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

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.


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.


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


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


  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



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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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