A journal for students and teachers of
American Sign Language.

spacer.gif (42 bytes) spacer.gif (42 bytes) Issue 44  

 March, 2007   

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In a message dated 1/21/2007 6:22:39 AM Pacific Standard Time, radmom8992@ writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,
... I have a question.  Once, while reading about language and language acquisition, an author stated that humans have a capacity for language, no matter what form that language takes, i.e. spoken or gestural or whatever.  The author said that babies of signing parents tend to "babble" in sign rather than verbally.  This makes sense, but I have always wanted to confirm this.  Did your children babble in sign? 
Lynn Rafferty
Oakton, VA
Oh yes!  My kids sure did.  It was a constant source of entertainment--keeping a lookout for their first signs and always saying, "LOOK,LOOK, she's signing MILK!" And then debating whether or not they were just babbling or if they had indeed "signed" the concept with intent.
One of my son Logan's first signs was the sign for "daddy."  I was holding him in my arms sitting in a big reclining chair. I kept showing him the sign for "dad" and he scooted up a bit and stuck HIS thumb on MY forehead.  Soon after he learned that the way it was done was to touch your own forehead, not the other person's.

<<In a message dated 1/9/2007 1:12:03 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, jmorley@ writes:

Hi Bill,
I have recently met someone who is deaf and would like to ask them to coffee, or simply go for a walk with the dogs. Should I simply write and ask them or learn sign language to do the same?
Please help,
J. Jennifer Morley>>
There is no "right or wrong" in this situation.  Human kindness is almost always appreciated regardless of the form as long as the intent is understood.
There are many factors here that I don't know so my general answer is: "it depends."
The person might just understand your voiced utterances just fine.  Being Deaf is more of a cultural thing than it is an "amount of hearing" thing.  Some Deaf people are great lipreaders, some are not.  Some have residual hearing that enables them to understand voicing--other's don't.
If I were you I'd probably send this person a message immediately indicating that you want to learn sign language and that you would be interested in maybe getting some coffee or in walking the dogs together.  Then supply this person with your email address and, if you have one, your text messaging address.
Together you can figure out the best way to communicate.
If you are technology can bring laptops to coffee and chat via typing while learning a few signs here and there during the conversation.
If you are skilled (not just "know the letters" but are actually quite good) at spelling you can have a fingerspelling and voiced conversation. 
Many Deaf people can speak rather well, but choose not to for a number of societal, psychological, or cultural reasons.  (But if you were a fly on the wall in their home you would see them voicing to their hearing children.)
It sometimes takes years of association with a person before you find out the extent to which a culturally Deaf person functions in the hearing world--simply because he or she chooses to De-emphasize that aspect of his life. 
Dr V
In a message dated 2/1/2007 8:18:01 AM Pacific Standard Time, dwallace@ writes:
Dr. Vicars,
    I am in my fourth ASL Class (Intermediate II) and still have a hard time reading fingerspelling.  It is way too fast for me to know what my
instructor is fingerspelling.  He is an excellent instructor.  I do not have anyone to practice signing with and I know this makes a difference--I am an
older non-traditional student!  I also have a hard time knowing what is being signed on the cd that goes along with the book.  Do you have any
suggestions for me?  Do you have a website to practice reading fingerspelling?  I have checked the Wizard Fingerspelling, but the site has
been under construction and so I am not able to practice with it.    I will appreciate any suggestions you can give to me.
Check out:
--Dr. V

In a message dated 1/11/2007 11:07:04 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, andreasigns@ writes:
Hi, Dr. Bill

Okay, I am teaching an ASL 2 class. One student told me that he has Dyslexia and he has difficulty reading the fingerspelling. He has no problem in reading the signs.

What would you do with this? How do you grade his progress?

Thank You. 
First of all, make sure you are hitting all the basics:
Present an "advanced organizer," demonstrate the skill, provide guided practice, offer corrective feedback, set up independent practice, monitor practice, and review.
Okay, that being said, what I specifically recommend is for you to grade him on his sign recognition and expression rather than his receptive fingerspelling ability.  Since fingerspelling is an important part of ASL, I do think he should be required to become familiar with fingerspelling, but I would remove the "time element" as much as possible. 
I often get students who state that their disability prevents them from taking the quizzes at normal speed. So I reply, "No problem, here is a disk, take the quiz on the disk first and submit your answers to me.  Then take the test in class and I'll let you keep whichever score is higher."  Now here's the thing to understand, the quiz on the disk involves a LOT of exposure.  It shows EVERY sign in the lesson and EVERY sentence in the lesson and so rather than being a random sampling of the lesson it is quite literally a comprehensive test that requires the student to have studied each sign from my lesson pages on the web. 
What ends up happening almost every time is that after the students study so hard to take the test on CD, they end up doing VERY well on the in-class test and eventually realize it is easier to just do their homework and take the regular tests instead of doing the in-depth CD tests. 
So the answer wasn't for me to dumb-down my in-class test nor to provide longer testing time, but rather for he student to study more out of class at their own pace which enhanced their in-class performance.
For example, with your student I'd record myself spelling 100 words.  And then I'd put it on a disk and require him to take it home and translate all 100 words.  He could replay the video as often as he would like.  He could write the words out with a pencil as the letters are being shown, etc.
Chances are, after sufficient exposure, he would be relatively good at recognizing individual fingespelled letters--regardless of the dyslexia. The challenge comes in recognizing whole words.  But here's the thing:  fingerspelling normally doesn't take place in isolation.   Fingerspelling is generally embedded in to discourse.  The overall discourse context provides clues to the identity of the fingerspelled word.
For discussion purposes, let's consider this rather "dyslexic" paragraph that has been floating around the net:
Aoccdrnig to raresech at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Note:  Most adults I've shown that to are able to read it relatively easily.  The key is context. 
Regardless of the dyslexia, if provided sufficient context and a limited set of choices your student should be able to recognize fingerspelled words as whole units.  Literally as signs that happen to have a number of individual internal movements.  To test this out, choose two names like "STEVE" and "HENRY."  Spell the name Steve point to the word "Steve" on the board.  Then spell "Henry" and point to it. Do not slow it down or carefully show each letter.  Rather spell it using a smooth flowing movement.  Repeat this several times.  Speed up each time.  Then choose a student an bring him or her up and have the student point to which word you are spelling.  Then add a third name to the board.  You will find that since the possible selection set is so limited you can spell very, very quickly and the student will still recognize which of names is being spelled, if for no other reason than he is catching the first and last letters of the person's name.  I've done this with BEGINNING level students and used a dozen names or more.
So, how does this concept of "whole word" recognition apply to your student?
That means you can indeed test his receptive fingespelling ability, but you need to do so using a high-context, low-option approach.
Or you can use a low-context, high-option approach, but you need to give him more time (perhaps take-home assignment created using the Gallaudet fingerspelling font).
Either way though, he is responsible for recognizing and being familiar with the letter-shapes.

Dr. V


In a message dated 1/9/2007 7:41:38 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Hello Dr. Vicars,
                      I have been learning ASL from your site and using another site for variations. I'm one month into the lessons and I'm on lesson 31 already, talk about immersion! Thank you so much for your time and effort put into helping others learn ASL in such a short time.  I have a Hard of Hearing girlfriend that I wrote a poem for just recently, but I'd like to be able to sign it in ASL. I'm not sure how it would retain that poetic' feel ' if translated into ASL. Would it be best to just sign in S.E.? If you have the time, I'd greatly appreciate your advice. Thank you again, as I find it necessary to sign to her and her deaf friends alot and interpret for her at restaurants and the like. Your site made that possible for me, though I still have much to learn however, I owe you one, and I mean that. Here is the poem:

                                      You ask of me my favorite color
                                                 to which I do reply,
                                         "Aquamarine as I have seen 
                                       in the setting of an autumn sky."
                                      But what should cause within me
                                       such wonderment and surprise?
                                         It is when I look at you I see
                                       My favorite color is in your eyes.
Most Sincerely,
Tom Carty

Note: ASL has some of the most amazing poetry you will ever find.  It is very expressive.  I don't think Signed English is the way to go on this.  ASL would work much better as far as delivering the flow and meaning of the poem in a visual way.
You might want to print that poem up on some really fancy paper or have it inscribed onto an object and then give it to her in written form.   Then ask her to teach you how to sign it beautifully in ASL.  Or if you want it to be a surprise, ask a one of her Deaf friends to teach it to you in ASL.  You might then want to get a second opinion from another deaf friend regarding the signs for the poem, compare the two, and choose the most beautiful versions of the signs.
(Dr V of

In a message dated 3/4/2007 10:38:13 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars,
Almost a year ago my best friend was diagnosed with Lou Gherig's Disease. The disease has centered on her throat and tongue, and although very slow moving according to her doctors, in the past year it has left her speech almost unintelligible. My friend has changed from a vibrant, outgoing, extremely social person to a virtual recluse. She doesn't like being in situations that involve people because that requires trying to communicate and explaining why she can't talk. It has been very disheartening for her, but also for those of us who love and miss her.
A group of us decided that ASL could be the key to unlocking her from this nightmare - at least somewhat - as it would give her the ability to communicate again. We all want to arrange to take classes with her so that we can understand when she signs and we can once again enjoy her intelligent and often humorous conversation. However, we are having an extremely hard time finding an instructor in our area (Pensacola, FL). I came across your website this evening while searching again, and thought you might be able to tell me if there is a database of some sort that lists people qualified to teach ASL in any given city or state. Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Michelle Rea
I suggest you get in contact with:
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service of Northwest Florida

945 West Michigan Ave Suite 4-B, Pensacola, FL 32505, 850-433-7128 v/tty, 850-438-0299 fax

According to their website they offer 8-week ASL classes.

Another source to consider is Pensacola  Junior College's Continuing Education Department.  Call Edith Finley, Dept. Chair, at 484-1797 and ask when the next time Donley Bratsch (or any other ASL instructor) will be teaching a class.   If the wait is too long, consider asking the instructor to teach a private class in your home. A group of 10 people paying $40 each for a 4-week course comes to $400 which is a very tempting salary for eight hours of instruction (twice a week, for four weeks, at an hour per session). 
Another option is to contact the Education/EPI Department, (850) 484-1000  or TOLL FREE (888) 897-3605, and ask how to get in touch with Becky Adkins and/or Terri Schisler to find out about the "SPA 1612C Introduction to American Sign Language" course.  (Pensacola  Junior College, 1000 College Boulevard Pensacola, Florida 32504)

Check your local library for resources.
Also, check your local division of Rehabilitation Services.  The State of Florida may take your friend as a "Rehab Client" and pay for her ASL training.  No guarantee, but it is certainly worth checking into.
Best wishes to you.
Dr. Bill Vicars

In a message dated 1/10/2007 9:24:05 AM Pacific Standard Time, sloveall_60@ writes:
Could you please distinguish for me the difference between a loan sign and a lexicalized fingerspelled word?
Sharon Loveall, M.A.
In the old days we used to call fingerspelling that looked like a sign "loan signs."
Then later we stopped calling such fingerspelling "loan" signs and started calling such fingerspelling "lexicalized fingerspelling." Which means, "spelling that has taken on the characteristic of a lexeme."  Lexeme is a fancy word that basically means "word" (or in our case, "a sign.")  Thus lexicalize fingerspelling is a fingerspelled concept that looks and functions more like a sign than like fingerspelling.
Then we started calling signs that we borrowed from other signed languages, "loan signs."
So, think of signs borrowed from fingerspelling as being "lexicalized signs."
Think of signs borrowed from other sign languages as being "loan signs."
Dr V

February 7, 2007

Dear Dr. Vicars,
... I began learning ASL when I became pregnant with my daughter.  I wanted to use it with her for early communication, but have become fascinated with the language for its own merit.  It is a goal of mine to eventually become much more fluent.  Your
site is helping me begin to do that while I stay home with her.
In my journey with ASL, I have become an instructor of ASL for hearing infants and toddlers.   One of my students asked me how to sign BEETLE.  I gave her the general sign for BUG, but through further discussion found she really wanted to a sign for the Beatles.  Since they are such a big part of American culture, I thought they might have a universal name sign, but didn't know where to find it.  Is there a name sign for the Beatles?  Is there a place to find common and historical figures name signs?
Thank you for your help.
Mary Elizabeth Thompson
Licensed Instructor in Fort Collins
Signing Smart Programs for Hearing Infants and Toddlers
 Mary Elizabeth,
I know that there is no "widely established" sign for the music group "The Beatles." If there "is" a sign for "The Beatles," it is likely only known to a relatively small number of people in the Deaf community. 
I will ask around, but I doubt any of my friends and associates will know of a sign for "The Beatles."  Who knows? Perhaps this discussion will lead to the eventual establishment of a new sign?

In a message dated 2/5/2007 7:41:29 AM Pacific Standard Time, Mupid@ writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,

How did I come in contact with ASL: I was riding the underground, when I saw two people fingerspelling and it struck me this very moment, that I felt the need to learn this. By chance I found Your webpage and  its friendly flair kept me there since then. (Sadly enough there exists nothing comparable for the Austrian variant of sign language on the web, though there are courses being held in adult education centers)

My question:
I noticed (or I think I noticed) that in directional signs (such as “give”) when the movement is from You to another person, You seem to have a slight facial expression of discomfort. Is this just a coincidence or is it supposed to be like this?

Gerhard Dabringer,
Hmmm.  Maybe I have a subconscious aversion to giving things away?
Heh.  And here I thought of myself as the generous type.
No.  If there is some sort of expression of discomfort on my face it is likely due to indigestion.
Directional (subject verb agreement) signs do not rely on facial expressions to establish directionality.  However, some signs like POINTING to mean "this one right here close by" or "that one way over there" will certainly use facial expressions.
The "cheek to shoulder" non-manual marker is used for "very near" concepts.
The "head tilt back and a bit to the side, chin jutting out a bit" non-manual marker is used for "far away" concepts.
So suppose I'm trying to say "give to someone" who is sitting or standing "far away" from me--I would use a facial expression to help establish a sense of distance.

Editor's note: I'm including the email below just as I received it.  I sent a separate reply to Terra.  I'm posting it here because I think it makes a number of powerful points.
--Dr V.

In a message dated 2/2/2007 7:21:20 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:

hi, my name is Terra
i am 17 and i am from Canada
i have been deaf most of my life and i communicate with sign and with paper
or with the computer. in the school i go to i am one of the 3 deaf students,
we are put in to a special  class that helps us do the work we need to do in
class. we communicate with sign with each other but the teacher does not
know what we are saynig and can not keep up. i am glade my mom let my be
deaf and did not give me a coculare inplant like she did for my brother who
was deaf and can now hear alittle. the other two kids in my class are fun
and we are glade to be deaf and to communicate the way god made us to. but i
think the schools should have a way of making the teachers learn asl so we
as the students or the parents can communicate.
my father is also deaf and he does not like that iam in a class for the
dumb ( thats what he calls it) but i call it the class for the smart because
the kids that are in my class are all straight A students. i am a B+ student
and we are all deaf but we are still smart.
so please if any one has any thing to say about this please feel free to
e-mail me @
or just chat back to me in this way if u wish
thanks from a deaf student to the hearing world.

In a message dated 1/16/2007 9:00:27 PM Pacific Standard Time, Invictuah writes:
      My name is Marian Berry
                           2601 Hilltop Dr.   #1235
                           Richmond, CA    94806
   I work for the West Contra Costa Unified School District.  I teach Sign Language at the Richmond Adult School.  I also operate my own interpreter agency "Speech In Motion."
     I always give out your web address to my students take Sign.   I tell people who are practicing for interpreter test to go through your lesson plans and see how far they get or to try your fingerspelling practice.
     I've used bits and pieces of you information to add to mine or as information for me.   I am putting together a class workbook and I am using some of your pictures from the 100 word test.  Many of the vocabulary words that I use are the same as yours, but they may not be in the same order.
     I like your work and it gives me ideas on information to give out.  I have to remember that a lot of the people who take my class are doing it for the fun of it.  There are some who are serious and balancing the information is sometimes tricky.  Something that would help me is to know what you feel would be a good syl. for an adult school class.  The home syl. is ok, but it doesn't have enough structure.
     I've bought the lesson packet.  I've not done anything with it as of yet.  I am about to make my own video.  Any suggestions?
   Marian Berry
Hi Marian,
Below are my latest thoughts regarding what to include in a syllabus.

Course information:  [ Include:  Course Title  /  Course Number  / Section / Meeting days and times / Room and Building ]
Instructor:  [title, position] 
Office:  [Building, room number, campus] 
Office hours: 
Teacher's Assistant info:  [name, contact info, availability] 
Course Prerequisites:  [What classes must a student have completed or qualifications must a student possess in order to take this course?]
Course Description:  [Use the description from the course catalog or brochure.]
Course Goals: 
Required Materials:  [If a textbook, include enough information to enable independent ordering through a supplier of the student's choice. Complete title, author, publisher, publication date, and ISBN number.]
Optional Materials:  [List any materials that are not required in order for a student to get an "A" in your class but that you feel may be helpful for those students who need additional support.]
Course Assignments:  [Describe course assignments in sufficient detail that the student can complete the assignment without having to contact you for further information.  If the assignment is complex, then describe the assignment using a separate "instruction sheet" handout and list that handout here. If you are not including the handout with this syllabus, then indicate when you will be providing it.]
Course Testing:  [Describe quizzes and exams in sufficient detail that the student can prepare for them without having to ask you, "What will be covered on the test."]
Grading:  [Describe your grading criteria.  Make it absolutely clear how students can get an "A" in your class and by what standards you are judging their performance.  Make it possible for your students to be able to determine their standing in class at any time.]
*  Make ups:
*  Attendance:
*  Tardiness:
*  Late submission of assignments:
*  Extra credit: 
Class Environment:
*  Communication policy:
*  Laptop usage:
*  Cell phone usage:
*  Text messaging:
*  Music devices:
*  Photographing:
*  Recording: 
Disability Accommodations: [Individuals with documented disabilities who require accommodations are welcome to discuss their needs with me at the beginning of the semester during my office hours or by appointment.]
Course Ethics:  [Describe how you will handle plagiarism and cheating.]
Course Schedule:  [Chronologically list dates of topics that you will cover.  Also list due dates for assignments and exams including the point values.]

Note:  I realize you are were/are asking for a discussion of an adult ed type of syllabus.
Feel free to send me a sample of your syllabus and I'll check it out.

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