ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library | Volume 1, Issue X, XXX 200X | William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor


In a message dated 2/2/2007 6:27:53 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, cobrien@ writes:

Hey, Bill, I'm having a bit of a problem with my counselors and I was wondering if you could help.

My counseling dept. is full of people that think ASL should be for  Spec Ed and 504 kids and that "college-bound" students should look at other foreign languages because "ASL is not very widely accepted". They are basing this of Dr. Sherman Wilcox's list of colleges that accept or offer ASL.

A big issue that was brought up was that students applying to the 8 ivy league schools wouldn't have it accepted. Harvard is the only one of the 8 that doesn't accept it as a foreign language. (Columbia University even offers a degree in teaching ASL as a foreign language.)

I know all of this because I have called each one of these schools today.

Thank you so much for your help with this. I'm really irritated with my counseling dept. and I'm on the warpath. :)
Can you help me? I am trying like crazy to get across to them that this list is grossly incomplete. It doesn't even including schools like Boston University or Gallaudet. What can I do to get across to them that ASL IS accepted more than they think?


Katie O'Brien,
American Sign Language
Clear Lake High School

To whom it may concern,
There are many indicators that American Sign Language (ASL) is the fastest growing language in new usage in America and one of the fastest in many other parts of the world.
For example, please consider the Modem Language Association (MLA) survey: Foreign Language Enrollments in United States Institutions of Higher Education.

The MLA sent a questionnaire to the registrars of 2,780 two- and four-year institutions, soliciting information on credit-bearing registrations for fall 2002 in all language courses other than English. All but 13 of the institutions, or 99.53%, responded, for the highest response rate in the history of the MLA's enrollment surveys.
Here are the results:

Language 1998 2002 % Change
Spanish 656,590 746,602 13.7
French 199,064 202,014 1.5
German 89,020 100,112 12.5
Italian 49,287 63,866 29.6
ASL 11,420 60,849 432.8
Japanese 43,141 52,238 21.1
Chinese 28,456 34,153 20.0
Latin 26,145 29,835 14.1
Russian 23,791 23,916 0.5
Ancient Greek 16,402 20,858 27.2
Biblical Hebrew 9,099 14,469 59.0
Arabic 5,505 10,596 92.5
Modem Hebrew 6,734 8,619 28.0
Portuguese 6,926 8,385 21.1
Korean 4,479 5,211 16.3
Other languages 17,771 25,717 44.7
Totals 1,193,830 1,407,440 17.9

In 2002 more than 60,000 students registered for ASL, a 432% increase since 1998. That is the highest increase of any of the languages surveyed and is indicative of the popularity of ASL.
186 ASL programs are reported as having come into existence between the 1998 survey and the 2002 survey.

Recent research by linguists at University of California, Davis, has lead to discoveries of the benefits of using American Sign Language to communicate with babies prior to the development of speech. These findings are resulting in an even larger number of new ASL students.

ASL is quickly spreading throughout the world and is being used in varying degrees in Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Zaire, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, Benin, Togo, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and many other countries.
Reference: Grimes, Barbara F. (editor), (1996). "Languages of USA" Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 13th Edition. Institute of Linguistics. Retrieved 10 May, 2001:


William Vicars, Ed.D.

Director CCE Online and Immersion ASL Programs
Asst. Professor, ASL Program (on-campus)
Sacramento State University
Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and School Psychology
6000 J St. - Eureka Hall, Room 308
Sacramento, CA 95819-6079

In a message dated 1/17/2007 5:01:25 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, lea11k@ writes:
I am a children's librarian who has been learning ASL for the last year or so.  I am participating in a storytelling program and have been trying to integrate some signs into the telling.  I realize I will probably be doing more Signed English than ASL since my audience will be hearing and I will be speaking simultaneously, but I want to stay as close to true ASL as I can. The program is designed for children aged 7-9, however this particular program is for training purposes only and will only be viewed by fellow children's librarians. Most of the stories that I have picked include at least a few onomatopoeic words- such as "moo"  and "cluck-cluck."  I am not sure how to sign these words, if I should fingerspell them or whether it is more appropriate to disregard them entirely. 
Also, thank you so much for this wonderful website- I recommend it to every ASL student I meet!
Kiera Manikoff
Children's Librarian
New York, NY
Hi Kiera,
What to do for signs like that varies with the concept but in general you try to represent the concept visually in a way that portrays the intended meaning.  Often this is done by "role playing" the animal, or using signs in creative ways.
For a cow "mooing" you could rear your head back and hold an "M" near your mouth and then mouth a long "moo" as you change the "M" into an "O" handshape and move the hand up and out into air.
For a bird clucking you would hold a "G" near your lips and then mouth "cluck, cluck" while jutting your head up and forward like a bird does. The letter G would start closed and then open with each cluck.
(Dr. Vicars of

An ASL instructor writes Wed 1/10/2007 11:15 AM:
I'd also like to get other colleagues' opinions on a few things I did last semester (For example in class I tend to try not to use English mouth movements so that the students don't rely on lipreading.  But then I see my students not using mouth movements when they are fingerspelling and it looks a bit un-natural to me.)
--Name on file

In a message dated 1/10/2007 11:27:19 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, an other instructor writes:

I too don't mouth English while teaching in order to get the students to focus on the signs and the concepts instead of trying to lipread me.  However, I have had a different experience -- while a few students seem to try to copy me, most students seem to continue to mouth (I hope not speak!) English on their lips. 
-- Name on file (#2)

Dear “Name on File,”

Regarding mouthing while teaching fingerspelling or general signing: 
It is a fact that a large percentage of Deaf people use lexical markers (mouth movements) [Bridges & Metzger (1996), Davis, J. (1989), Valli & Lucas (2000)]. 
Such lexical markers consist of a combination of ASL mouth morphemes and mouthing or partial mouthing of English words--or the spoken language of the community in which the signer lives. For example, the Deaf son of my South American friend (also Deaf) partially mouths "mañana" when signing the concept "tomorrow."

So, the question becomes, "If partial or occasional mouthing is a regular and typical occurrence in average everyday communications between a substantial percentage of Deaf people, then as ASL instructors shouldn't we be recognizing that fact and accounting for it in our teaching?"  Since research and observation indicate that mouthing or partial mouthing are lexical markers that are indeed being used by a statistically significant percentage of Deaf for the purpose of  clarifying or inflecting the meaning of their signs then shouldn't we actually be incorporating the teaching of appropriate use of lexical markers?

But "oh no!" we can't do that, because the moment someone brings up the topic of "mouthing" we instantly get visions of "Oral deaf" or level-1 signers in our head. 

An other reason for the reluctance is the challenge of defining "what is a correct level of mouthing?"  Oh, sure, there are some general "rules" or tendencies that we can observe.  For example, ASL mouthing of words tends to involve the occasional word rather than a string of words. The tendency is to mouth just the first syllable of a word rather than multiple syllables.
The appropriate use of one's mouth for ASL is about as challenging to define as is the appropriate use of one’s mouth for kissing.  What makes a good kiss?  How much?  How long?  Is saliva is acceptable?  Should you use your tongue? Who should you kiss?  If someone does too much kissing does that mean they should be shunned?

The and subjectiveness of act , the extreme difficulty of quantifying and explaining how to be a good kisser, and the nearness to the taboo of sex leads us to end up preaching abstinence.  No mouthing for you.  You might do it wrong and look like an Oral deaf person.

But just like forbidden teen sex.  Mouthing happens.  And it will continue to happen.  You can teach abstinence all you want, and the only thing you will accomplish is that they will do it behind your back.  Hmmm, where have we seen this before?  Oh yes, in Oral education programs for the Deaf where the person in power tells the student “do not use your natural language or I’ll smack your fingers with a ruler.” (An all too common occurrence in the "old days.") And so the “natural language” takes place when the teacher isn’t looking, in the bathroom, under the desk, or behind the tree in the playground. 

So what happens when those little Deaf boys and girls grow up to be the person in power?  They threaten their ASL students with severe consequences for using their natural language in class.  And so the Hearing students "abstain" from voicing or exaggerated mouth movements--at least until they think the teacher isn't watching.  Or they become amateur ventriloquists as they try to talk without moving their lips.

--Bill V


Bridges & Metzger (1996). Deaf Tend Your: Non-Manual Signals in ASL. Silver Spring, MD: Calliope Press.

Davis, J. (1989). Distinguishing language contact phenomena in ASL interpretation. In C. Lucas (ed) The sociolinguistics of the deaf community. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 85-102.

Valli & Lucas (2000). Linguistics of American Sign Language. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

In a message dated 1/5/2007 5:00:24 AM Pacific Standard Time, BTYHJK writes:
We are a small church in Calhoun, GA with limited resources. We learn a lot of our choreography and ASL from websites like yours. My question is words like "came," or "went," -- we can't always find these. Do you have any recommendation on how to find these words and how to sign them for our ministry? Thanks. Have a blessed day. 
Get a DEAF person onboard with your team.  Seek out a Deaf consultant in your area.  That will solve your problem. You can ask him or her any signs you might want to know.
Join the GA Association of the Deaf and ask them for referrals:

In a message dated 1/5/2007 6:12:51 AM Pacific Standard Time, cjzimmer@ writes:
hi.. i am using a few of your ideas from for a sign language club at a high school where i teach.  I am enjoying your
website.  I have a major in ASL from Gardner-Webb University, in NC; my professor was  deaf (Keith Cagle).  I am having a hard time either remembering or finding how to sign  the word  E-X-E-M-P-T.  The students here that I work with are seniors in high school and are
getting ready to take mid-term  exams,  there some who will be able to exempt their exams and we were talking about that in the club just
yesterday and I continually fs the word... (for not being able to remember the sign)  but is there a sign for E-X-E-M-P-T?  or can you use
another sign like the sign for E-X-C-E-P-T -  Is this an acceptable sign to use?  Thank you for your help,
C J Zimmerman
Sign Language Interpreter
Columbia, SC
Hi CJ,
"Exempt" is one of those concepts that you "spell and/or describe" on first use in a conversation depending on the understanding level of your conversation partner.  After you have established context you can then use a version of "excuse" to mean "exempt."  Do the sign "EXCUSE" using a single movement that extends beyond the fingertips of the base hand by about 3 or 4 inches.  This is the same version of "excuse that you use to mean "pardoned" or "laid off work."
I personally wouldn't use the sign "except" to mean "exempt" but I wouldn't have a problem with it it someone else used it.  The sign "excuse" is much closer in meaning so that is what I would choose. Context is important.  Once you have clearly established the context and meaning of this sign you can then use the "pardoned/laid-off" sign to convey the meaning "exempt."
Dr. V

In a message dated 1/4/2007 4:50:33 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars:
I am a volunteer with the Alcoholics Anonymous Special Needs group.  A.A. has video tapes prepared in ASL for those with need.  What I don't understand is why would a deaf person watch a video tape of a person signing versus reading the literature or books?  Why would a deaf person want these tapes?
Assuming, however, that there is a need, I can provide you with links to websites that have ASL materials for those that would like them.  Also, I would be pleased to send sets of the videot apes to anyone in need.  If you know of a deaf person that may have a drinking problem, they can contact me or I can send tapes to you for them.
Thank you in advance for your help and information.
Some Deaf prefer to watch a video of a person signing instead of reading the information in a book because it is easier for them to understand the signing than the words in the book.  While this isn't the case for all Deaf people, it is certainly the case for many--especially those for whom English is a second language and ASL is their native language.  If you spend much time in the Deaf community you will likely come across a statistic that states the average reading level of Deaf people age 18 and up is "fourth grade."  While statistics are debatable, it is fairly obvious that literacy is a challenge for many in the Deaf world.  There are so many reasons for this that a person could write a book about it.  (Speaking of which, [wink, grin] if you'd like to read one such book, check out:  Schirmer, B. R. (1994). Language and literacy development in children who are deaf. New York, Toronto, New York: Merrill. Maxwell Macmillan Canada. Maxwell Macmillan International.
Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the AA organization and please know that I will forward your email to my list.
(Dr V from

In a message dated 1/4/2007 4:04:43 AM Pacific Standard Time, Brenda writes:
When finger spelling... do you (YOU) move your dominant hand from center to right? OR do you hold in one spot and spell? 
In general I hold it in one spot and spell.
For double letters I either reform, use a very small bounce (very small), or move to the outside slightly.
Lexicalized concepts like #BURN, #BUSY, #BACK, etc. I move according to "convention" or noun/verb agreement depending on which concept I'm using.
Moving a fingerspelled word to the side might be done to show emphasis, or to bring attention to some aspect of the word, but otherwise would be distracting and a waste of motion.

Heh, how's that for a no holds barred opinion?

In a message dated 1/17/2007 11:55:20 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, mamaruthblake@ writes:
I'm looking for "substance" to an idea...
In remodeling and refreshing our church's facility we painted the children's wing hallways with wonderful artwork of children.  It's more-or-less "coloring book" style, but very nice...
The hallway of the chapel/classroom for the deaf is in the planning stages.  I'm looking for something simple, yet striking, that can be painted in that hallway that would both compliment and identify the area.
Since I am "ASL impaired" do you have suggestions for what to use...?   
Thank you!
Norma Ruth Blake
Norma Ruth,
If you have an artist who can do a good job of rendering "handshapes" it seems to me that you might want to consider using the sign for JESUS.  You could do it in two panels.  Each panel would show one of the two-halves of that sign.
If you could locate a Deaf artist in your area and have him or her do the art it would add an incredible amount of "meaning" to the overall effect.

Melissa ( wrote:
I am wondering if there are any ASL instructors out there that have some advice on what system or assessment tool is used to grade their students?  I have been using the five parameters to grade Expressive production in beginning level ASL I classes.  I have also used an adaptation of the SCPI to grade fluency in my ASL II class.  Is there any standardized rubric or assessment tool to grade hearing high school students learning ASL as a second language (Modern and  Classical Language)?
Melissa in Maine

[ The Editor of this journal (Bill Vicars) posted Melissa's question (above) and invited others to respond.  To which Katie O'Brien responded (below).]

In a message dated 1/2/2007 7:05:38 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, an ASL teacher in Texas (Katie O'Brien) writes
<<Hey, Bill, finally found some time to read your newsletter and I wanted  to respond to this one....>>

As far as I have found, there is no standard assessment. (We don't even have a standard curriculum here in Texas.)

What I tend to do with my classes is about every 4-5 weeks (we run on a 9-week schedule) I have a test and a sign project (which are equal to each other).  The test is a combination of me standing in front of the
class and signing fingerspelled words, numbers (including cardinal and ordinal numbers, money, time, etc.), individual vocabulary words (which I provide in a simple sentence if students request it -they must sign
the word SENTENCE to me), dates or idioms if they have learned them, a few sentences, a few sentences for them to gloss into ASL structure, and various cultural questions (true/false, multiple choice, matching, fill
in the blank) on topics I have covered.

After the test they receive a rubric for a sign project. I usually give them a day to create something to sign for me that covers all the required elements. Starting usually the second semester of ASL they must also turn in an English/ASL gloss copy of whatever they plan to sign. Then I spend about two days watching each individual student sign. (I have various board/card games for my other students to play... in ASL, no talking allowed... to occupy them while I watch each student.) I know that some teachers force their students to sign in front of the classroom, but I hated doing that when I was a student so I don't force mine to do that. (They do have major projects at the end of each semester where they do sign in front of the class.)
I hope this information helped!

Katie O'Brien
American Sign Language Teacher
Clear Lake High School
Houston, Texas



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