ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library | Volume 1, Issue 23, June 2005 | William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor


Hello ASL Heroes!
Good to be with you again!  I hope you are enjoying your summer.  I know I sure am.  I just got back from a trip up to Utah where I visited with my extended family and a number of old friends, er, make that long-term friends, heh.
Take care and best wishes in your ASL endeavors!
Dr. Bill

In a message dated June 7, 5:47:35 PM Pacific Daylight Time, leah_____@  writes:

My name is Leah L_____ and I've recently been told that in my never-ending learning of ASL the one thing I didn't think about was the "bad words".  I'm a Christian and that wasn't something I thought I'd ever need to know.  But I was told that I would need to learn the bad words for two reasons: First so that I understand if and when someone ever says something not so nice to me, but more important so that I don't accidentally sign something or teach my kids a sign that's not quite right.

I've already had that happen. My kids were trying to let me know they were starving (they're 12 and 14, they're always "starving" :)  ) and did the hungry sign two or three times in a row.  I was told that actually they were signing horny. I know I turned all shades of red because I realized they've been doing this for a while at church and everywhere else in public you could think of.

My question in all this is, is there a book or video or something that I can get to teach me the dirty words in ASL? I've tried the internet and I keep running into articles. I've been looking for about 3 weeks now.   If you can PLEASE HELP! :) I never thought I'd be asking someone to teach me how to talk bad. :)

Thank you for any help you can give me!!!
Thanks for your time,
Leah L_____

I understand completely and I applaud you for going the extra-mile in your ASL studies.
For those who need to learn these types of signs I've developed a Sex & Swear Signs CD.
It is a work in progress, but I think you will find it useful for your purposes.
Dr. Bill

[Note: This CD does NOT contain nudity. It does NOT contain pornography. But it contains examples and discussion of American Sign Language signs for sex and swear concepts. This information was designed for interpreters, counselors, midwives, and others who may need to know these signs for professional reasons. You must be 18 or older to purchase this CD.]
If you'd like to order the  CD click the button below or visit:

[Note:  Dear ASL Heroes,
I had to pull this particular product from the shelves!!! I no longer sell it.  It was a weirdo magnet.  One fellow in particular kept emailing me again and again insisting that I teach him more and more sex-related signs.  People think that they are anonymous when operating through email and it emboldens them to behave in ways that they would not do if their identity were known. His requests became insistent and eventually he indicated that he planned to keep "bothering me" until I supplied him with the signs he was seeking.  At which point I decided I needed to help this individual realize his shield of anonymity was non-existent. It took only a few net searches and a bit of investigative work for me to develop an extensive profile on this person.  Via the net I was even able to determine the current address of his parents.  Then I responded to one of this individual's somewhat threatening emails that if he felt it was so important to learn such signs that perhaps we ought to ask his parents for help in the matter.  (Whereupon I named his parents and mentioned their address.)
As soon as this fellow realized he was no longer anonymous and that his behavior could very easily become a source of embarrassment he stopped emailing me--to my great relief.
--Dr. Bill]

In a message dated 5/1/2005 12:29:09 PM Pacific Daylight Time, asl.tutor@ writes:

<<I want to know how ASL teachers can inspire extremely shy students to be confident when standing up to demonstrate ASL stories/etc.>>

Dear ASL Tutor,
The thing to understand here is how to deal with "exposure to public scrutiny."
For our discussion we will say that "exposure to public scrutiny" is the process of being subjected to observation, examination, study, or evaluation by a group.
This is a nerve wracking experience for most people due to the fact that if they mess up, many people will become instantly aware of it. The person being watched knows that he is more likely to mess up because he is nervous about messing up. The more nervous he becomes, the more sure he will mess up and thus the cycle continues until it becomes paralyzing.

You've stated that your goal is to get a shy student to be able to confidently stand up and sign a story (or perform some other task) in front of a group.

Here are my thoughts on how to do that:

Start by having the student practice the task in the safest environment possible and then work your way up.

The safest environment is likely to be their home, behind closed doors where nobody will see them.
To help make this possible, provide study materials that are clear and self-explanatory so that shy students can practice at home on their own.
Assign topics ahead of time. Give plenty of notice. Remind the student numerous times that eventually he or she will be using this information in class.
Review the material just prior to asking the class to practice it.
Next, have the whole class, at the same time, practice the task. They should all be facing forward and focused on their own progress not that of their neighbor). They should be sitting down and be given plenty of time.
Next, ask for volunteers to do the task in front of the group.
Next, assign everyone to work in pairs. Put a kind, patient, friendly student with the shy student.
Switch partners frequently so no one is stuck with someone they don't like for very long.
Next have them work in threesomes. Then as a group of five. Note: If you put them in foursomes watch to make sure they don't break into two pairs.
You don't have to do this all on the same day. It is good to spread it out and let the shy student get used to working in small groups.
Insist that they all learn each other's names.
Next, have a few members from each group move to a new group. Using tokens of some kind is helpful for this. For example you could hand out poker-chips blue, red, yellow, and white. Then you can sign, "ALL BLUE STAND-UP" "ALL WHITE STAND-UP" BLUE, WHITE, SWITCH."
Next have all the students sit in one big circle and play a game where everyone is watching everyone else, but only momentarily. Make sure students know that if they get stuck they can ask you for help. Or assign them to partnerships so that as you go around the circle, if one of them doesn't know the answer he can ask his partner.
Next, have five students come to the front and sit in chairs. They are all sitting down, facing the "audience." You can call them student 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. (This makes it a bit more anonymous.) Ask each of the five students some sort of question and have them respond. You might want to show them the sign for "pass" and let them know they can "pass" if they would like.
On another day you have them do this same activity but standing up.
Later you call up three people. Then individuals.

What I'm explaining here is simply that you can use a progressive approach to getting your students up in front of class.

In all my years of teaching (over seventeen years with around 10,000 in-person students) I have simply never had any problem regarding "shy" students in class.  By the second day of class I am usually directing individuals to the front and interacting with them.  I read my student's body language and begin with those students who are obviously fearless or actors. As class goes on, the shy students realize they will eventually have to come to the front. They prepare themselves for it and it ends up being a relief for them when it finally happens. I have had maybe three students specifically ask to be excused from "front of class" participation.  These I dealt with in ways that did not draw attention to them yet allowed them to participate from their seat.
Here are a few more pointers:
Avoid embarrassing a student in front of his or her peers.  NEVER put down or "pick on" any student.
Focus on helping him to have a successful communication experience.
If he is not understanding you, gradually bring the communication down to his level. Ask him something he can respond to. Let him succeed and then send him back to his seat and call up the next student.
Communicate to your students that you appreciate their participation and that you recognize standing up in front of class is easier for some than others. Emphasize that it is good for them and that you don't expect perfection but that this is a language class and that as such, we will be communicating to each other and to groups.

This next email concerns the question:  "How should sign language be represented in a novel?"
In a message dated 5/21/2005 9:25:15 PM Pacific Daylight Time, seigfried007@ writes:
     How does one write sign in a novel? I'm a writer and I'm not Deaf. I have no training in ASL, but the novel I'm working on right now has quite a number of people who have to use ASL or other kinds of sign (like when it might give away their position to speak verbally). I don't think I should use quotation marks because they're sort of reserved for verbal speech. 
     Right now, I'm using [I HAPPY.] and [YOU WANT MEET MY MOM?]. Is that perfectly understandable if that's the closest I can come to it (not like there's a sign keyboard with hands on it;)? Or would the Deaf community rather I say [Would you like to meet my mother?] instead? Given the stance I often find on your site, I would suppose not. Sounds kinda lazy not to translate, but I don't want to feel like I'm dehumanizing people either (as if ASL were inferior for not being correct English- believe it or not, I've met people like that).
     I don't know how much fiction there is with Deaf people in mind, but I thought the story might bring to light Deaf people in general. Unless us hearies meet them, we don't think about them twice. I'm also trying not to portray the three Deaf characters as 'disabled' (I hate that term- sounds like broken machinery to me). All three of them were born deaf. There's also a mute in the story (he was made that way later because of an injury) who signs. Sort of a romance between him and a Deaf woman, and between their Deaf son and a Deaf woman (who is also a paraplegic) he rescues. I hadn't originally planned to have a bunch of Deaf people in the story- they just sort of wrote themselves into it and left me to figure everything out. LOL. I don't really want to change them to hearing so that the story would be easier to write (and feasibly less 'controversial' for depicting these people as energetic and perfectly happy in their state- I don't know many hearies who can sympathize with the idea of deafness as anything but a lack).
     Either way, if you have any pointers or questions whatsoever, please feel free to share them with me. If you want to pass this letter around to others- I would appreciate the extra feedback.
Rebecca Tester
In a message dated 5/21/2005 9:43:38 PM Pacific Daylight Time, BillVicars writes:
What a fascinating and provocative question!  "How should sign language be represented in a novel?"  The novel is being targeted to the general public.
I will pass your question around for comments from my colleagues and see what they have to say about this topic.
My initial thought is that the signing should be translated in to English, with appropriate attributions:
 "Good morning," she signed, "how are you?"
"Fine, and you?" he responded with his right hand while setting his coffee down with his left.
p.s. I shared your email with my colleague, Don Grushkin who also holds a doctoral degree and he agreed with me that it would be best to avoid "gloss" in this situation and simply translate the communication into English
In a message dated 5/21/2005 10:23:50 PM Pacific Daylight Time, BelindaGVicars (DEAF: with a bachelors in creative writing and currently pursuing a masters degree) writes:
Yes, unless the novel is experimental and about language.  But if it is about the characters -- I'd go with the above.  Though too much focus on the hands will detract the reader from story.  The word "said" is perfectly fine to use as well.  The reader already knows the characters are deaf so there would be no need to keep hammering it in.
The only beef I have about sign language in novels is that often signs are misrepresented.    I've read a few and it was clear that the author had no experience in communicating with deaf folks. 
Belinda Vicars
Note:  There are some deaf who have other opinions:
In a message dated 5/23/2005 9:04:37 AM Pacific Daylight Time, (DEAF) writes:
humm.. i think it would be fun to alternate ASL-verbatim (ME-HAPPY YOU?) and plain English (Sure, i'm happy too!) as you see fit to add an unique literary flavor to the story pacing or plot....

In a message dated 6/3/2005 1:56:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
William G. Vicars, Ed.D.
Lifeprint Institute
Dear Dr. Vicars,
I am presently here in the United States and might be staying here for six (6) months. I am from the Philippines and very much interested to take up on-line course on American Sign Language. I'm a B.S. Psychology graduate and still finishing my M. A. degree in Education with specialization in School Administration and Supervision. I have been an interpreter for the Deaf in the Philippines for 18 years now. I have served as interpreter of News; medical; and religious programs on Television and as classroom interpreter in college. 
SEE (Signing Exact English) is the sign system being used in most of the public and private schools in the Philippines under the supervision of the Department of Education.  I know of some ASL signs but not that confident enough in using it. That is the very reason why am I sending an e-mail of intent to you.
I would like to learn ASL and at the same time enhance my skills in interpreting. I have visited your website and very much impressed and interested to enroll. Hopefully, mid of this month or late this month I will be able to find sponsor that would make my dream come true of enrolling in an ASL class as well as receive a certificate of completion from you.
Thank you very much for the time.
Very truly yours,
Alfredo Celada, Jr.
It was interesting to read about what is happening with sign language in the Philippines.
Since you obviously know many signs, it seems to me that what you need to know now is the grammar component.
I will be teaching a distance education ASL Linguistics (accredited) college course via California State University, Sacramento this Fall, 2005. (EDS 196K: Sign Language Structure and Usage.)
To be placed on the registration interest list for that course and to receive information regarding pricing, contact Jennifer (Williams) Banister:
William Vicars, Ed.D.
Asst. Professor, American Sign Language
California State University, Sacramento
6000 J Street
Sacramento CA 95819-6079
Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and School Psychology
Office: Eureka 308

In a message dated 4/29/2005 2:49:15 PM Pacific Daylight Time, D_______ writes:
Hi Bill-
I have very good hearing and do catch them, although I sometimes start to feel like the "whisper cop," which really isn't what I want to be doing. I do admit that I am not as stitch as I would like to be about kicking the offenders out, however, it does fall under my participation points category for their grades, so that usually shuts them up- they want every point. 
My sense is that those who "have to" whisper are probably strong auditory learners and that is how they process information- just as I am a visual learner and do horribly when I just listen.  Have you come across research on this and learning ASL?
Finally I also emphasize how rude it is for their future deaf teachers- which most of them get.
Have a good weekend.
I love that concept:  Auditory learners / adaptive curricula.
When I was younger I underwent evaluation to find out which information processing method was best for me.  Unfortunately it turns out that I am an auditory learner. Bummer. (But that explains the extreme jump in my grades when I started using a hearing aid.)   Fortunately I am a "strong" learner across the I was able to do fine by reading the texts on my own while in school.
If it were up to me I'd dismiss the "no voice rule" and simply institute uniform testing for each ASL level. (Video based / or depending on resources--do a full ASL Proficiency Interview).
If a particular teacher's students did well on the department-wide standardized ASL test I wouldn't worry about HOW the teacher taught.  Results, not methods, is what we should focus on.  That and having fun while teaching.  We are going to die someday, we might as well enjoy life between now and then.

In a message dated 5/1/2005 4:10:44 PM Pacific Daylight Time, an ASL tutor writes:

"I'm an ASL tutor.  I provide one-on-one tutoring to ASL students.  I've had problems in the past when students interact with me socially... later on they don't take the teachings seriously. Suddenly they want to be my best friends and drop the formality of teacher/student roles.  How do you remain friendly with your students while keeping them on their toes with their studies in ASL?"

Response:  You might want to consider doing what lawyers do.  They bill their clients for every minute spent on the client.  This includes on the phone, in-person, doing background research, paper work, and leg work. 

When you first get a new client, explain to him the concept of billable time.  Explain your rates and how much you charge for what type of interaction.  Here are some examples (adjust the amount to what is worth your while).

Formal lessons: $15 an hour
Conversation practice: $12 an hour
Video Phone practice:  $12 an hour
Lunch Practice:  $5 an hour up to two hours  (Student provides transportation and pays for lunch including tip.)
Email responses:  $10 per 250 words (Hmmm, speaking of which, when you get done reading this email send me $10.92 via Paypal!)

It doesn't matter if they drop the formality of the role because the bill for your time will still show up in their mailbox. If they show up out of the blue and start chatting with you, track the time you spent chatting and charge them for it by sending them a bill.  To avoid hard feelings make sure this process is explained up front in your initial contract.

To make the process a bit more professional: get a clipboard and type up a "Sign In Sheet."

If a student shows up unannounced, hand him the clipboard and a pen so he can sign in.  That will immediately put the student on notice that he is being clocked.
You might even choose to select a dark blue smock (poncho) that you put on when you are "on the clock."  This could serve as an obvious signal that you are shifting into the role of a paid tutor.

In a message dated 4/20/2005 2:22:53 AM Pacific Daylight Time, Univackid writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars:
I am a big fan of your ASL University website. I don't know if you are interested...but I thought you might like to know some New Jersey regional signs. (You may know these already.)
TYPE (also KIND)
With the middle-finger of the "25" handshape, you tap the left upper chest, then tap the right upper chest.
This sign means kind as in "What kind of car do you drive?" or "What kind of food do you like?"...etc. 
Both hands in the "a" handshape rest on opposite sides of the upper chest and tap twice. Looks like holding the backpack straps 
Looks like the sign for a letter, but instead of using an "a" handshape dominant hand, you use the "e" handshape and it starts with the index knuckle at the lips, then the "e" moves in an outward arc.  
The second sign for email looks a lot like yours. Except we use the b hand not the index finger. Non-Dominant hand in "c" handshape. Dominant hand "bent b" handshape moves in-between space of "c" hand.
PASSOVER (Jewish holiday)
Non dominant hand near non-dominant shoulder, Then Dominant hand in "s" handshape taps the Non-Dominant elbow twice. This sign is also used as Matzah or cracker.
SODA (also POP)
Dominant hand in "Y" handshape. Thumb taps the chin. (little-finger should be eye-level not down)
Hey Paul,
Those are pretty cool!  Thanks for sharing them with me!

In a message dated 6/4/2005 2:49:22 AM Pacific Daylight Time, marianrochford@  writes:
I am a hearing individual working in my church to provide meaningful worship for our Deaf community. Part of my responsibility is to interpret the praise songs. In one particular song there is the phrase "mold me like the potter's clay" and I have no idea how to interpret it. Could you help  me?
Ask members of your local deaf community how they would sign that concept.
Local deaf should be your best resource.
"Mold me like a potter's clay" is a "simile."  A simile is the comparison of two things using the English words "like" or "as."  The "Potter's clay" simile works well in English because of "shared context."
To express that exact concept could easily be done by a skilled signer, but it would take too long to fit the flow of the vocal singing of song. In ASL the idea of a "potter molding clay" would either use fingerspelling (which doesn't work well for songs) or it would take quite a few signs and what we call, "instrument classifiers."  
A good approach to this is to ask yourself...what does the phrase "mold me like a potter's clay" really mean? Once you've decided on the concept, you might choose to sign "LEAD ME. INSPIRE ME, CHANGE ME," or some other combination of signs that express that meaning.
Dr. Bill



American Sign Language University William Vicars