An ASL Dictionary

Signing Savvy is a sign language dictionary containing several thousand high resolution videos of American Sign Language (ASL) signs, fingerspelled words, and other common signs used within the United States and Canada.

And Much More!

Signing Savvy is an ideal resource to use while you learn sign language. It includes the ability to view large sign videos, build your own word lists and share them with others, create virtual flash cards and quizzes, print signs, build sign phrases, ...and more

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FINGERSPELLING……that dirty BIG four-teen letter word!

Learning Tips   |  Friday, February 3, 2012

By John Miller

letter i
In all my years of signing, I have never had anyone say to me, "I can’t believe how easy fingerspelling is!" or "Man, I really LOVE fingerspelling all these odd words that don’t have signs for them." It just isn’t a favorite part of the job! It is the thing that makes even seasoned interpreters break into a sweat when they have to start signing for a calculus class or in a court of law with a bunch of foreign names flying through the air.

I have come up with a few tricks through the years to make it easier, but the only true way to improve your fingerspelling skills is to practice. The practice needs to be both receptive and expressive.

Signing Terminology

Expressive - When you are signing/fingerspelling something to someone else.

Receptive - When you are reading(watching) someone else's signing/fingerspelling

There are some good websites out there that offer some examples to get that receptive practice. (See our Facebook page for one sited there.) I also want to take this opportunity to show you a few ways Signing Savvy can help you with your fingerspelling. Although we have many savvy users of the site, it can be easy to overlook features if you have not used them before.

First, Signing Savvy shows a fingerspelled version of every word. When viewing a sign video, the squares next to the word indicate the different versions of the sign that exist and there is always a "FS" version, which lets you see the word fingerspelled. It is a good reference, however, you will notice that the "FS" version individually signs each letter and does not demonstrate the flow between the letters. (Note: There are some words that should always be fingerspelled and the main video is of the word being fingerspelled - see ASL as an example and notice the flow between letters). You will notice that underneath the video it tells you what is currently being signed, including the current letter being signed when fingerspelling a whole word.

Signing Savvy fingerspelling features

Second, if you are a Signing Savvy Full Member you can use the Signing Savvy flashcards and quizzes to test yourself on fingerspelled words by creating a wordlist of only fingerspelled versions of words. If you want to add a word that has multiple signed versions to your wordlist, just make sure you are viewing the "FS" or fingerspelled version before adding it to your wordlist. Once you have all the words you want in your wordlist, use either the flashcard or quizzing feature in Signing Savvy to test yourself.

I thought it would be interesting to put the question out there to our Facebook followers and see if they could come up with a few interesting tricks of their own. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Fingerspelling while in the car.
    Several people suggested the trick of fingerspelling while in the car (license plates, road signs, building names etc….). I like that idea but I just hope you are the passenger in the car at the time so that you aren’t having to fingerspell the license plate of the car you rear-end because you are too focused on spelling the LONG name on the building you are passing!

    If you are on a longer road trip, you could also play the "alphabet game" where you look for words (on signs, billboards, buildings, cars, etc.) that start with each letter of the alphabet, starting with A. You compete with others in the car by trying to be the first to get to Z. Each word you see, you would point at it and then fingerspell it. An alternate version would be to look for any item, not just words. Of course, again, this game is not recommended for the driver.

  • Focus on the whole word and not letter by letter.
    Another suggestion from our Facebook friends was to focus on the whole word and not letter by letter. This allows you to have a better flow as well. It is also helpful to say the sounds of the letters, NOT the letter itself as you are spelling the word phonetically. (This works well with both expressive and receptive fingerspelling.)

  • Don’t get fixated on each letter.
    Don’t get fixated on each letter, rather focus on the entire word and the flow of the hand changing as you create the word in the air. This will also help in not allowing you to “throw your letters”, which is another common problem for new finger spellers.

  • Signing Terminology

    "Throwing your letters" - This is something that many new signers do and it is a bouncing movement either up and down or forward that is disruptive and bothers with the reading of the fingerspelling. The elbow should stay still and just have the fingers moving and the wrist when appropriate.

    We also need to remember the general rules for fingerspelling. It isn’t right to makeup signs for words you don’t know because they are too long to fingerspell. You may laugh, but I see it happen all the time! Some people have even used the excuse that they work with young children so they can’t fingerspell. That is NOT true. When young children are fingerspelled to for small words that normally can be fingerspelled, they focus on the shape of the word. They will copy the shape to the best of their ability and then later they will make the connection to the alphabet. I have seen little children who are too young to know better, spelling words like BUS and BUG and are not even aware that they are spelling things.

    I invite everyone to join us on our Facebook page where we have regular discussions and questions going back and forth about the hot topics in sign language and Deaf Education. It is just another great resource offered to you by Signing Savvy!

 

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Showing TENSE while signing ASL

Learning Tips   |  Thursday, January 12, 2012

By John Miller

One thing that many new signers struggle with is how to show tense (past, present and future) while signing. In ASL, you don't sign words like went or going or suffixes like "ing", "ed" or "s".

By including the sign NOW at the beginning of a sentence, you can clarify the sentence is in the present tense.

English Version: I am going to the store.
ASL Version: NOW + STORE + I + GO.

By including the sign PAST or BEFORE (the open hand waves back over the shoulder in a single motion) at the beginning of a sentence, you can change the meaning of the sentence from present to past.

English Version: I went to the store.
ASL Version: BEFORE + STORE + I + GO

Alternatively, you can make the sentence show past tense by adding the sign FINISH to the end OR the beginning of the sentences.

English Version: I went to the store.
ASL Version 1: STORE + I + GO + FINISH
ASL Version 2: FINISH + STORE + I + GO

You can make the sentence show future tense by adding the sign NEXT to the beginning of the sentences.

English Version: I will go to the store.
ASL Version: NEXT + STORE + I + GO

To summarize, in ASL we use the following signs to clarify the tense:

The time of the day that the signer is signing the phrase can effect how the sentence is interpreted, even though the words/signs are exactly the same.

For example, if the sentence below was signed in the morning, the interpretation would be as shown: "Tonight, I will eat dinner."

English Version: Tonight, I will eat dinner.
ASL Version: NOW + EVENING + I + EAT + DINNER

But if the same sentence was signed late in the evening, its' interpretation would be: "Tonight, I ate dinner".

English Version: Tonight, I ate dinner.
ASL Version: NOW + EVENING + I + EAT + DINNER

As you can see, communicating tense can be a tricky thing sometimes. My recommendation is to pay attention to how others sign tenses and consciously practice it as you sign.

 

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Tips for Learning Sign Language in Your Natural Environment

Learning Tips   |  Saturday, December 10, 2011

By John Miller

One of the most common questions I get from people who are first learning sign language is, "How do you remember so many new words? It's overwhelming!" It is; and unless you plan on incorporating it into your everyday life, it won't stick with you.

Often sign language instructors will divide sign vocabulary up into categories like household items, food, family, colors, shapes etc... Doing this helps you to categorize the words and file them into your memory bank that way. As you are using Signing Savvy to learn, create your own word lists to categorize the signs you are learning or look into the many, many shared word lists that others have already created. This categorization of vocabulary will be very helpful to you in your learning.

Also, start with the words that are a part of your everyday life, the words with which you will have constant interaction. Then using the printing feature from Signing Savvy, print out little cheat sheet photos that you can place around the house on those everyday items. You will be surprised how quickly you will memorize the signs for these words.

Then later, because you have already created the word lists, you will be able to give yourself a quiz online to be able to sharpen those skills even more.

If you have others that live with you, see if they will help you practice both your receptive (you receiving the sign from others) and expressive skills (you signing the words to others). It is this constant interaction that will improve your learning experience.

 

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Learning Sign Language as a Foreign Language

General Interest   |  Tuesday, October 25, 2011

By John Miller

Learning signing language as a foreign language is a very good option for hearing students. It greatly enhances their understanding of languages. It increases their ability to communicate in a variety of situations when a spoken language is not an option. And American Sign Language is the fourth most used language in the United States. We love the idea of a world where more and more people are able to more effectively communicate with our vibrant Deaf and Hard of Hearing population. That has been a goal of our web site from day one!

Across the United States, many high schools are having to rethink the way they are currently running their foreign language programs. Many states are now requiring students in their 2014 graduating classes to have two years experience in a foreign language and many more are looking at requiring three! This has left school districts scratching their heads on how to meet these new requirements. Many smaller schools have just one foreign language they currently offer (generally Spanish), but are now struggling to figure out how to expand their offerings.

At Signing Savvy, we see this as a perfect opportunity for those who are interested in sign language to go to their school boards and ask for them to consider introducing sign language as a foreign language option to their school's curriculum. The school's administration will have to look into their own state's requirements for foreign languages. Many states do already accept sign language as a foreign language option. The administration will also have to work with the state to establish the credentials of the people who can teach the classes. In many states, teaching of sign language courses at the high school level can be done by a certified interpreter that also has a bachelor's degree or a teaching certificate.

There is no better time than now to get involved in your local school's education. We will do what we can to help you along the way, including continuing to provide a complete sign language resource that can help both students and educators in learning and teaching sign language.

 

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Writing a great research paper

Teaching Tips   |  Thursday, October 20, 2011

By John Miller

Challenge: Often times when a Deaf student is at the high school level, they have been using the language for so long that they are very fluent in it and great storytellers using their language, sign language, yet they still struggle with putting that great ability into a written form. This is where this next lesson idea can be a helpful tool.

Activity: Research a topic, present findings in a video, then write a report

Most students have times where they have to do reports, such as a report on a famous person or present an argument/cause. They can do a good job at the research part, and can even tell others about all the information they have gathered and learned about, but converting that into written word is still a struggle. Allowing the students to put their knowledge first into a video format is very beneficial because of this. It allows the students to use sign language that is rich in dramatic expression to convey their thoughts and knowledge without limiting them to the English words that they may struggle with.

Have the students make a video first, then use the video as a guide to translate the ASL presentation into a great written paper. This idea allows for freedom to communicate in a Deaf student's own language, without stifling their creativity. It also allows a very teachable moment for you as the teacher to help translate their signed words into written expression, with the ability to start and stop and revisit if needed. The end product will be an amazing expression of the student's actual knowledge and creativity...and a lot of fun too!

Activity Summary

Grades: 6 - 12

Materials Needed:

  • Video camera or phone with built-in video camera
  • Video editing software (iMovie, for example)
  • Computer (for researching; for making video; for writing paper)

Activity:

  1. Research topic
  2. Create a video to report findings
  3. Use the video as a guide to translate the ASL presentation into a great written paper
  4. Revise paper after receiving feedback from teacher (and parents)

Common Core Standards:
As a reference, you may want to refer to the English Language Arts Standards for Grade 6-8, Grade 9-10, and Grade 11-12, many of which could be intergrated into this assignment.

 

Home Extention: Fostering communication between school and home

Of course both the video and the paper are excellent tools to send home to help foster communication between school and home. You could even send the video home and have the parent help their child in translating the sign language into written English. That way, both the student and their parent will teach each other and learn a lot along the way.

 

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