An ezine for students and teachers of
American Sign Language.

spacer.gif (42 bytes) spacer.gif (42 bytes) Issue 38  

 Sept, 2006   

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Hello ASL Heroes! 

In a message dated 8/9/2006 2:37:59 PM Pacific Daylight Time, a job applicant writes:
I have an important interview coming up with a Deaf man whom I'll call "Dr. Smith." 
How should
I address Dr. Smith? 
Should I make the sign for 'doctor' ("M" on wrist) and fingerspell his last name? 
Is it ok for me to ask him what his name sign is and use it? 
Dear Job Applicant,
Do not sign "doctor" on the wrist...that is reserved for medical professionals only.
It is not rude to ask a person if they have a name sign.  Generally it is offered during the initial hellos.
Actually, how to address him is not an issue.
In general you never need to use his name.  Really. 
The only time you will use his name is when you talk to other people about him.  Then, if you desire you can spell D-R  S-M-I-T-H,  or use his name sign if you know it.

Recently a colleague asked me a question to the effect of, "How do deaf children address their instructors?" 
I forwarded this question to my friends Byron Cantrell and Sandra Thrapp.
"When you were a child attending a Deaf School, what did the students call the teachers?
Did they ever spell, M-R-S. S-M-I-T-H? Or did they just use only "name signs?"

Byron Cantrell responded:
I remember most of us used their namesigns. Many of the deaf students could not spell their names which were hard to remember their names. We used namesigns for all the staff. even all the students.
I am speaking of Georgia School for the Deaf I went through my school life.

Sandra Thrapp responded:
Years: 1965 - 1977:  Yes, we did use the namesigns by Miss Smith (not using first name)
during my old school days!  My school is still using last name by namesigns nowdays.
Years: 1980 - Present: When I worked at California School for the Deaf in Fremont. The students
were/are using the first namesigns (not last name or MR./Miss/Mrs.).

Did you ever spell M-I-S-S?

No, I did not spell.

In a message dated 8/11/2006 4:02:05 PM Pacific Daylight Time, REZABO1 writes:
Good evening Dr. Vicars,

My name is Bekah Pierce and I am a student at Fleming Island High School in Orange Park, Florida. I wanted to let you know that your website has helped me so much in my ASL class. I just have one quick question for you: Is it harder for people who have signed their whole life to learn to speak English than if they know how to lip read as well? That was a point that was brought up in my classroom and I was wondering if you would help me with the answer. My mailing address is 1644 Morningside Drive MIdlleburg, Florida 32068. Again my name is Bekah Pierce and I would really appreciate it if you would be able to answer that question or put me in contact with someone who would or maybe even a website. Thank You Very Much and enjoy your days!!!! Sincerely
Bekah Pierce

That is a complex question without a "pat" answer.
And depending on how you phrase the question you will get a different answer.
It is easier for a person with a strong cognitive foundation to learn to speak English than it is for a person without a strong cognitive foundation.
It is easier for a Deaf child to develop a strong cognitive foundation if he is signed to from birth than if he is limited only to spoken language and lipreading.
Of course, if a person has an existing skill it is easier to apply horizontal transfer of that skill to development of a similar new skill than it is to start from scratch. For example it is easier to learn how to surf if you've been skateboarding all your life.

I find using ASL without a partner to communicate with difficult. I find myself worrying that I will not remember everything unless I use it regularly. I hope this is normal...I feel I am trying to memorize rather than understanding the signs and why they are the way they are.

I review an ASL video and then get stumped sometimes and get frustrated and worried I might forget when using it in real life scenario, is this normal to feel this way when learning on your own?

Any suggestions to keeping the signs intact in my mind and be able to recognize ASL on the fly?

--ASL Student

Dear ASL Student,
Yes, all the things you mention are normal and typical.
Yes, you will lose it if you do not use it.
Suggestions for keeping it intact would be to make up stories that are PERSONALLY relevant to you about your family, favorite events, favorite memories. 
Instead of just practicing "numbers" instead practice important dates in your life, your personal id numbers, birth dates of people you care about, addresses of places you go frequently.
Also choose several songs that you love listening to and work toward attaching signs to the lyrics, then each time you hear  the song you can review the signs.  This may not help your "grammar" but it will certainly help you retain the "lexicon" (signing vocabulary).
Eventually, if you want to become fluent you are going to have to seek out others who sign. You can do this by attending Deaf Events in your area, or volunteering at Deaf Organizations.
Dr. Vicars of

In a message dated 7/18/2006 12:06:32 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, spreetster@ writes:

I have a question regarding name signs.  I am a hearing teacher of 7 hearing students who have significant developmental disabilities.  They are all nonverbal, and my main goal was to find a system of communication for them.  We tried PECS and communication boards all year with no results, and finally found success using signs.  Naturally, I'm excited about this and plan to expand the signing in the coming school year.  We are in a small, rural county with no Deaf community whatsoever...I don't know of anyone who signs.  Here's my question:  I know you can't assign yourself a name sign, nor can a hearing person assign a name sign, but in my situation, doing a limited number of simple signs with my students, can I?  I feel like the children need a way to refer to each other, and a way to express their own identity. 


Amanda B.

There is a very real danger of a fledgling signer handing out name signs of an embarrassing or offensive nature.  For example, you might have a student named Paul who always smells things.  You might think it is a good idea to sign the letter "P" on the nose to indicate Paul.  That would be very inappropriate since that particular sign happens to be one of the signs for the male genital organ.  That is one of the reasons why in the Deaf community we have that "rule" regarding getting your name-sign from a Deaf person.
While it is "best" to have a Deaf person (who is very familiar with ASL) assign name signs to you and your students, I would certainly support the creation of "temporary" name signs until you are able to have a Deaf person (or at least a highly skilled interpreter check them out). 
For now you may wish to tap the initial of their first names just below the non-dominant shoulder (generally the "upper left hand area of the chest") or the forearm which are relatively safe areas. And then at the first chance you get, ask a Deaf person to review your sign choices and either approve them or suggest new ones.  I'd much rather you make a temporary mistake than be paralyzed by fear.  By all means, proceed, and do what you can with what you have.


Thank you for a very insightful answer. I hadn't thought of that. I guess I should have, after reading the story of your wife's name sign! Just to let you know, the initials are L, D, S, T, K, M, and then there's another T. I'll do all under the shoulder, except one T will be on the left forearm. If any of those have another meaning, will you let me know? Thank you for your consideration!

The L hand on the upper left chest could be interpreted as LAZY if it is palm back.  If you make contact with the tip of the thumb (palm down) it wouldn't mean anything.
Some people "might" argue that using a "D" in that location could be interpreted as "detective," and an "M" means "mission or morals."  But "morality" tends to use a small rotational movement rather than a double tap, and "detective" is not a common enough sign to be an issue. So you could do them as name signs if you wanted.
Any of the letters you mentioned would be safe to sign on the side of the head above the ear or near the temple, (except perhaps the "M."  When you do an "M" up near the temple or forehead some people might interpret it as "mental" as in the first half of the outdated sign "mentally retarded."

In a message dated 8/15/2006 8:53:29 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, andrews_suttorp writes:

This past weekend I met the mother-in-law of my friend. She (the mother in law) is deaf. When I spoke to people, I signed so that she would know what I was talking about. That is the polite and proper thing to do, right?
When Hearing people and Deaf people get together, ideally, everybody would simply turn off their voices and use sign language. When you are in a "mixed" environment that requires communication with non-signing-Hearing and you are able to speak and sign at the same time then it is indeed appropriate to sign while speaking.
-- Marta

Dear Marta,
I recall interviewing for a position at Sacramento State University. I first met with Don Grushkin, the coordinator of the ASL program. Don is Deaf. We conversed in ASL for a while and then we went to a different room where rest of the hiring committee were sitting. With the exception of Don and his interpreter, nobody else in the room knew ASL. They started asking me questions about how I planned on teaching. I'm Hard of Hearing and I responded using simcom (simultaneously communicating with sign and voice). I explained that I would be following the local department policy of teaching without voice and that I was fine with that approach. Don then asked me why it was that I was choosing to voice and sign at the same time during the interview when obviously this impacts the quality of my ASL and the interview was for a position teaching ASL. I responded that he and I had already met one on one and conversed in ASL. He had personally observed my ASL skills already. My ability to use ASL was no longer in question since we had recently used ASL to converse for a substantial period of time. I was now meeting with a larger audience that included Hearing people who were judging things other than my skill in ASL. I then pointed out that I noticed he preferred to watch me directly rather than watch the interpreter standing to my side even though I was using simcom and she was interpreting in ASL.
It was simple logic. He could have been watching the interpreter instead of me but he wasn't. I knew that he was very skilled with English as well as ASL and thus my "sign supported speech" was very easy for him to follow.
Again, the best case scenario would be for everyone on the interview committee to be skilled in ASL and simply turn off their voices and sign.  But in this mixed environment simcom was appropriate.

In a message dated 8/18/2006 9:10:56 PM Pacific Daylight Time, tnslefler@ writes:
Hi, I'm Sherri Lefler. I'm a coda and one of my five children is deaf. I'm
an interpreter working on a project to better serve our deaf clients with
the Michigan Rehabilitation Department of Labor and Economics. Our program
offers certificates in several different trades. Most of which there or no
specific specialized signs for names of machinery and equipment that are
accepted as a standard. There are several interpreters that for years have
been stuck in the same trade area due to experience and familiarity with the
jargon and sign set-ups. Due to high demand and interest in keeping
interpreters flexible and able to cover each other I have begun to develop a
standardized vocabulary for these specialized trades to be used within our
school.  I have used your site as a reference many times to see how some of
the most standard signs compare to our region here in Michigan. I am curious
if you have signs for Latte and Cappuccino to go along with our Culinary
Arts department?
Thanks for you time.

Sherri Lefler
Sign Language Interpreter
(269) 492-____ mobile
(269) 343-____ tty/voice
I asked one of my friends who is a coffee connoisseur what she signs for those concepts.  Below is her reply.

In a message dated 8/18/2006 11:33:29 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Sandra writes:
There is no sign for Latte (most of my deaf friends fingerspell that

Cappuccino - we sign "coffee small strong"  (handshape "F" holding the
coffee mug handle)

In a message dated 8/19/2006 8:42:26 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
My younger niece has invented her own sign for tickle (at least, I think that's what she means when she tickles herself after I tickle her....) and I'm all for this, especially as there doesn't seem to be any common ASL for tickle.

But we've all heard the horror stories about people accidentally saying something dirty in another language, ... so I wanted to confirm with somebody else that this doesn't, in fact, have an established meaning.

She just wiggles her fingers (hands not crossed) right by her armpits on her chest.

Thanks for any help :)
Works for me.

In a message dated 7/27/2006 9:35:24 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, mustangmom8387@ writes:
My name is Cindy Brown , I am a paraprofessional in a partially self contained class at Alma High School in Arkansas. This will be my 2nd year. I have a deaf student who has down syndrome. I had difficulty all year being able to communicate with her. This summer I have been taking an informal sign language class to help me to be able to communicate with her better this fall. I would love to see her be able to advance as far as possible with her reading and her sign language. I want to be able to set up her some kind of spelling words, were I can test her with fingerspelling and being able to sign the words and able to spell them on paper. I was wondering if you have any kind of curriculum or any suggestions or  activities that I could use to incorporate this into her daily schedule. She is probaly on a 2nd to 3rd grade reading level. She learns quickly.
Thank you for your time
I'd suggest you visit for an online fingerspelling tool that can be slowed down to match whatever speed she is at.  Then set up a reward system for each time the "good job" symbol comes up you could give her one point toward some sort of reward.

Also you might want to download the Gallaudet Font so you can type and print fingerspelling on paper to use for various spelling activities.
--Dr. Bill

Both my parents are completely deaf and I am hearing. Growing up was pretty interesting as I was very immersed in the Deaf world yet tried to find my way in the hearing world. Now that I am an adult, I have tried to figure out where I fit in the working world and as luck would have it, I teach ASL as a foreign language at a local private school for hearing students. I think my mother always wanted me to pursue something related to ASL and I fought that idea for many years. Your website is a great reminder for me as to the beauty of the language and also how intricate it is. While I view it as being easy to learn, I also appreciate how hearing people with no experience with ASL struggle with issues such as dealing with some Deaf individuals who have grown bitter to hearing people.
-- Tracie Dowell
Creative Hands

In a message dated 8/25/2006 12:43:40 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Shirleen.Jones@ writes:
[I have a question regarding] "core" members [of the Deaf community] that i have come to know dismissing/resisting my efforts to learn more about the culture so that i CAN fully respect the differences [between Deaf and Hearing culture]. I have read several books regarding Deaf culture that have somewhat prepared me - I know that Deaf population views deafness not as disability, etc and i subscribe to that as well . we all have our own challenges in life - i.e. I am an anxious person and have always had to deal with that on some level - Some people have other physical issues - Some people had trauma - etc. Perhaps then I should not view Deafness as a "challenge" ? Would that in and of itself be offensive to the Deaf community do u think? But is being Deaf embedded in a Hearing world not a challenge on some level?

We Deaf people respond to our status in a variety of ways. Some of us see it as a challenge. Some are bitter. Some are fatalistic. Some see everyone in the world as having a disability and this happens to be ours. Some see it as a blessing or an advantage.
For most of us, being deaf in a hearing world is indeed a challenge.
If, however, you are using the word "challenge" as a euphemism (sugar coated version) for "disability" then you will find that some Deaf people will still take offense.
Why talk about it at all?
Let's consider a different but in some ways similar situation:
Suppose a younger man is dating an older woman. It is a sure bet she doesn't want to talk about her age. There are a thousand other things to talk about that have nothing to do with how old she is. If the younger man is interested in continuing the relationship he would be well advised to focus on topics and activities that are mutually enjoyable while shunning any urge to discuss age-related issues.
It is the same for all individuals who interact with members of an oppressed or minority group. You can look at what that group is lacking, or you can simply look for mutually beneficial projects and interactions.
Of course we Deaf realize we are different from Hearing people. But we don't like to talk about it or even acknowledge it. Why? Who would want to be thought of as a walking "broken ear?"
So we renounce the label of disability and shun patronizing attempts to categorize us as having a "challenge." Not because we don't have a challenge, (we do), but rather because it is psychologically much more comfortable to avoid thinking about it and focus on other things. We go about our lives engaged in the process of "living" and are then confronted by certain Hearing people feel the inexplicable, irrational need to "help" us come to terms with and/or "realize" or "admit" that we have a "problem."
Then those same Hearies feel frustrated when rather than saying "thank you for pointing that out," we Deaf say "go away" and let us get back to our signed conversations.
So we put on tee-shirts proclaiming Deaf Pride--hoping to get the message across that we know who we are, and what we are, and that after looking in the mirror we have decided that we are okay.
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 8/28/2006 11:08:05 AM Pacific Daylight Time, Shirleen.Jones@ writes:

Hi again - thanks for the response. Pls don't think that i am being difficult - I like to understand things so i therefore ask a lot of questions. I am directing many of these questions to you because i trust that your response will be direct and honest. Let me pose another scenario to you - i volunteer in the dorms at a local school for the Deaf - and have had the chance to observe and interact w/ both Deaf and Hearing staff. As u might suspect - there are 2 "camps" - i have talked w/ members from both - and have tried very hard to respect and "not to offend" either of them. So pls don't freak out on me when i ask this next question. I am almost afraid to ask but what the heck. I have asked this to other "core" members and never got an answer - Just a complete avoidance of the topic.

How would you - as a Deaf individual - view me - as an adult second language learner who has no real reason to learn sign language. I did not know anyone who was Deaf 2 1/2 yrs ago. I thought it was a beautiful and efficient way to communicate. I hate big words - In fact - i have a list of big words that some people use to make themselves sound smarter - but anyways... Did i have any business learning your language?? u guys didn't invite me. Tell me how to proceed w/ this. I am going to continue to volunteer - but as u might suspect - many of the Deaf kids want nothing to do w/ me. Yes - kids are tough in general - but - i believe that the fact that they view me as another Hearing person intruding in their world w/out a valid reason...Should I just cut and run????? The odds seem stacked against me. I think i have a lot to offer the school - many yrs residential experience, a true love of kids , respect for others - BUt - the reality is - what i think is probably completely irrelevant to the Deaf community isn't it? Sadly - sometimes i feel discriminated against. I asked these same questions 2 yrs ago...

You state that you "hate big words" and yet you keep a list of them. Heh.
That's sort of like being allergic to roses yet planting them outside your bedroom window.
I, on the other hand, LOVE big words and thoroughly revel in an unabashed and ostentatious use of them. [grin]
Ahem, but, if it will help me to seem like a better person, I'll admit I had to use spell-check to get the term "ostentatious" right.
Allow me to officially invite you to learn all you can and give you permission to become an expert in American Sign Language.
You've asked how would I view you as and adult second language learner who has no "real" reason to learn sign.
I view you as a terrific person!
Yah, baby! Whoo whoo whoo! Go for it! [Envision streamers and confetti floating down through the air. Fireworks bursting in the sky in the background.]
Now perhaps you might view my [big word alert] exhuberance as being a tad sarcastic.
Let me assure you, it is not.
Alright, maybe it is, but I'm just not self-aware or humble enough to admit it. But that's not the point. The point is that I really do think it is great that you are interested in learning ASL.
Of course, to be considered is the fact that I make my living off of people who are interested in learning ASL.
Ah, and therein lies the rub. It's the old "WIIFM" issue. "Wiffm" as you may or may not know, stand for "What's in it for me?"
How do Deaf view "hearies" learning their language? Well, they ask themselves, "What's in it for the hearing person? How will that affect me?"
Some Hearing people learn our language and then take "our jobs." (Jobs that don't require the ability to hear.)
Is that Hearie just in it to make money off of me? No? Then why? How can I be SURE that Hearie isn't here just to take advantage of me? Does she have a good reason?
Is she losing her hearing and becoming one of us?
Does she have a Deaf relative?
Does she have a Deaf boy friend?
Was she raised by Deaf wolves in the Canadian forest?
Then what is it?
Huh? She thinks our language is beautiful and efficient? Hmmm. Beauty and efficiency are enough to get someone involved or interested but will they be here for the long haul? Butterflies are beautiful and ants are efficient, but individual butterflies and ants are not around for very long.
If I devote weeks or months of my time becoming friends with this Hearing woman what are the chances that she will get bored or frustrated and simply retreat back into her world of sound and spoken communication? And thus I will have wasted my time.
There is a tale told of a pig farmer and a chicken farmer sitting down to breakfast of bacon and eggs. The chicken farmer started bragging a bit and said, "Hmmm, boy those eggs sure do make for a mighty fine breakfast! My chickens have really outdone themselves on this one."
Whereupon the pig farmer replied, "Well, let me tell you something about your chickens and this breakfast. You see, them chickens--they were involved. My hogs? My hogs were committed."
And thus it is in the Deaf world. Hearing people "get involved." But Deaf people are committed. It is our lives.
Now--is that an attitude of discrimination?
Or is it simply a process of self-preservation that relies upon being able to discriminate (determine) the motives of someone who is trying to join the group?
Once members of the group are convinced that entrance of the newcomer into the group will be beneficial to them individually and collectively they will then begin to embrace the newcomer. Those members of the group who are emotionally secure, unhurt, socioeconomically well off, and/or bicultural, will be the first ones to embace the newcomer. Others in the group who are timid or who have been hurt before will be less inclinded to accept the newcomer.
Your job as the newcomer is to take it slow and build trust and confidence by making friends in the community and becoming a benefit to the community. It generally takes years, and you will never be "completely" accepted by everyone. But then again, that's normal in all societies. The question you have to ask yourself regarding the time and effort invested compared to the satisfaction of interacting with our community is, "Is it worth it?"
If your answer is "Yes," then by all means, forge ahead. Er...I mean, carefully move ahead.
(Dr. Bill Vicars of

In a message dated 8/26/2006 8:26:25 PM Pacific Daylight Time, ewok108@ writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars,

Hello. My name is Kerri Murray. I am 31 years old and am hard of
hearing. I suffer from a disease called Cholesteatoma. I have had 3
Tympanomastoidectomy's and am preparing for the 4th in 3 weeks. They
removed everything out of the right ear 3 years ago due to this disease. I
was told 2 weeks ago that it is back in full force in the left ear. They
will be shutting down that ear now and will leave me permanently deaf. I am
receiving a Cochlear implant at the same time. I am very scared because i
only know how to read lips and that is sometimes very challenging. I am a
nurse and i deal with patients everyday. I am having an awful lot of
trouble finding online classes for sign language when i came across your
website. I am not very good at using computers yet and am having difficulty
figuring out how to get into one of the classes on your site. I was hoping
you could help me if you had some free time. This is all new to me and i'm
not quite sure what to do. I have no choice but to let them shut down the
ear because if i don't have surgery then i don't have long to live. I
appologize for telling you my sob story but i would appreciate any help that
i can get. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Thank
you for your time in reading my email and even if you can't help just
reading this is putting my word out.

Thank you
so much,
Kerri Murray

You can just start with lesson 1 at:
and work your way through the lessons.
There is no need to register.
There is nothing to buy unless you want to get the "self testing" CDs that test you on the material. But that isn't necessary. You can just learn the signs and cultural information without testing.
Also, if you haven't done so, I encourage you to visit your local library and see what materials they may have on ASL.
Also, please visit and check out the archives of my newsletter.
Next, contact your State's local Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
Inform them that since you are going deaf, that you will need rehab services to make sure you remain employable and then ask them for counseling and assistance with ASL training or whatever else you need to remain employable. They may turn you down, but it is worth checking into.

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