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Common Fingerspelling Mistakes New Signers Make

Learning Tips   |  Friday, September 14, 2018

By John Miller

One of the first concepts covered in beginning or basic sign language classes is Fingerspelling. There are a few common mistakes that are made by many beginner signers related to fingerspelling. Hopefully you can recognize them in your own practice and avoid making bad habits that are difficult to break.

Signing Space When Fingerspelling

First of all, the misuse of sign space is a common mistake, specifically as it is related to fingerspelling. Yes, we have an imaginary box around us, almost like a television set that is just inches above our heads and goes off to either sides of our bodies, and then ends around our waists.

However, that does not mean that all that space is fair game for fingerspelling. For right handed signers (right dominant), fingerspelling should be done in the area to the right of center of the chest. For left handed signers (left dominant), fingerspelling should be done in the area to the left of center. It should be out away from the body about 6-8 inches (not too far and not too close) and your letters should not be "thrown forward" or bounced up and down within that area.

AVOCADO

Example of fingerspelling A-V-O-C-A-D-O.

The Directional Movement While Fingerspelling

When spelling double letters or starting a new word, you should slide away from the center of your body. That is, if you are right dominant, move outward from left to right just like you were reading a book. If you are left dominant, move outward from right to left which is actually backwards from the way you read. In both cases, DON'T move back towards the center of the body. Many new signers do this and it looks so awkward to seasoned signers, they can see the mistake immediately.

ARMADILLO

Example fingerspelling A-R-M-A-D-I-L-L-O.
Notice how the double L-L slides away from the body.

Common Formation Mistakes When Fingerspelling

There are several common letter formation mistakes that new signers make. Here are a few examples to watch out for.

The letter Z is produced with the index finger NOT the little finger.

This seems to be a misconception that started with incorrect information and then caught hold with some people, but it is INCORRECT! The letter Z is produced with the index finger.

Z

Example "Z" handshape.
 

Use a closed E, instead of an open or "screaming" E.

Fingerspelling Example: E

The letter E should be closed (as shown below) with the finger tips tight against the hand, not opened. An open E is sometimes called a “screaming E” because it looks like an open mouth that is screaming. This is not horrible, but it is something native signers will notice as sloppy form.

The screaming E has a tighter grip at the top of the fingers with the tips pulled back very tight against the lower part of the fingers, where the correct E (with the tips resting just over the horizontal thumb) are much loser of a grip and much more comfortable.
Because you have to pull the fingertips back much tighter to make the screaming E, it slows down the flow of the signing.

E

Example "E" handshape.
   

Point your fingers straight out over the thumb for letters M and N.

Other letters that can slow you down when fingerspelling if done too “tight” are the letters M and N.  You will often see the fingers on the M and N folded over tight over the thumb.  Again, this isn’t really wrong, as much as unnecessary.  If your fingers are this tight over the thumb, it slows you down in your fingerspelling as you become more fluent.  Leaving the fingers pointing straight out over the thumb frees up the hand to make faster movements while fingerspelling.

M

Example "M" handshape.
N

Example "N" handshape.
   

Do not use a flat hand when signing the letter O.

Fingerspelling Example: O

Fingerspelling Example: O

When signing the letter O, use a rounded O shape and do not make a flat O.

   

The letters O and C should face forward.

Fingerspelling Example: O

Fingerspelling Example: C

Another common mistake is that the letters O and C are turned to the side rather than facing outward like they should be. I think because many books will show a side or slightly turned angle of the hand in order for people to get the correct hand shape, people think that the turned O and C are the way to actually sign them. This is not correct. See the proper way below.

O

Example "O" handshape.
C

Example "C" handshape.
   

The letters K and P should face forward.

Fingerspelling Example: P

The letters K and P also run into that same issue. New signers want to turn them as they see them presented in books and they end up looking very awkward and uncomfortable to sign. Get the K-hand as it should be, facing forward, and then to go to the P-hand, just drop the wrist. The change from a K to a P is all wrist, nothing else.

K

Example "K" handshape.
P

Example "P" handshape.
   

The letters G and H should be turned sideways (so the palm faces the body).

Fingerspelling Example: H

Fingerspelling Example: H

Many books will show these letters from a different angle in an attempt to show the handshapes better. The letters G and H should be turned sideways (so the palm faces the body). See the examples below.

G

Example "G" handshape.
H

Example "H" handshape.
   

Don’t Read the Letter Names, Sound It Out

Whether it is you signing the letters yourself (expressive skills), or you reading others fingerspelling (receptive skills), you need to think of the sounds that are connected to those letters, and NOT the letter name itself. This will help you to be able to figure out the words better down the road as you are trying to read bigger and bigger words. You may miss a letter, but if you have been saying the sounds in your head, you will more than likely be able to figure out the word.

Try it! In the example below, don’t spell out each letter as they are signed, sound out the word.

 

Reference Sheets to Help You Remember Fingerspelling


Alphabet Letters in American Sign Language (ASL)

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.
 

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Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 7

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 7

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, September 4, 2018

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the "Dear Abby" for the interpreting world - author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings.

Hello! Brenda Cartwright (BC) here. Let's continue on the fun topic of: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the difference. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter. Enjoy!

1. Brain vs. Think

It is easy to see the difference between BRAIN and THINK since they use different handshapes - BRAIN uses the X-hand to tap twice on the side of your head, while THINK uses the 1-hand to make a swift movement to point at your head. However, remembering which is signed which way, can be a challenge! For BRAIN you tap where your brain is, confirming it is in there, while you point to where you’re thinking takes place just as swiftly as you might get an idea.

Brain
Think

2. Color vs. Friendly

COLOR and FRIENDLY both use the open 5-hand. COLOR is signed with one 5-hand at the chin with your fingers making a wiggling motion. Think about your wiggling fingers representing the colors in a rainbow when signing COLOR. FRIENDLY is signed with two 5-hands with wiggling fingers moving up and away from the face; the movement suggests a generous smile that accompanies a friendly person.

Color
Friendly

3. Oh I See vs. Yellow

OH I SEE and YELLOW both use a single, dominant Y-hand. To sign OH I SEE, the palm is out and makes an up and down movement. OH I SEE is like signing THAT multiple times because the meaning is that you are emphasizing you see or understand “that.” YELLOW is signed like many of the other color signs, such as BLUE, GREEN, and PURPLE, with the palm facing more towards the body and making a twisting motion.

Oh I See
Yellow

4. History vs. Hard of Hearing

The dominate H-hand is used when signing both HISTORY and HARD OF HEARING. To sign HISTORY, the H-hand bounces up and down slightly two times. You can remember HISTORY moves twice in the same spot by thinking of history being cyclical over time and repeating itself.

HARD OF HEARING also has the H-hand move two times, but it moves down from your non-dominant side and then shifts over to move down again closer to your dominant side. This movement from your non-dominant to dominant side is also similar to how you move when fingerspelling multiple words and the sign for HARD OF HEARING uses two movements with the H-hand as a representation of the “H” in hard and then the “H” in hearing.

History
Hard of Hearing

5. Fancy vs. Fine

FINE has the thumb of the dominant open 5-hand tap the chest, while FANCY has the thumb of the dominant open 5-hand stroke the chest and come out in a repeated motion. The gesture for FINE suggests the feeling of doing fine and the motion made when signing FANCY is an exaggerated version of signing FINE, since when something is FANCY, it is much more than just FINE.

Fancy
Fine

These examples are aligned with the Visual Discrimination section of Lesson 9 (page 109) from Lessons and Activities in American Sign Language by Brenda E. Cartwright and Suellen J. Bahleda. Check out the book for more ASL Activities and watch for more examples from this series: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

 

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about BC  |  Articles by BC

Savvy Tutoring and Savvy Chats: So Much to Sign About, So Much to Learn

Site News   |  Friday, June 29, 2018

By Jillian Winn

We first started our Savvy Chat service over a year ago and have since added Savvy Tutoring. These ASL sessions let you meet online, one-on-one with one of our signing experts, Marta Belsky, through video chat. In that time, Marta has had the pleasure of meeting with people from around the country to chat and practice ASL skills, as well as for tutoring on vocabulary development, receptive and expressive fingerspelling skills, and more. 


one-on-one

30 minutes

online

Each session is unique to meet the needs of the person who scheduled the chat. Future chats with the same person are often very different depending on the person’s changing goals and objectives. 

Marta
ASL One-on-One Session with Marta

Marta is a third generation ASL user and has been teaching ASL for 30 years. She has Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Gallaudet University and a Masters in Deaf Education from Western Maryland College. She has taught ASL at Michigan State University, Madonna University, and in Lansing Community College's Interpreter Training Program. She enjoys sharing her native language with new users. It is important to her that people learn the language the "right" way and learn about Deaf Culture at the same time. Marta has worked with people who have never signed before as well as experienced signers. When you meet with Marta, she assesses your current ASL fluency and then tailors the conversation or lesson in a way that will fit with your current ASL knowledge and also your goals for the session.

Savvy Tutoring

Some people have scheduled Savvy Tutoring with Marta to focus on a specific skill, like preparing for an upcoming test, practicing mouth morphemes and classifiers, and working on using ASL grammar instead of English sentence structure. Others who have had previous ASL knowledge wanted to work with Marta to assess their current fluency and receive suggestions for areas to work on for further improvement. Occasionally people have had a very specific topic they wanted to learn more about, like Deaf culture or a specific message they wanted to learn to sign to someone they care for.

Savvy Chat

Some people have lacked local resources where they can meet and sign with others, so they use Savvy Chat to practice conversational ASL.

Sometimes a single ASL One-on-One Session has turned into reoccurring sessions where either they simply practice signing through conversation or goals are formed to help the person build specific ASL skills. Regardless of previous ASL skill level, Marta works with you to meet your ever-changing goals. 

Here is some feedback from people who have had ASL One-on-One Sessions with Marta: 

"Marta was so friendly and easy to talk with! She helped me so much, and was very patient when I had trouble with receptive finger spelling! I was so happy to be able to practice with her and look forward to doing it again!”

“Marta was very helpful with giving me feedback and correction, as needed. I really enjoyed both sessions with her, last week and today, and after working with her felt more confident with my signing.”

“I feel like I'm really making some progress. Marta is amazing. She keeps the conversation rolling. We have a lot of similar likes and dislikes. Looking forward to another session!”

“Thank you Marta! I feel like I'm gaining confidence and really enjoy our sessions. So much to sign about! Thank you for your patience. You're truly a gifted teacher.”

“So grateful for the time to chat with Marta! I felt so comfortable from the very start!”

“Marta was fun to chat with. She was very helpful and kind. I learned a lot in my short 30 minutes. The time flew by!”

“Thank you for your help, Marta! I enjoyed speaking with you! Thanks for being patient with me and helping me with fingerspelling. You taught me some fun things. Now I know how to sign "cruise"! I'm looking forward to chatting again sometime.”

If you want to practice your signing or want help to learn and study ASL, check out our ASL One-on-One Sessions, including Savvy Tutoring and Savvy Chat.

 

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Interpreter Q & A: Should interpreters share stories about their day (and their clients)?

Interpreter Q & A: Should interpreters share stories about their day (and their clients)?

Interpreter Tips   |  Friday, June 8, 2018

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the "Dear Abby" for the interpreting world - author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

This article is part of our "Dear BC, Interpreter Q & A” series, which answers questions on interpreting and Deaf culture from multiple perspectives. This article was also published in the Spring 2018 (Issue 35 Volume 2) Edition of VIEWS Magazine from RID. VIEWS is a digital publication distributed quarterly by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and dedicated to the interpreting profession. The magazine includes RID member spotlights, announcements from the RID board, and engaging stories about issues impacting the interpreting community. See this article (on page 14) and more in the Spring 2018 Edition of VIEWS Magazine from RID.

Dear BC,

My neighbor is an interpreter and she was telling me about all the gory things she has to face on a daily basis as an interpreter: feces, fungus, blood, naked bodies, nasty smells, foul language etc... No names of clients were disclosed but I couldn’t help but wonder how Deaf people would feel if they knew that she was talking and laughing about them. I remember when I was in the hospital, I was so sick I puked. I’m sure my poop stunk. I’m sure I looked like crap. I hope my nurses didn’t talk about me. I think the same should apply to interpreters. What is your opinion about this?

Sincerely,
Uneasy Neighbor

The video features a full interpretation of what is discussed in this article.

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

It certainly sounds like this interpreter enjoys telling these stories because of their sensationalism and for her own "visceral kicks." If I heard an interpreter telling stories about Deaf clients in their most vulnerable moments, I would ask her straight out "Where’s your compassion?! Where’s your discretion?!" Interpreting is a job. We are there to work, not to collect stories to impress our friends.

An Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

This interpreter showed a complete lack of respect for her clients. We are vulnerable and dependent on interpreters during some of the most scary and embarrassing moments of our lives. What was this interpreter’s intention? Yes, there are indeed unsavory and upsetting aspects of the job. But, telling stories and laughing about us is oppressive.

What's your perspective? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about BC  |  Articles by BC

Raising Deaf Children From a Foreign Land

Raising Deaf Children From a Foreign Land

Deaf Culture   |  Wednesday, May 2, 2018

By John Miller

The DNA heredity companies are very popular right now. Every time you turn on the television you see a new touching commercial of how people’s lives have been changed. While watching a recent commercial, there was a woman who, all her life, thought she was primarily from one genetic background and her ancestors came from one place and lived her life accordingly. However, after getting the results of her DNA test, she realized her ancestry really was from a totally different part of the world. The commercial ends showing her standing in front of a mirror wearing the ancestral clothing of her "new" native country and embracing and celebrating her new found information about herself.  

This got me thinking about deafness. I wish more people could have this reaction when they first find out that their child is deaf. Unfortunately, many in the medical field approach deafness from what is known as the Medical Model and see it as a disability that needs to be fixed, rather than a part of an ancestry that needs to be explored, learned and cultivated. 

This may stem from the often unknown fact that over 90% of deaf and hard of hearing children are born into families that are NOT deaf themselves. This is not common knowledge to many people. When I have posed the question to my sign language students and families I’ve worked with over my career as an educator, many believe that the percentage of deaf children that are born to hearing families is low, like 3-5%. I think their thought process is that the hereditary gene of deafness is the major factor in determining a child’s deafness. That is not, however, accurate. 

The families that make up this over 90% are busy with their lives and most likely have many other things going on like work, schooling, raising other children, etc.. so when a child with a different "genetic background" enters their family, it can seem like an unexpected challenge. Often times this child requires another language to be brought into the home. Things may have to be taught and communicated in a way that is different from what has traditionally been done in this home. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  It just means that extra time and effort and systems are going to have to be put in place so this uniquely different child can still be a part of their biological family, as well as the child’s "ancestral Deaf family."

Many of these hearing families aren’t familiar or educated on Deaf culture and don’t realize it has a rich history, customs, and community. Just as the woman in the DNA commercial put on her "new" ancestral clothing at the end of the commercial, families can education themselves on Deaf culture and choose to embrace and celebrate it.

 

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