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.

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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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Blog Articles by: John Miller

A blended approach to learning sign language is still the best!

Learning Tips   |  Monday, August 20, 2012

By John Miller

I often am asked what the best way to go about learning sign language is.  My stock answer is to take a blended approach (classes, web resources, books, practicing with others) in order to give yourself the best and most well rounded experience.

Classes of some sort, whether it is through your local community college, church, school class, or becoming enrolled in an actual interpreter training program can all be great ways to learn the language.  The reason for this is that the interactive part of taking a class and being able to actually practice with other new learners is so important!

I know many people have learned from books and through sites like Signing Savvy. However, taking a physical class with a teacher gives you the chance to get some expressive practice with other live individuals that can give you feedback and add a dimension not available through a book and internet resources.

Signing Savvy is the perfect companion when you are taking a class.  Our site currently offers more than five thousand signs (and we’re always adding more).  If you compare that to your average sign language book, that is about three times more signs!  Signing Savvy full membership is comparable to the cost of a sign language textbook, but offers some very unique features that you can’t get from a book.  Many of our customers who have become members are pleasantly surprised by the ability to access other user’s lists and create their own word lists that then allow them to create flashcards and quizzes to their specific learning needs.  The printing capabilities are also a wonderful added perk, which allow you to create your own hardcopy flashcards or even add printed signs to story books and art projects.

There are many ways to use Signing Savvy to learn sign language while taking a class or learning on your own.  See our article on how to use Signing Savvy to learn sign language for more tips.

Signing Savvy aims to be your sign language resource to aid you while taking a class, learning on your own, or as a reference to help you grow your sign language vocabulary.  Whether you start with a class or just a book or the Signing Savvy website, learning sign language can be a wonderful experience that opens you up to a whole new way to communicate and see the world more visually through signs and body language.


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Education Options for Children that are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

General Interest   |  Tuesday, April 24, 2012

By John Miller

We have received questions from parents, family and friends of newly identified children with hearing loss asking about what we know about educational options. Let me begin by saying that making educational decisions for you child is a very personal decision and takes a lot of thought and discussion with professionals that have specific knowledge of the services available in your area. There are many different education options to explore. You need to determine what is the best fit for your family.

Educational Options

Early Intervention / Preschool Programs

Early intervention / preschool programs are typically for children from birth to four years old. They aim to develop early language and communication skills, as well as provide support and resources for parents. These programs may be provided by a variety of local organizations, such as public schools, government (health and human services departments), residential schools, and private organizations.

When researching what types of programs are offered in your local area, find out who the programs are intended for and who teaches them. Some programs may be for a more inclusive group of children with a variety of special needs or they may be specifically for children that are deaf or hard of hearing. Teachers may have a degree in special education or have training specifically in deaf education. These distinctions may not reflect on the quality of the program, but are important to understand when evaluating your options.

Residential Schools

A residential school is an institution where students typically go and live full time while attending. These can be private or state schools. All the students in the school are deaf or hard of hearing. They are often educated by deaf teachers or teachers who are trained in deafness. Some residential schools offer day-only options for students that are able to commute from home.


  • Students will be around other deaf and hard of hearing students.
  • Education is tailored to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Schools often incorporate sign language.
  • Most schools offer a variety of extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs, where the students interact with other deaf residential schools.  These activities can help foster a larger Deaf community for the student.
  • Students build relationships and are involved in Deaf culture and community.
  • Often there is access to strong deaf role models.


  • Students are usually away from home and their families for long periods of time.
  • Children can feel isolated from their families.
  • There may be expenses involved in this type of schooling.

You can find a list of Schools and Programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in the United States on the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center Website.

Oral Day Schools or Sign Day Schools

Oral Day Schools or Sign Day Schools are schools that provide education for deaf or hard of hearing students, but they are day schools and the students return home each day. Oral Day Schools focus more on auditory and oral skills and do not incorporate sign language. Sign Day Schools do use sign language.


  • Students will be around other deaf and hard of hearing students.
  • Education is tailored to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing.
  • There may be additional pros, similar to those of residential schools.


  • The availability and location of these types of schools may eliminate them as an option for families who don’t live near one. They are often located in higher populated areas, like metropolitan cities.
  • There may be expenses involved in this type of schooling.

You can find a list of Oral Deaf Schools in the U.S. on the Oberkotter Foundation Oral Deaf Education Web Site

You can find a list of Schools and Programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in the United States on the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center Website.

Mainstreaming (Public School)

"Mainstreaming" has a long history of being a controversial topic in deaf and hard of hearing education. Mainstreaming is when a deaf or hard of hearing student attends a local public school with hearing students. The experience can vary greatly depending on the support services the school has to provide and the needs of the student.

The best way to find out what the services are in your local area is to contact the local public school district or regional service district and see what they have to offer. Because deafness is considered a “low incidence disability” by government education code (meaning there isn’t a large number of deaf children in a concentrated area), there is limited funding available and every school district handles it differently.

Having a general understanding of how the educational system is structured can help you understand how to navigate it. Typically a group of individual schools will make up a school district, and in parts of the U.S. there are also intermediate school districts that manage multiple school districts. Because there isn’t always enough funding for individual schools to have their own deaf or hard of hearing program, many times the programs will be controlled at the district or intermediate school district level and students are bused to one central location for education.

Here are some examples of how mainstreaming can vary:

  • Regular Classroom
    The student is in a regular classroom with hearing students and all instruction is from the classroom teacher(s). There are little to no additional support services provided for the deaf or hard of hearing student.
  • Regular Classroom with additional support services
    The student is in a regular classroom with hearing students, however, there is some support in addition to the classroom teacher(s). The support may come from an additional teacher, teacher consultant, teacher of the deaf, speech/language specialist, or interpreter. The support may be provided within the classroom, where the helper would co-teach or work with the deaf or hard of hearing student in conjunction with the main teacher addressing the entire class, or the student may meet with the specialist after class, outside of the classroom.
  • Resource Room
    The student is in a regular classroom with hearing students, however, they leave the classroom for designated periods to receive special instruction. Some students may be with other deaf or hard of hearing individuals during this period, or they may be with other students with special education needs, such as physical or cognitive disabilities – that is an important distinction to be aware of.
  • Self-Contained Classroom
    The student is in a class, separate from the regular classroom, with a teacher for the deaf.


The pros and cons of mainstreaming and the quality of that education vary greatly depending on the environment and type of support provided for the student. Mainstreamed students can feel isolated if they are the only deaf or hard of hearing student and may lack access to deaf role models. One advantage is that mainstreaming allows students to stay at home with their family, opposed to living away for schooling.  With resources being shared across school districts, students are often bused to one central location where they are with a group of deaf and hard of hearing students as well as hearing students, yet they may also have a self contained classroom that they can go to throughout the day for additional support. This allows the deaf and hard of hearing students to participate in any of the school's extracurricular activities, such as sports or clubs.

Homeschool Environment

Homeschooling is when students are educated by parents or tutors outside of the formal setting of a public or private school (like at home).


  • Parents have the opportunity to tailor the education experience specifically for their child.
  • The student doesn’t need to live away from home for schooling.


  • The student may feel isolated from peers.
  • When there is only a single education provider for an extended length of time, there may be less variety in teaching methods and perspectives that a student would receive in a typical school setting where they have a new teacher every year.
  • There may be significant costs associated when a tutor(s) are hired or a parent leaves their job to do homeschool instruction full time.

Making Education Decisions

Again, making education decisions for your child is a very personal decision. Some things to think about:

  • The best thing you can do is research your options and be an advocate for your child’s needs. Every child is different – with different learning styles, different personalities, different strengths, and different levels of hearing loss.
  • Education quality varies from school to school. No matter the type of education you choose to pursue, make sure that you learn what you can about the specific school and talk to other parents with children there if possible.
  • There is not one education option that is best for everyone. Every student and family is different and has different needs.
  • Hearing parents might want to connect with deaf adults who can provide advice on their own education experience.
  • Try to build positive relationships with school administrators and teachers. They may be able to help increase the options and opportunities available with the education system.

Please feel free to share your own experience by leaving a comment.


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Celebrated Deaf Artist Chuck Baird Dies

General Interest   |  Wednesday, February 29, 2012

By John Miller

Chuck BairdChuck Baird, an amazing Deaf artist died February 10, 2012 after a four-year battle with cancer.

Chuck Baird was often referred to as a playful mind and a generous heart. I was able to meet Chuck as he visited with a group of young Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. I have to admit his playful mind and generous heart is what stuck out to me the most while I watched him totally pull the children into his wonderful world of art.

Chuck was born deaf 64 years ago in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from Kansas School for the Deaf in 1967 and attended Gallaudet University for two years. Later he attended Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), where he played football for their team for only four games. He decided to give up the sport for his love of art instead.

Robert Baker of NTID’s Dyer Arts Center described Baird best as “a giant of an artist and a wonderful man.” Chuck’s time at NTID also included time spent in the Drama Club. He acted in several productions and designed and painted several sets. One of his most memorable plays was “King of Hearts” where each night Chuck would recreate the entire set in front of a live audience!

Later in life Chuck worked for DawnSignPress as an in-house artist creating a number of Deaf-related works.

Chuck’s works were known for the genre called De’VIA, which stood for Deaf View Image Arts. This genre explored the perspective of Deaf people and their experiences in a hearing world. Deaf and Hard of Hearing children of all ages loved to see their language, American Sign Language, being used in art to express their point of view.

Chuck Baird's painting Crocodile Dundee
"Crocodile Dundee" Copyright Chuck Baird, 1992. In this Chuck Baird painting, notice the reflection of the crocodile is the sign for crocodile. To see more of Chuck Baird's paintings, visit Chuck Baird's website.

“Chuck spent his life sharing his talent and love for the Deaf-world via his art. He constantly sought to create spaces where new De’Via artists could be fostered, shared, valued and discussed.”

Rest in Peace Chuck Baird, your talents will live on through the many, many people you inspired with your great perspective and zest for life.

Learn more about Chuck Baird:

Article Sources:



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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.

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.

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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