A journal for students and teachers of
American Sign Language.

spacer.gif (42 bytes) spacer.gif (42 bytes) Volume 1, Issue 34  

 May, 2006   

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Hello ASL Heroes!

In a message dated 1/17/2006 7:01:54 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, an ASL Teacher writes:
...A problem I'm having with my level 2 students this year: The teacher last year taught them many signs that are wrong and a few ways that I simply won't accept. Now they're all up-in-arms because I require them to earn their grades when last year's teacher simply gave everybody 100%. (Mind you, now they aren't where they should be. A few of the students are sort of figuring it out. I'll hear things such as "Mrs. _____., last year I got an A+, but I don't really know anything." But for the most part, I simply get "Why can't you just do it the same as last year?" My response to that is that I'm not last year's teacher and I'm trying to get them to where they can have competent signed conversations with Deaf adults. They don't even know that some signs have more than one meaning (ie., SUNDAY, WONDERFUL, GREAT...) or that some words have more than one sign (ie., WHAT or RIGHT). Then when I try to teach them these concepts, it doesn't sink in because it's not what they were taught last year.
But, I'm still plugging away...semester finals are coming up at the end of the month. :-) Thanks so much for "listening" I appreciate the chance to speak to someone who knows.
Have a good week!
(name on file)

Hello (name on file),
I hope things are going well for you.  Sorry for the delay in responding.  Hundreds of emails in my "in box."
I find that using email helps me to educate my students beyond what we go over in class.
If I were in your shoes, I'd develop a set of emails that I sent out in spaced intervals each semester.
The emails would include information such as you mention:
*  Certain signs can have several different meanings. (Provide examples).
*  Various English words might be signed different ways depending on their meaning in different sentences. (Provide Examples).
*  Level 2 is a higher level course than Level 1 and has higher standards for achievement.
*  There is much variation in the individual signing styles of members of the Deaf community. If I show you something different from your previous teacher, congratulations, you now know two ways to "express" that concept.
You are in my class though for this semester. I strive to show you the variations that I see done most often in the local Deaf community.  I'll try to be flexible regarding variations, but since I'm the one assigning grades this semester, do it my way.
If you are having problems regarding the students having learned "inaccurate signs" that leads me to wonder what sort of curriculum is being used at your school?  It is easy enough to flip open an ASL dictionary and point out generally accepted versions of signs.  Your textbook should defend you from students claiming "that isn't the way we were taught to sign _____(such and such a sign in such and such a way)."   Students should be taught to sign the signs in the textbook or DVD.  If the signs in your textbook or DVD are not good enough, then you need to get a new curriculum.  Sure, regional (local) variations exist for many signs.  If you insist on using the local variation instead of the one in the student's text book then you as a teacher should type up a "differences" sheet including the gloss of the sign, a clear description of the local version, and the page number of the sign that you are replacing.  If I'm a student in an ASL class I want something concrete with which to defend myself from the whims of an inept teacher.  If the book shows one thing and the teacher shows something else, I want it documented on paper (or online) and an explanation why. That way I have something reliable from which to study instead of trying to rely on my memory of what I was shown in class that day.  That way I can go through the book (on my own) and cross out whatever signs Mrs. K doesn't like and write in descriptions of how she wants them done.  Which is a pain mind you, but also means if I get into the level 3 class and do Mrs. K's sign and Mr. B marks me off for it I can show the sheet of paper (given to me by Mrs. K and listing Mrs. K's variations) to him and tell him to give me credit because that is the way I was taught.  If he doesn't give me credit I can then go to the administration with a valid complaint that the teachers are conflicting each other and that the program is in need of improvement.


I like your suggestions about the emails and the differences page. We use "A Basic Course in American Sign Language" as our base text. I like this because this is the text that I used in college and I know it well. Last year, they had the same text, but the instructor was very different than I am. She used (what the students say) the "hip, cool, new sign language." I've expressed more than once that ASL hasn't changed that much that fast, languages don't. But many of them are still so infatuated with last year's teacher that I simply look like an ogre who wants to change everything they learned last year. Also, I've expressed to my students that the pictures they are looking at are in a 2D book for a 3D language. I go over the book, I use your online dictionary as examples, as well as other resources. They're just stuck on what they know and can't seem to get past the multiple meaning words and multiple signs for different meanings. I am working on putting up examples in the classroom. Unfortunately, my Year 2's only want me to do things the way they did it last year nothing else. Unfortunately for them, that's not me.
(name on file)

Dear name on file,
The trick is to find fun, entertaining, teaching methods that work for you.
Here are some brainstorming ideas:
1.  Play more games in class.  Model them after the daytime game shows of the 70's or even some today's (weird) game shows ("Fear Factor" anyone?).
2.  Have a "joke a day" pertaining to deafness.
3.  Make sure you know the names of every student in class.  Use Gallaudet true type font to print their names in fingerspelling.
4.  Do lots of fun surprises in class. 
5.  Use randomized, spaced rewards (the way they train dolphins to jump out of the water).
6.  Have a party!  Have lots of parties! 
7.  Ask nearby restaurants to supply you with coupons to reward students for participation.
8.  Invite a young, hip, deaf person to come visit your class and do an interview.
9.  Sign cool songs, or snippets of songs.
10.  Put on a mini-ASL play
11.  Put on an ASL concert/talent night where students perform the songs they learned for your class.
12.  Survey them.  Give them a "communication form" and indicate that they are always welcome to share any "comments, questions, or suggestions." Students like to feel "listened to."

I realize not all ideas work for everyone, but the point is to keep coming up with fresh ideas and discarding ones that don't work. 
Above all:  personally have a good time teaching.  I find that when I'm up, it rubs off on my students.

In a message dated 2/21/2006 1:43:14 PM Pacific Standard Time, an ASL teacher writes:

I am currently reading a book that keeps referring to the codemixing of ASL and English that we often use as Pidgin Signed English (PSE).  I know that when I first started learning ASL 10 years ago this is how it was referred to, but I know that in the last 5 years I have been taught (and been using) the term Contact Sign.  So my question is, which is correct, and why the change?

The newer term is indeed "contact signing."
I personally do not have a problem with the term "PSE." You will meet people who have read certain ASL linguistics texts that promote the term "contact signing" and discourage the term "PSE."  These people will then proceed to tell you that the term PSE is inaccurate and that the "right" term is "contact signing."
One of the reasons they might give you for this is that the characteristics of various other pidgin languages and the circumstances from which they arise are somewhat different from the characteristics of contact signing.
That being said, I could very, very easily make an argument for PSE by simply googling the phrase "pidgin languages" and doing a mini literature-review on the term wherein lo and behold you will note that a great deal of existing and emerging literature describes the characteristics of  pidgin languages to be very, similar to the characteristics of "contact signing."
For example, the first hit on google came up with this gem from the University of Pennsylvania:
<<Pidgin language (origin in Engl. word `business'?) is nobody's native language; may arise when two speakers of different languages with no common language try to have a makeshift conversation. Lexicon usually comes from one language, structure often from the other. Because of colonialism, slavery etc. the prestige of Pidgin languages is very low.>> (Source:, retrieved 02/20/06)
So, you can see that making a case for the term "PSE" is relatively straightforward.
Except for one thing.  "Consensus."  When enough people start using a new term--eventually that becomes the "standard term."  At the point which something becomes "standard" it takes on an air of "correctness."  But it is only correct because a bunch of people say it is. A few years later it may very well be considered incorrect.

In a message dated 1/18/2006 12:31:15 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, an ASL teacher writes:
Hi Bill...
This is how it started out here in Michigan on my first day of the new semester.   It quickly deteriorated to freezing rain and ending with college  being canceled after only one class.  (Actually there were only 6 out of 11 who showed up anyway... we are rural and with 5 area schools closed, my guess is many stayed home with kids.
Any way... I want to introduce my students to the wonder of Dr. Vicars and his Web pages.  I have browsed your versions of some of the more common signs and find them more in tune to the way we sign here in Michigan. 
 There is another site that is gaining much acclaim from the Mich. State University called "The Communicator"... know it?   I clicked on the "A" words and disagreed with almost all of the first 10....  I don't want to send my students there.  That program is also included in the store bought CD on Sign Link.   I LOVE the main CD from Sign Link, but this vocabulary one from MSU... yuk!
I have ASL 1, 2, and Finger Spelling this semester with  ASL 1: one deaf not knowing any sign, ASL 2: Deaf not knowing any grammar rules, and FS: 12 year old left over from my last ASL 1 class....  PLEASE say a prayer for me.  Ha
Signingly Yours,

Hey B_____
Well, I hope your semester is going better than it started (freezing rain).  It is sunny and nice here in California.  (Finally! -- after months of clouds and rain). 
Thanks for the feedback regarding the signs on my website.  I keep tweaking them and rearranging the variations...always seeking to put the more popular ones at the top of the page and the lesser used variations lower down.  I just spent a couple hundred dollars on a new video card (for my computer) and software.  I've been working hard to put more video clips at the site. The new software will hopefully help me condense the video files so that the whole site will still fit on a CD.  Eventually it will only fit on a DVD, heh.

It is sort of wild.  This semester I am requiring my students to pre-study the vocab from the website and then at the beginning of class I give them a receptive test on signs that they learned ON THEIR OWN from the website without my having shown them in class yet.
The vast majority of the students are getting 19 or 20 out of 20!
Then instead of using class time to show them the signs (that they learned on their own) I immediately put them to work USING the signs to communicate with each other using the practice sheets to ask one another questions.  (Oh, that, and games, heh).
This is the first time I've tried testing in-person students on material that was presented via the web and I'm really getting excited at the results.
Check out the two emails below for a bit more on this topic.
Take care.

"William G. Vicars" <> wrote:
Hello ASL Heroes!

This morning at the breakfast I noticed a student commenting to my wife that she preferred less typing and more “having to figure it out” on her own.
My wife (who also teaches at CSUS) discussed the pros and cons use of typed English in the ASL classroom.
The pros are that it expedites administrative procedures, clarifies tricky signs, and eliminates the guesswork.
The con is that “it eliminates the guess work.”
Huh? How can “eliminating the guesswork” be both good and bad?
Guessing and “figuring out” are extremely important skills for negotiating (surviving) a second language environment.
On the other hand, taken to an extreme, requiring students to guess too much leads to frustration, giving up, or memorization of inaccurate signs. For example, the student indicated that her first teacher had taught her the sign for “WHY” as using an index finger handshape (near the cheek) instead of a modified flat hand that starts at the forehead and changes into a “Y” handshape. Later I asked the teacher to show me his sign for “why” and the teacher showed me the modified flat hand that changes into a “Y” handshape form of the sign (the same version that I teach). Which indicates to me that the issue isn’t that the teacher
didn’t know the right sign, but that during the “guesswork” process the student came to a mistaken conclusion regarding the meaning of a sign.
It is important to point out that this student is bright and dedicated, thus I don’t think it is the student’s fault either. Rather I feel the error resulted from an ambiguous (not clear) language environment.
What you end up with is a trade off.
Bilingual-Bicultural classrooms reduce frustration and expedite learning.
Immersion classrooms are challenging and produce students who are adept (good) at surviving in the target environment.
Bilingual-classrooms allow certain individuals who otherwise would fail to succeed.
Immersion classrooms tend to experience higher attrition (drop out) rates.
It seems to me that the “best” learning environment for one person is not the best for everybody. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for the person sitting next to him.
I’ve been doing this for a lot of years now and am still in love with the process and care deeply about the success of each and every one of my students. Thus I’m continuously looking for innovations and ways to improve the learning environment for all.
As always, your comments, suggestions, or questions regarding the “second language learning process” are welcome and encouraged.
Dr. Bill
In a message dated 2/11/2006 6:59:41 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, Sunday@ writes:
Dr. Bill
I love your class, and I wouldn't change a thing about it.  It is absolutely wonderful, and as my first class of the day, a great way to start my day.  As for the only signing vs. the writing as well, I prefer the method you use.  Last semester, my teacher hardly ever wrote anything, and most of the students guessed, and they were guessing wrong.  as a result, some students are learning signs wrong.  I like what you're doing, and I think everyone else does too.
Sunday G_____
In a message dated 2/11/2006 8:24:40 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, J______ writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,
    In response to this email, I, personally, find that the typing while/during/after signing is quite helpful and useful because it not only takes the guesswork out of things, but I feel that it also makes the class go smoother and quicker when you don't have to stand up there repeating what you have signed over and over again just so the class can get the general feel for what it is that you are trying to convey.  Especially when what you are trying to say involves signs that we haven't gone over yet, and aren't necessarily in the syllabus, but are useful and interesting signs to get to know.  But i can definitely see why "eliminating guesswork" is a pro, and a con.  But I don't know if it is so much that I prefer the typing, but like i said it is very useful, and also keeps people from turning to the person next to them and whispering "what did he say?" or "what did that sign mean?"  And that prevents students from breaking your rules.  So for me, its a win win situation!  I just thought that I would let you know my input on the matter so that you might be able to tell what the students in your classes prefer.  By the way I am in your 10 o'clock class mon/wed/fri, in case you were wondering.  Well that's all for now and I guess I will see you in class on Monday!
-Jamie S_______

In a message dated 1/22/2006 12:47:24 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, an ASL teacher writes:
Hello Dr. Vicars,
...I am writing to you at present for advice and or suggestions on something ... if I may..?
I am curious to know what kind of resources exist or what and who I would need to communicate with to produce and create a series of DVDs featuring ASL songs (various genres) as well as theatrical productions done in ASL.
Any ideas??
I appreciate your time and patience.
Raymont L. Anderson,
D.D. Candidate, MFA, BA, AS, AS, ASLTA-Provisional Certification


I'm down to 96 emails in my box, heh.  Okay, here we go...
In case you are still looking for advice regarding producing DVDs:
Perhaps the easiest and best approach would be to hire a professional to help you create the first few DVDs.
In the phone book (or on the net) you can find experts and studios listed somewhere under or near the heading of "video."  There are quite a few cinematographers (videographers) out there who do weddings and graduations who would be capable of helping you create an ASL DVD on a reasonable budget.  After they create the master for you, you could burn your own copies or hire a DVD duplication outfit to make copies for you and print cool labels for them.
You "could" try to make your own DVD's and do all the work yourself.  That is what I do.  Currently I only make CDs.  Admittedly the video quality is "home made." I'm getting better all the time...but still, I have a ways to go before I'll be satisfied.  Much of the issue is equipment.  Actually the whole issue is equipment.  I'm just using a consumer level camcorder and have no special lighting equipment.  So I end up doing the recording in my sunroom at the back of the house, (at certain times during the day the sun is an incredibly good source of light for video work).
I recently bought a Pinnacle Studio 10 to do my editing and capture work.  After installing the card and loading the software I was very disappointed and took it back to the store.  Instead I purchased Vegas Video (Sony) and a capture card by TurtleBeach.  I haven't tried out the Vegas Video software yet, but the user groups all claim it is very solid and gets the job done.
The new capture card is "okay" but honestly I think I preferred my old card from a company called "Matrox."  Soon I will order one of Matrox's "prosumer" level cards (half way between professional level and consumer level) that cost about 10 times what the typical home-user cards on the computer store shelves cost.  (Shhhh, don't tell my wife.) It is a chunk of money, but I was very impressed with the low end version of their card that I feel comfortable going for one of Matrox's nicer cards.
Chances are you are hooked up or have some connections at a college somewhere.  Often colleges have awesome resources available to faculty and students who want to do video work. It is certainly worth asking around at your college.  Many colleges now have distance education centers that do broadcasting and web conferencing.  These centers have nice wall backgrounds or green / blue screens specially designed for video.  You might simply ask to use such a studio during unscheduled time.
One last suggestion would be to order a set of DVDs from the net that are similar to what you are interested in creating.  Then look and see what company did the video work for that set of DVDs.  Then contact that company and ask their prices or if they might be interested in working with you on a video project.
Good luck.
Dr. Bill

The following has been printed with permission from the author, (name on file).

I had a  very interesting experience this last weekend.  One of the Deaf kids I work with is in foster care here in Edmonton. Her biological mother passed away this last week.
The Social Worker was going to send her to the funeral in the neighboring Province (Saskatewan) with her biological father and two younger sisters (who do not sign).  He  thought this 11 year old girl would be fine writing to communicate with her family and did not think it important to send an interpreter (not that the small Native Reservation she was going to would have services for her).  SO...I fought that, and was sent with her, as an interpreter and emotional  support.

Talk about interesting.  She is an Aboriginal child, and the funeral and wake were a mix of Native and Christian cultures...I  learned a lot.  And the family was so excited to finally be able to  communicate with her that they were asking tons of was a  great experience for her I think, in spite of losing her mother. As we all interacted, it dawned on me that usually when
adults outside of school talk to her, it is to give her direction, or to
inform her of something.  Because she is in a hearing foster home, she has very little social interaction in the world. So small talk was an interesting concept for her.  When her sisters would ask me to tell her something, she would look at me funny and say "why are you telling me that?"

Using an interpreter is also a learned skill.  It takes a while for a
child who is rarely spoken to to know to watch someone for cues.  Now I know to spend more time on helping her recognize social cues and communication.

It was very informative for all of us. I learn more and more every day about what I need to help these kids.  By keeping my mind and eyes open, I am able to provide a connection the hearing world that is inclusive and supportive rather than pejorative.  And it certainly keeps life interesting!

-- (name on file)

In a message dated 2/14/2006 1:12:28 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, a hard of hearing individual writes:
Hello Dr. Vicars,
I'm hard of hearing, like yourself, but have been totally involved with the hearing world without any friends with hearing problems.  I like to keep up my ASL because it sort of helps me to feel that I have some kind of connection to "my own kind of people" .... if you know what I mean.  On the rare occasion that I do run into someone who knows sign language, I derive a total pleasure in communicating with them, even though I'm really a beginner in reading it.
I have so enjoyed your website as a big help with learning ASL. I am very grateful to you for making it available to the world. 
In the website, there is one little "but", though. I believe there is a mistake with the first question of quiz 25 in the practice quizzes -- I think the correct answer is "write" but it keeps coming up as a mistake... I've gone over it carefully and several times, and I am PRETTY sure it is supposed to be "write", right?
Thanks again for your great website!
That is correct.
There was an error in the code.
Thanks for pointing it out.
I changed the code from:  <input type='hidden' name = 'key' value ='     '>
to:  <input type='hidden' name = 'key' value ='write'>
It should work fine now.

In a message dated 2/14/2006 9:49:17 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, a student writes:

I am in your 8:00 class and I have not been doing as well as I should on the quizzes, do you offer extra credit?

--Name on file

Hi ________,

I generally don't offer extra credit.  I have a policy of requiring students to know sign language in order to get a good grade in my class.

It is still early in the semester.  So far I've only awarded 8% of the total possible points in the class.  Even if you got zero on every quiz so far, you could (theoretically) still get 92% which is an "A minus."


*  Read the syllabus.  Reading the syllabus will help you know how to get the most available points.

*  Come to class every day, not just "quiz" days. 

*  Engage mentally during the practices.  Don't wait for me to flash the answer on the screen. Try to figure out the sign before I show you. 

*  When other students are signing or fingerspelling in them.  Try to figure out what they are saying.  It amazes me how some students only pay attention if I'm talking directly to them.  ALL signed communication in the classroom provides an important opportunity to improve your recognition skills.

*  Study ALL of the previous vocabulary prior to taking any quizzes.  The quizzes are cumulative and will continue to become more and more challenging since each new quiz incorporates previous lessons as well as the current lesson. Plus I’ll be incorporating sentences.  If you know the sentences well it will help you recall them on the quizzes.

*  Study at night just before bed. That way your subconscious will imprint it better.  Also, print off a list of the vocabulary (or sentences) and carry it with you to review throughout the day. If you can't easily recall a sign, make a note to look it up on the website.

*  Come to the breakfasts on Saturday morning if you are able.  Feel free to ask me as many questions as you'd like at the breakfasts. (And during class).


Dr. Vicars

In a message dated 2/14/2006 9:12:10 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, a student writes:

Dr. Bill,
This is in response to the e-mail a couple of days ago regarding English in the ASL classroom. I have been thinking about the implications of your discussion.  Here are some of my thoughts:
At first I didn't know if the laptop would be an everyday aid in the classroom.  I thought it might be an "early semester interpreter" and be gone once you thought we could get more immersed.  However, throughout the time spent thus far I have found it to be a very useful tool. 
I have passion to learn ASL and so I think it is wrong if some people try to use the English explanations (either when you type them or the PowerPoint) as a crutch for their lack of motivation.  Do some people simply stare at you blankly, say yes or no (hoping the answer is that simple) and then seem relieved when you show the English to the question they just answered? Sure, probably.  But that problem is no different from in an English class if a student doesn't read the book and tries to make up an answer to an essay question.  Those types of students and problems are inevitable whether you use English or not. There will always be students who try to "skim by" and do the least amount of thinking and effort possible, that is unavoidable.
What I like about the laptop in the classroom is the humor and clarity.  To me, it is more of an ASL tool than just "answers" or "English."  It expands my learning, as I am able to learn more words and terms that are not on the vocab.  I get to constantly expand my own knowledge base.  Secondly, I love your sense of humor.  You are very funny in both ASL and English.  The way that you cross cultures and languages makes me feel more invested and connected to the class and the material.  I like learning new little tidbits that can help me associate different words with things I know or help show the differences between similar signs.  Perhaps this sense of pure enjoyment and clarity would not be as capable without the crossing of cultures. 
Of course, I do believe ASL classrooms should say 99% ASL.  Those that try to talk annoy/distract/upset not just the teacher but me as well (and lots of other students who are serious).  English should always be a supplement, like the way that you use it. 
All in all, I truly enjoy your teaching method.  It means a lot that you are so open to suggestions and that what students say matter so much to you that you ponder it.  My vote is keep up the good work!
Name on file
EDS 151-1 MWF 8am  

In a message dated 2/12/2006 10:47:11 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
We've looked, and searched, and clicked, and opened books.   But not
found a sign for a common thing... the telly... Television.  Can you help?
Dear Bryce,
The concept of TV is fingerspelled. 
Just show a T then a V.

Note: In the following message this speaker of French is simply indicating an interest in studying ASL and is asking me how to view my site in French.  I refer him to which is a site that provides online translations of blocks of text and of web pages.  While the translations are not perfect, they do succeed for the most part in allowing cross-language communication:

In a message dated 2/14/2006 12:55:34 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Bonjour DOCTEUR,
Votre temps est sans doute chargé, vu le tavail méticuleux que vous abattez pour le site web consacré à l'American Sign Language.
Je suis un sourd ivoirien, et je ne connais pas l'A.S.L.
Aussi c'est tout recement que j'ai découvert votre site web qui m'a encouragé à correspondre avec vous afin d'apprendre l'A.S.L.
Le problème est qu'en Côte d'ivoire, les sourds communique en A.S.L, mais le français est la langue officielle et votre site est tout en anglais.
Vous comprenez que la barrière linguistique pose donc problème pour une personne qui n'a pas la maîtrise de l'anglais.
Je vous écris donc pour savoir comment visiter votre site en français et par délà tisser un lien de correspondance avec vous.
Je vous quitte en ces lignes en vous relire prochainement.
Recevez Cher DOCTEUR, l'expression de ma plus vive réconnaissance.

15 BP 520 ABIDJAN 15

Bonjour Ouattara Yegueleworo,
Yous pouvez regarder mon site Web en allant à et dactylographiant "" dans la boîte "traduisent Page Web" juste aprés le "HTTP ://"
Dr. William Vicars

In a message dated 2/24/2006 4:34:17 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars,

I’m a hearing woman, originally from Seattle but living in the Tokyo area and taking ASL.  (Did that make sense?  It really almost shouldn’t.)  I’ve been taking classes for almost two years at the Japanese ASL Signer’s Society from native ASL instructors.  We use the Signing Naturally series as our course text.

I enjoy my classes very much and intend to continue with them when I ultimately return to the US.  What I find somewhat lacking in my courses in Japan is further information on Deaf Culture and Heritage (understandable, since my classmates are not English
users and so can't easily access the literature).  I have read For Hearing People Only and have a few more books on order, but I was hoping you wouldn’t mind posting a reading list typical of a college-level ASL course in the 100 and 200 series. 

I also wondered if you could give me a comparison between the Signing Naturally books and your own textbook. Are they very similar in format or completely different?  I know your own is more geared towards distance learning.  Would they compliment each

Thank you for your fantastic website.  I started out with it before I found J.A.S.S. and the foundation of signs you provided me with allowed my to visit their office and express to the Deaf Japanese staff my interest in taking their classes. 

Arigatou Gozaimasu!

-- Jessica Vinson
In my opinion, a "typical" introductory- level college ASL course should not have a "reading list."
Too many times in my own studies in college I would go to the college bookstore to purchase books for a class only to be confronted with the necessity to purchase several books for each class.
I feel that teachers should choose ONE book that works well and stick with it.  If that book doesn't cover what the teacher wants to teach, then the teacher should choose better book.  It is simply unfair to the students to require them to buy many books to pass your class.
That said, (heh) the list that I personally recommend is the one used by the California Subject Examination for Teachers for their ASL certification candidates, see:

Regarding my book "Sign Me Up!"  That book was simply a cool little book.  It was unique because it was derived from actual online chats from real students. 
I printed up 3,000 of them and they have sold out.

I am developing a new workbook based on the ASL U curriculum and will make it available for download soon.

You asked me to compare Vista's "Signing Naturally" vs my text. 
It don't think of either as simply a textbook but rather I see them both as methods or approaches.

The Vista curriculum is a complex piece of work.
So complex in fact that the authors have had to offer numerous workshops to teach instructors how to use the curriculum the way it was intended. 
I host an ASL breakfast attended by students of many other instructors.  Each semester I get the chance to see them pull out their binders and practice with other students.  It is very common to see them with pages of vocabulary lists copied from the teacher's curriculum manual.  This is because the student workbook is extremely confusing for most students and so their teachers resort to supplementing the student materials in ways that have been discouraged by the authors in their workshops.
Additionally, as part of their "immersion" approach, the authors refuse to include labels under many of the vocabulary graphics in the student workbooks.  While I can appreciate their efforts to prevent the students from assigning too narrow of a definition to certain ASL concepts, I think the solution is to provide more labels, not fewer.  This will help students make fewer mistakes while using the curriculum.
At the end of the semester, if you thumb through almost any Vista workbook and you will notice that the student has written in his or her own labels. You will also typically observe that many of the "self-written" labels are wrong.  For example they write "far" under a graphic showing the concept of "put up high."  Or they mistake "coffee" for "make." 
I could go on, but why?  So what if I could list 50 more inadequacies in the Vista method? Every curriculum has its issues. Certainly the ASLU ( has many, many areas for improvement. The fact is, Vista is available and it works for many thousands and thousands of students. I respect the authors' efforts and wish them well in their future development efforts.

Here are a few highlights regarding the ASL University method:
The ASL University curriculum at was scientifically developed using a combination of word frequency research and classroom experience.  "Concordance software" was used to develop the lesson plans based on which words are occur most frequently for everyday communication. 

The ASLU approach is bilingual-bicultural and is intended to function as a bridge from the students first language to his second language.
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 2/7/2006 7:59:20 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, Cair  writes:
I would love to eventually work with d/Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing students in school. question is "What is the difference in educating d/Deaf students verses hearing students?"  I know it is a very broad topic and I'm working on narrowing it down - such as techniques used and so forth.
Hearing students generally have a broader knowledge base due to greater passive acquisition of knowledge.  By that I mean since they are hearing, they often pick up knowledge by "overhearing it."  They will be riding in the car to school and will hear the news and thus pick up information about the world that they put no real effort into acquiring.
The expansion of knowledge in deaf children requires a much more effort and thus generally results in deaf children having a smaller knowledge base.
Teachers need to consider this difference in learners and in learning styles when designing study programs.

In a message dated 3/1/2006 1:01:06 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars,
...I'm an older (50 ish) Comm. College student, going back to learn a new trade or get back to work from my disability.  I haven't been to school for 20 years.  I'm taking ASL 102 and hope to go on to 103 and use ASL as my foreign language credit, to continue on to a University.  Plus it will come in handy when I reunite with my nephew (someday, hopefully), who was born profoundly deaf, and I myself am going hard-of-hearing.  Anyway, I'm having trouble with reading fingerspelling.  I've  I've never been a good speller, never been much of a reader.  Or is it old age and never using that side of my brain?  As an older student I know I have to do twice as many Math problems before it soaks in, and I have no problem understanding the different signs when one is talking story.  I do very well.  If I spell something, I'm a little slow (much slower then the high school students that have taken ASL in High School).  Why do they bunch us up together?  ASL 101 was OK.  I got a B+ or A- but now I'm in ASL 102 and I feel as though I'm lagging behind, and freezing up worse in my exams, when it comes to reading the fingerspelling part.  Is it just going to take longer sessions on your fingerspelling site?   Thank - You for being here!  
Yes, it just takes more practice on the site.  Eventually you'll get it down if you keep working at it.
You might ask the teacher if he teaches other sections and if you could sit in on BOTH sections.  Sometimes the extra exposure makes a big difference.
It could help you to study the lesson in advance or purchase the teacher's curriculum (if there is one, you can probably order it online) and read all of what it says.
Also, you might want to read the "reflections of an ASL student" page at my website.
Dr. Bill

Note: The following workshop is NOT for beginners. Participants should have completed 3 years of ASL training (six semesters or equivalent) prior to registering.  For more details or to register, visit:

ASL Safari '06: an Advanced ASL Immersion Workshop

A week-long American Sign Language training (no-voice) campout.
July 30 through August 5, 2006.
Includes 20 workshops covering a wide variety of advanced topics. Hiking, swimming, hot pool (from a natural hot spring), nature trails and other recreational activities available.
The training will be provided by a team of eight instructors. Two of the instructors are college ASL teachers, two of them have international training experience, one is a certified interpreter for the deaf. Seven of the instructors are Deaf or hard of hearing.
Four workshops will be presented each day Monday through Friday.
Each workshop will consist of an interactive training component and then a skills application and testing component wherein the student will demonstrate mastery of the language skills related to the topic.
The training component of each workshop will be approximately an hour-and-a-half for a minimum of 30 hours total instruction.
The cost per student is $495.00
Participants are provided training, food, and sleeping space in a tent. Participants need to bring their own sleeping gear and may bring their own tent. A limited number of trailer locations are available.
This workshop is under the direction of Dr. Bill Vicars, an ASLTA (American Sign Language Teachers Association) certified instructor who holds an earned doctorate in Deaf Education.
Workshop activities and site management are being provided by co-coordinators John and Delight Lydiate.
Registration limited, first come first served basis.
For more details or to register, visit:

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