pass in both their paper and your red pen prior to taking out their own pencils and pens again. 

One of the things I do to encourage expressive practice is instead of me signing the questions for the daily quiz--I call students forward at random to sign the quiz questions to the other students.  Each student only signs one question out of the 20 questions on the quiz and then goes back and sits down and takes the rest of the quiz. This provides yet another opportunity for participation.  I watch to make sure their signing is within acceptable parameters.  They bring their paper to the front of the class.  If they sign the sentence wrong, I mark that sentence wrong on their paper.  If they sign it right, I mark an "OK" on their paper.



(Dr. Vicars of

*Can a student achieve proficiency without classroom attendance?

In a message dated 6/2/2004 2:04:14 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

when do you expect to expand your online lessons to the next
levels? What I would like to do is become proficient in this language without
using in-person classes (only because my work schedule doesn't allow it).  I am
not sure if any documentation of courses taken is required in order to become
certified as an interpreter; I do know of the test that has to be passed.  My
second question is: in your opinion, do you think obtaining proficiency is
possible without using in-person classes?

Kristin,   I plan on expanding ASL U this summer to level 3.  (Third semester).
  I think it is possible to become proficient without "in-person" classes, but not without *some* kind of regular, frequent, interaction with a skilled signer. You can use books and online materials to help guide your learning, but if you want to swim it helps to get wet. It is technically possible to learn to swim without water.  It is also possible to learn almost any number of other skills without actually physically being involved with the related activity. For example, many prisoners of war came home with abilities they didn't have previous to captivity.  Their cell mates taught them how to play musical instruments or use sports equipment that existed only in their minds.   Sports psychologists, Olympic athletes, and peak performers of all kinds are familiar with the concept of "perfect practice."  Doing a thing perfectly in your "mind's eye" until you are able to do it near perfectly in real life. If you don't have easy access to the Deaf community you can still learn quite a bit of ASL by practicing on your own. But remember--those POWs put in many hundreds and/or thousands of hours of mental practice to become good at their target activity. The trick for YOU is to avoid "imperfect practice" which is to say, practicing mistakes over and over again because you don't have a skilled signer around to set you straight.

*The sign for LIKE and the sign for WHAT

In a message dated 6/3/2004 2:11:13 PM Pacific Daylight Time, MESKIS writes:

<<A long time ago in a galaxy not too far away, I learned a different sign for the word "like" than you have on your website.  My Girl Scout troop was learning to sign/sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and we were told that "like" is signed by holding your palms down and bringing your two ring fingers together until they touch (all other fingers are fisted shut).
Any truth to that, or have I been lied to for all these years?  :)


Carlea, You've been living a lie. Sorry. Dr. Vicars

[10/5/04  Now, if you mean you were taught to bring your "index" fingers together rather than your "ring" fingers together then perhaps they were showing you one of the signs for "same" which would be conceptually accurate and mean "like" as in "similar to."]


In a message dated 6/3/2004 7:09:35 PM Pacific Daylight Time, MESKIS writes:

<<Well that's terribly upsetting. 
In the same song we were told that "What" is signed by "slashing" (so to write) the left open palm (face up) with the index finger of the right hand.  Was that another lie?>>

No. That wasn't a lie.  It was more of a half-truth.  Heh. There is indeed a version of the sign "WHAT" that "slashes the left palm with the tip of the right index finger."  It is a real sign. I used to use it when I was younger.  I associate that sign with "English-like" signing more than ASL.  I rarely see it being used by any of my friends or other skilled Deaf ASL signers though. 
But the fact is the concept of "WHAT" is better expressed via a slight furrowing of the eyebrows than by a separate sign. If you watch Deaf conversations carefully you will note that they rarely use a separate sign for the concept of "WHAT." Consider this list of simple "what" sentences: What is your name? What color do you like? What kind do you want? What time are you going? To sign these sentences in ASL you should simply furrow you eyebrows, tilt your head back just a tad, and sign: NAME YOU? COLOR YOU LIKE? WHAT-KIND YOU WANT?
(Note: the sign "WHAT-KIND" doesn't use a separate "what" sign.) TIME YOU GO? If you use a separate sign for "WHAT" in any of the above sentences--you are wasting time and effort. --Dr. Vicars   

In a message dated 6/3/2004 7:55:55 PM Pacific Daylight Time, MESKIS writes:

That would explain why one of my campers looked at me very oddly when I asked him "what" using the method I'd been taught. 


*The sign for llama

In a message dated 6/3/2004 7:55:55 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
MESKIS writes:
 I have several friends who were asking how to sign "llama." I don't know why, but they were. You're the only one I know of who could answer that.

Hi Carlea,
I don't know the sign for llama. But why don't you try asking a contact of mine down in Mexico:
Robin DeLaRosa
Apartado 640
Cabo San Lucas, BCS
CP 23450     Mexico
Robin knows MSL and some native MSL users who might have a sign you could use. If you find out a good sign for llama, please do let me know.

On Thu, 3 Jun 2004 23:04:48 EDT writes:
I was directed to you with a question about how to sign the word "llama."  Several of my friends were asking me and I was clueless.  Dr. Bill Vicars recommended I contact you.
Any help is appreciated.  Thanks!

In a message dated 6/4/04 1:18:38 AM, writes:
Hola Carlea! I am not sure if you are asking about "llama" the animal or "llama" the spanish word for call?

On Fri, 4 Jun 2004 07:02:25 EDT writes:
Lo siento!  I meant "llama" the animal, not "llamar".  My friends may be odd, but I don't think they're bilingually odd.

In a message dated 6/4/04 8:11:10 PM, writes:
Hola Carlea! While we do live in a third world country we don't exactly have llamas running around...lots of dogs but no llamas. Below is the info that I received from a fellow missionary to the deaf in Mexico...

Yes, there is a sign for llama. Touch the tips of your two middle fingers [the middle finger and the ring finger] to the tip of your thumb on the same hand [your dominant hand]. Then the index and pinkie fingers stick up to form the ears.
If using your right hand, "walk" your llama to the left (or vice versa if you are left handed). If done right, it kinda looks like a llama walking in front of you. Your arm being the neck.
You don't have to do this, but I think it looks better. I don't put the tips of my fingers together, but rather the pads of my fingers so that it looks more like the llama's nose.
Interestingly, that is also the sign for Bolivia. That is ASL. I don't know a sign in MSL for it.
Let me know if that helps.
-David Peach

*A sign you probably won't find in your ASL book

In a message dated 5/18/2004 7:55:11 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

Hi Bill,

Several of us were talking with our friend BT over the weekend and he used a sign that none of us could figure out.  I was wondering if you might be able to tell me what it means if I describe it to you  (we'll see how good I am at describing signs!  <:)  ).  We were talking about creation vs. evolution and the sign he used seemed like it might have had some sort of meaning like "blow a theory out of the water"/completely refute/contradict/do away with, etc. (okay, that's a lot of words to describe one sign... of course, maybe we were completely off track with our thought pattern).

Anyway, here is my best description of the sign:

Two-handed sign, but only the dominant hand moves.
Left hand (non-dominant hand) is a 1-handshape with palm orientation facing in, held in front of chest
Right hand starts as sort of an S-X handshape, moves toward the left index finger, hits it and as it hits the right index finger flicks out (so the right hand also becomes 1-handshape) and continues moving to the left in an arc.
The final position of the right hand is 1-handshape, finger pointing left, palm orientation down/back.  The whole movement kind of looks like you're trying to flick the left index finger out of the way with the right index finger.

If you could tell me the meaning of this sign, I would appreciate it.  We've spent quite a bit of time looking up various words in the dictionary and I have computer program that can do a parameter search which I have tried, but it is really not very good at all (brings up all kinds of words that don't actually meet the parameters).  Anyway, thanks for your help!  Have a great day and SMILE  <:)


Shelanne, The sign you describe means to "Miss the mark." It can be modified (inflected) via expressions and speed to mean: "totally off base"
It also can be used to mean, "change of subject." Bill

*So, you want to teach ASL?

In a message dated 6/7/2004 12:27:32 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

  My name is Jenna and Im from Greenville, New York.  It's about 30 minutes
south of Albany.  I came across your e-mail address in the ASL University
website.  I am, and have been from a young age, interested in a career using
ASL.  I don't, however know exactly how to get on the right track.  In my
ideal career I would like to work with Deaf children and teach them how to
use sign language to communicate to the world.  I am also interested in
teaching in an academic setting.  I was just wondering if you had any
suggestions as to where I can go to get information on these topics. Thank
you for your time.


Hi Jenna, I sell a 62-page report that would answer quite a few of your questions.  If you purchase the report and have more questions, feel free to ask and I'll add my answers to the report:   Two places that I recommend you go to investigate careers in teaching deaf children and/or teaching ASL in an academic setting are:
The Council of the American Instructors of the Deaf at and The American Sign Language Teachers Association at   Happy reading, Dr. Vicars

*Dealing with the high cost of hearing aids

In a message dated 6/7/2004 1:08:43 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Ancientarts33 writes:

Dr Vicars,
Thanks for the great online newsletters, I enjoy them very much.
I was hoping you might be able to provide some info/insite for me.
My wife has had several surgeries on her ears when she was younger but the degenerative nature of her hearing is such that she is now HOH. She has been recommended a pair of hearing aids (miracle ear) for around $900-$1000 from the hearing center. Our insurance does not cover hearing aids, and she is not a candidate for an operation (Which they would have covered). Do you know of any grants or programs that might help us to afford these hearing aids? Are Miracle ear hearing aids a reputable company? or are there better aids that might be less money? I want to get her good quality but I don't know enough to know if I am getting a good deal. What are you thoughts? Thanks so much,
Jack Salesses

Hi Jack, First of all you might consider contacting your state's division of vocational rehabilitation services.  The exact title of the agency may vary somewhat, but each state has an agency responsible for assisting individuals with disabilities to become employable, get a job, and stay employed.  This assistance can take the form of training, advice, medical help, and equipment.  Such being the case, your wife might qualify for hearing aids from the division of vocational rehabilitation services.   Since this will be your/her first hearing aid purchase, you might want to consider getting a "disposable" hearing aid to start with.  Before you laugh or write me off as a nut, visit -- and see what I'm talking about.  A disposable hearing aid costs about $50 and lasts approximately 400 hours.  That could be a way for her to see what features she likes and doesn't like in a hearing aid.   Next I suggest you visit to see what they charge on hearing aids comparable to the ones recommended by your hearing center.  You can make payment if you like.  I had a pair of "miracle ear" hearing aids once.  I didn't like them.  I've been very happy with my Phonak brand aids though. Your wife's needs and my needs are different though. I don't care if people see me wearing an aid or not, but your wife may feel it is important to be as discrete as possible about her hearing loss--thus she may opt for an "in the canal" style rather than a behind the ear style. Best of luck, Dr. Vicars (Bill of     

*Should this student go for her doctorate in Psychology?

In a message dated 6/29/2004 1:59:32 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

Hi Dr. Vicars,

My name is Judy Foddrill, I’m in Lyes ASL II class this current summer session. 

I am a Psychology major, graduating this fall.  My plan is to go to grad school, either Masters or PsyD (Masters takes less time – I’m 49 this year, PsyD enables one to do psych testing), then work primarily with children and adolescents, including people who are Deaf.   I anticipate going to ARC.  Here are my questions:

-         Should I have a Sign Certificate or Interpreter Certificate?

-         Do you have an opinion on one versus the other degree – Masters or PsyD?  I plan to start my own practice, definitely want to be able to work with people who are Deaf, want to be able to sign with them w/o a third party, and now that I’m rambling not sure what the degree type might have to do with that, but perhaps you have an opinion…

Thanks much,


Judy, I have never regretted for a moment the sacrifices I made to earn my doctorate. When I was younger I made the mistake of going for a second-rate degree from a non-accredited school.  Then, after several years of feeling silly and defensive I decided to go back to school again and earn an accredited masters and and accredited doctorate from a respected university. Earning a terminal degree in my field has brought me a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-respect. If I were you I would definitely go for the PsyD. I do suggest you pick up the ASL certificate (four classes). Afterward you can look at your options and go from there. Take whatever ASL classes and attend whatever deaf events are convenient for you as you pursue your main goal of getting the advanced degree. -Dr. Vicars



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