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

Sign of the Day - MOUNTAIN

Blog Articles by: John Miller

About Signing Savvy Video

Site News   |  Sunday, January 13, 2013

By John Miller

This video gives a brief overview of the Signing Savvy service and the inspiration behind it by one of the Signing Savvy founders, John Miller.  In addition to his work on Signing Savvy, John has been a teacher, educator, and administrator at the K-12 and University level.  His focus throughout his career has been on Deaf Education and working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children and their parents.

Transcript of Video

Over 90% of deaf and hard of hearing children are born into hearing families. So that statistic alone is shocking for a lot of people to hear. But what that means is that over 90% of the children are coming home with a family that sign language is not their primary language.

People often ask me how it was that I got my start in sign language and where that interest came from. When I was a teenager, 12 or 13, and babysat for three little girls that lived across the street from me. And they were very close together in age, one, two, and three. The mother picked up pretty quickly that the middle child, the one that was two at the time when I started with her, wasn't responding and wasn't picking up the language that her sisters were. So after they did some testing they found out that she was in fact severe to profoundly deaf. And me as a twelve year old boy didn't really know how to help other than I wanted to.
 
So one thing that I could do is go to my local library and look for a sign language book. And I did that and learned the whole book really quickly and I took it back and tried to work with the little girl and work with the mom and get them to understand. And it was just a really neat experience for me to see that little girl for the first time in her life pick up on things and realize that there was a word for things and a way to ask for things and a way to communicate. So I really quickly learned that this was something that I really wanted to do with my life at a pretty young age.
 
The beauty of Signing Savvy to me is that it started out as this one vision (an online Sign Language Dictionary) but with everyone else who has jumped on board with it we have turned it into something that was beyond what any of us ever thought it could be.
 
It is so much more than just a book that you just open and look at a sign and go, "I think it is like this." You can actually click on that picture and you can see it come to life. It is so much more comprehensive and so much more inclusive than what a book would be.
 
I wanted something that could be a communication tool between school and home. A teacher can take the printing feature option and they can, after creating a word list of, let's say they are talking about vegetables in the classroom that week, they can create word lists of all the different vegetables and actually print those signs off onto cards that are sent home with the student. The children can sit down at the computer actually and be able to go through quizzes and (digital) flash cards and things like that they can do that study vegetables and then be able to go home and access that same teacher's word list.
 
We know that language cannot begin and end in the classroom. It has to continue on with home too. It is the parent's responsibility to do that in the home setting. It is the teacher's responsibility to do that at school. And it is everyone's responsibility to make that all mesh together enable to give our children the best opportunities possible.
 
I knew that there were other people out there that used sign language that were not necessarily deaf or hard of hearing but I did not realize to what magnitude it was. And I did not realize the outpouring of "thank you"s that we would get from people out there who stumbled upon our site for some reason or another that are so thankful because we have given them a voice - the people who have children with down syndrom, the people that have children with cognitive impairments, and, you know, the adults, I have a really touching letter from a young man who is in Afghanistan and lost his hearing from an accident there. And he said, "I did not have a voice, and you gave me back a voice."
 
We have the opportunity to make changes, to give children, adults, anybody who wants to a voice, a way to communicate that they may not have done before and it is exciting. It is exciting. And that is my passion. That's what I wanted to do (with Signing Savvy). It is so much more and so much deeper that I even thought was possible, but it is extremely rewarding.
 

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Thinking BROAD as you learn sign

Learning Tips   |  Thursday, December 27, 2012

By John Miller

Recently I visited with a group of parents of young deaf children who were sharing their frustrations and struggles with learning sign. They were asking for tips to improve their skills as their families learn the language of their young deaf children.  Their question is one that I hear often, and I know I have addressed it in previous blogs, but because I hear it so much, I thought it might be good to discuss it again. I will also point out a feature from our site that might help bring some clarity to the issue.

 
The parent's confusion was with the idea of how one sign can mean one of many English words AND how to know which English word to voice when the sign that they use could have multiple English translations.
 
Let's use the word FINISH for an example.  If you pull up this word on Signing Savvy, in the "This sign is also used to say" (blue) box near the bottom of the page, you will see that this sign can also be used for ALREADY, COMPLETE, DONE, and ALL DONE.  
 
This concept becomes difficult for new learners of the language to comprehend because they are used to all of these words being said differently and spelled differently in the English language.  Remember, sign language is a visual language and many times if the concept that is being signed is conceptually correct, you don't need to worry if the word you are going to say is exactly the right English word, as long as the meaning of the concept is conveyed.  
 
To further emphasize this point, if you sign FINISH after the sign HAVE, as in HAVE FINISH, you are changing HAVE into the past tense form of that word, which is HAD. This also works with DO (DO FINISH = DID) or pretty much any verb that you want to make into a past tense.
 
So if you revisit our example from above:
 
If the child were to sign:  BOOK READ FINISH, you could voice, "I already read that book" or "I finished reading the book" or " I am done with my reading."  Hearing people get all worked up over which one is right but to a deaf person, they are probably going to say that the concept is clear - the reading of the book is finished. The exact English words aren't important as long as the concept is understood.
 
So think broad, focus on the concepts and the big picture, don't get too wrapped up in English word-by-word breakdown, after all ASL is not English.....oh and breath!
 

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The Many Faces of the Users of Sign Language

General Interest   |  Sunday, November 25, 2012

By John Miller

About a year and a half ago, I came across a young man having problems in one of my schools.  He was about five years old and like any other five year old boy, he was a bit stubborn.  But, unfortunately, he was also known to be a bit of a “flight risk” from the classroom.  We will call him Alex.

Alex isn’t deaf.  I don’t even think he is hard of hearing.  Alex is a very bright young man….a bright young man with Downs Syndrome.  Because of the Down’s, Alex has a lot of trouble with his expressive communication skills.  He can hear everything anyone is saying to him, and he really enjoys interacting with others he comes across.  He is a very affectionate boy.  But up until a year and a half ago, Alex had no real way to communicate back to others what he wanted to say. He made noises here and there but other than gestures, his full thoughts were not being conveyed well and his frustration with communication was evident.

Thankfully Alex’s teacher had previously worked as a speech therapist in a Deaf and Hard of Hearing classroom and she suggested Alex be placed in a DH/H classroom setting where he would be submersed in sign language and he would have continual access to those who used it. Alex picked up on the concept of signing almost immediately.  His signs, much like baby signs are often approximations of the true ASL sign, but they are definitely understandable.  His command of language shows remarkable purpose and thought.

Today it is AMAZING to see Alex sign with his teachers, interpreters and his peers.  He has a schedule and knows exactly how to use it and the purpose behind it, even making suggestions of ways to add to his schedule so that it is more complex and inclusive to his needs.  He is reading everyday words that are a part of his schedule.  His mother and the staff that work with him are so happy with Alex’s progress.  “He has become a MUCH happier boy now that he can effectively communicate his wants and needs.”  Adds one member of his educational team.  His mother’s comment, “Our home life is night and day different and the frustrations, although still there at times, are so much less than what they were before Alex had a voice through sign language.” This comment brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat.

These are the people we created Signing Savvy for, the people who need a voice and those who work with them. We know there are others out there like Alex who may not be Deaf or Hard of Hearing but are still walking the earth “without a voice”.  If you know anyone who fits into this category, please don’t hesitate to suggest the introduction of sign language to them.  You may dramatically change their life forever!

Alex’s face is distinctly different than your typical Deaf or Hard of Hearing child, yet one thing is very much the same…..the smile when he is communicating.

 

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Vote or pass gas?

General Interest   |  Thursday, October 25, 2012

By John Miller

Seeing that we are in midst of the election season, I thought it would only be fitting to share a non-partisan sign language story that should give you a good chuckle as you enter your local voting precinct.

This story relates directly to how signs can have very similar hand shapes and very similar movements BUT can have very different meanings just because of a few subtle changes!  For example, see the similarity between the signs for vote and fart.

This experience happened to me in my first year of teaching in the public school system in rural Michigan.  It was Election Day, and like many public buildings, the school was being used as a voting precinct.  Because of this, the cafeteria was set up with tables and voting booths and the children had to eat their lunches in the classrooms.  I knew by the tilting of their little heads and the look of wonder in their eyes when I explained to my two young kindergarten students, that they clearly had no clue what I was explaining to them about voting and elections, and why they weren’t eating their lunch in the normal location.

I decided that after lunch, on our way down to their mainstream classroom, I would take advantage of this teachable moment and show them the cafeteria all set up and the people in the booths voting.

As I opened the door to the cafeteria (filled with many elderly folks both working the election and voting themselves) and did some explaining, I thought I saw the light come on in one of my student’s eyes; at which time she said (with very clear speech and sign), “So all these old people are here farting!” Thankfully half the people in the room were hard of hearing themselves and didn’t hear my student’s perception of what was happening in the room! I laughed so hard I cried! To this day whenever I walk into the voting booth I think about that former student and her confusion of the two signs and their very different meanings!  (I also wonder just how many people do walk in the voting booths, close the curtains and fart…sorry…I just do!)

 

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Clearing up the confusion between Translators, Interpreters, and Interveners

Learning Tips   |  Saturday, October 20, 2012

By John Miller

I thought it might be interesting for the Signing Savvy community to hear a little bit about the people who work in communication fields with deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing individuals.

It's easy to misunderstand the difference (or to even know there is a difference!) between a translator, interpreter, and intervener. However, they are different professions with varying expertise. The type of person you would work with would depend on the situation and needs of the individual, such as the level of hearing loss and if there are other communication needs to consider.

Translators

A Translator converts written materials from one language to another. It is a term that people often use interchangeably with "Interpreter." However, an Interpreter and a Translator are actually considered different professions.1 Translators work with written language and convert written materials from one language to another, while Interpreters work with spoken and sign language.

In the case of sign language, a translator would be someone (or a computer program) that translates written or typed English to Sign Language. Nearly all translation is done on a computer and requires knowledge of both Sign Language and English.

Interpreters

An Interpreter converts information from one spoken language into another— or, in the case of sign language interpreters, between spoken language and sign language. They help people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear communicate with each other.1

An Interpreter’s primary job is to act as a conduit through which communication is carried out. Although often much of their job is to listen to spoken language and turn it into signs in the air in order to communicate, they also will watch sign language and turn it into an English sentence in a spoken form.

Sign language interpreters must be fluent in English and in American Sign Language (ASL). Some interpreters specialize in oral interpretation (mouthing speech silently to aid in lip reading), cued speech (hand shapes placed near the mouth to aid in lip reading), and signing exact English.1

Interveners

An Intervener helps individuals that are deafblind communicate with others. Deafblind (yes, all one word) have both hearing and vision loss and, therefore, require different help with communication than someone with only hearing loss.

This is a job classification that is relatively new to many parts of the United States and still is a bit confusing for many people. The Intervener role, although newer to the U.S., has been around in Canada for many years. Interveners are typically a one-to-one service provider, while Interpreters often interpret one-to-one or in group settings in the front of a room.

Interveners MAY use tactile signing (making hand signs into the individual's hand) to interpret.  They may also sometimes use Braille (written language used by blind and visually impaired), however, not always. In contrast, Interpreters usually would NOT be using, or be expected to know, tactile signing or Braille to communicate with deaf or hard of hearing individuals.

Related Signing Savvy Blog Articles

  1. The mysterious confusion between deafness and blindness
  2. Braille Explained

Sources

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Interpreters and Translators.  Retrieved on October 10, 2012 from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/interpreters-and-translators.htm
     

 

 

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