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

Sign of the Day - COOK
(as in verb, to cook)

Blog Articles in Category: Learning Tips

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 1

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 1

Learning Tips   |  Friday, April 8, 2016

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the 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. This is the first article of this series, but watch for more to come!

Hello! I’m Brenda Cartwright (BC) and today’s fun topic is: “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. Sick vs. Disease

You can remember the signs for SICK and DISEASE because your extended middle fingers point at the areas where we often feel sick - at your forehead and stomach. For SICK, touch your forehead and stomach at the same time. DISEASE is similar, but you make small circles in and out from the body.


2. Ask vs. Question

The signs for ASK and QUESTION can look similar, but for ASK you make a bent motion with your index finger as it moves in the direction of who you are asking the question of, while when you sign QUESTION you make the outline of a question mark in the air.


3. Senate vs. Committee

SENATE and COMMITTEE look similar because they are both ASL initialized signs of the sign for MEMBER. The S-hand is used when signing SENATE and the C-hand is used when signing COMMITTEE.


4. Science vs. Experiment

To remember these signs, think of combining the contents of two beakers or test tubes by pouring them into a single container. SCIENCE uses A-hands and EXPERIMENT is an ASL initialized sign of SCIENCE that uses E-hands. CHEMISTRY (C-hands) and BIOLOGY (B-hands) are also ASL initialized signs of SCIENCE.


5. Convince me vs. Convince you

Convince is a directional sign. To sign CONVINCE ME, your B-hands make a chopping motion at the same time towards your neck and to sign CONVINCE YOU the motion is done outward, towards the person you are trying to convince.

Convince me
Convince you

6. Pray vs. Request

PRAY and REQUEST are similar, but for PRAY your hands are together and make a downward motion in front of your chest, while REQUEST starts with your hands away from your body and then they move in to come together and make the PRAY sign.


7. Attention vs. Focus

ATTENTION has both open flat hands start by the eyes and make small forward movements, while your hands when signing FOCUS move forward and down as they focus in on a point.


8. Russia vs. Brag

RUSSIA and BRAG are both signed at the waist, but RUSSIA uses 5-hands (think of placing the hands at the waist during a Russian dance), while BRAG alternates Y-hands (think of strutting around).


9. Drink (as in "drink something non-alcoholic") vs. Drink (as in "drink liquor")

It’s easy to get the different signs for DRINK confused, but signing you need a drink can have two very different meanings depending on what sign you use. The two signs use the same movement and placement, but DRINK (as in "drink something non-alcoholic") uses a C-hand, while DRINK (as in "drink liquor") uses a modified C-hand with three fingers.

Drink (water)
Drink (alcohol)

10. Don't mind vs. Don't care

DON’T MIND and DON’T CARE both start at the nose and move away from the face, but DON’T MIND uses the index finger, while DON’T CARE starts as a flat O-hand and opens up.

Don't mind
Don't care

11. Glasses vs. Gallaudet

This example shows that small differences in movement matter. For both signs, the G-hand starts open and closes as it pulls back - there is one movement for GALLAUDET and two movements for GLASSES. You can remember that the sign for GALLAUDET is like the sign for GLASSES because Thomas Gallaudet wore glasses.


12. Empty vs. Available

This is another example of how small differences in movement matter. For both signs the middle finger slides out along the back of the non-dominant hand - there is one movement for EMPTY and two movements for AVAILABLE.


13. Sad vs. Friendly

Facial expressions are important when conveying meaning in sign language, but especially when it comes to signing emotions. When signing SAD, the open 5 hands slowly slide down the face, while for FRIENDLY they make a fluttering motion while moving up and away from the face.


14. March vs. Funeral

A similar movement is made when signing MARCH and FUNERAL, but MARCH uses 4-hands with the palms down marching out (think of your fingers as two rows of (four) band members marching together in sync in a parade), while FUNERAL uses upright V-hands (remember your fingers point up by thinking of them as the legs of cartoon characters - they always die with their legs/feet sticking up in the air).


These examples are aligned with the Visual Discrimination section of Lesson 8 (page 98) 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.

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When and How to Start Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby

When and How to Start Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby

Learning Tips   |  Thursday, February 4, 2016

By Jillian Winn

When to start signing with your hearing baby?

Experts recommend to start talking to your child at birth – even newborns benefit from hearing speech and talking to your child is an important part of how they learn language and to speak. You can talk to them, describe what you are doing as you’re doing it, describe what’s going on around you, tell stories, sing songs, and read books.

Because we would talk to our son when he was born, it just seemed natural to also start signing right away as well.  Plus, research has shown signing activates the area of the brain that makes learning a new word easier,1 2 so why not! It’s never too early (or late) to start signing with children. Babies as young as 4 months old can start using signs (signing them) if they have been introduced to the signs for at least a month.3 The wait for the first sign is usually the longest, but often there will be an increase of signs used.4 Don’t be discouraged if your child is older, it is never too late to start learning sign language and there are benefits to learning sign language at any age.

How many signs should we start with?

There isn’t an ideal number of signs to start with.  Many children grow up in bilingual households and are able to learn multiple languages.  How many signs you start using with your baby really depends on what works for you and your family.

  • If you are a fluent or native signer, use sign language all of the time.
  • If you are not a fluent signer, but have a deaf infant, try to learn ASL yourself and use it as much as you can.
  • If you are excited about learning sign language, learn as much as you can and incorporate as much as you can into your daily language.
  • If you’re new to sign language and want to start signing with your hearing baby, the key is to do what you’re comfortable with and don’t get overwhelmed.  Start with a few signs and go from there.  Add more signs as it makes sense to do so, just keep with it!  Being able to communicate with your baby using sign before they can talk is rewarding for both you and your child.

We are hearing parents of hearing children. When we started signing with our first son, we wouldn’t sign everything we said, just the words that were most common to his world. For example, when saying, “Do you want milk?” We would just sign MILK (with the appropriate facial expression for asking a question).  Eventually we would add more signs, such as MILK + WANT.

Repetition is also an important part to learning new things, so we tried to be consistent in the signs that we used and picked signs that would occur naturally during a typical day. Now, with our second son, in addition to signing signs, I like to fingerspell words to him, like his name, his brother’s name, etc. (I like to have the excuse to practice my fingerspelling!). The “right” way to introduce signs to your baby is whatever works for you and your family, just keep at it and keep adding more signs!

What signs should we start with?

There has been an increasing trend for hearing parents to teach their hearing babies sign language, because of that, there are a number of baby signing resources available and varying opinions on how to do it and how to get started.

The most common recommendations of signs to start with are:

But I wouldn’t recommend starting with the most “common” baby signs or sticking to any get-started list. After all, you’re not creating lesson plans and teaching class, you’re just living life and incorporating signing into your everyday activities. The best strategy is to pick signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life.  For example, if your baby doesn’t use a PACIFIER or have a TEDDY BEAR, then there is no reason to have those included in the signs you start with.

You will also want to think about timing – when you start signing with your baby and what they do on a regular basis should have a big influence on the signs you start with.  For example, if you start signing right away with your baby, the first signs you choose may be MILK, SLEEP, and POTTY because all they do is eat, sleep and go to the bathroom.  You wouldn’t want COOKIE to be one of the first signs at that age because you don’t give a newborn a cookie and it wouldn’t be a regular part of their world yet.

Read our other articles on suggestions of what to sign at different baby ages.  These include examples of what I signed with my son and are meant to be a rough guide, but make sure that you only use suggestions as a guide and pick signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s world.

You can easily use Signing Savvy to create your own custom word list of signs for each stage or age of your baby’s life. Sharing the word lists you have created is a great way to get other people, like grandparents and babysitters, in the loop on what signs your baby is learning or knows.


  1. Kelly, S., McDevitt, T., and Esch, M. (2009). Brief training with co-speech gesture lends a hand to word learning in a foreign language. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24(2), 313-334.
  2. Xu, J., Gannon, P., Emmorey, K., Smith, J., & Braun, A. (2009). Symbolic gestures and spoken language are processed by a common neural system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(49), 20664-20669.
  3. Thorne, B. (2011, August 20). More day care centers, parents using sign language to communicate with babies. MLive. Retrieved 10/29/2014 from
  4. Berg, L. (2012). The Baby Signing Bible. New York: Penguin Group.


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Cooking Up Language with Signs: Language Learning and Teachable Moments Through Cooking

Cooking Up Language with Signs: Language Learning and Teachable Moments Through Cooking

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, November 18, 2015

By John Miller

Why is cooking a good language learning activity?

Children find creating things with their own two hands very motivating. They get excited to see how they can be directly involved in the whole process. There is so much that can be taught through cooking activities in your classroom or home - from the choosing of the recipe, the shopping for the products at the grocery store (or a pretend grocery store), the prepping of the food, the actual cooking/baking, the sharing of the creation with others, and the debriefing (talking about what and how they made something).

You don’t have to make anything fancy or complex. In fact, using very simple recipes allows the focus of your cooking activity to be on language learning - sequencing and following directions, learning new vocabulary, describing and recalling information, and asking questions. Cooking activities are great one-on-one or as a group activity where everyone takes turns.

New series of articles focuses on language learning and teachable moments through cooking.

We are starting a new "Cooking Up Language with Signs" series, which features a recipe and accompanying Signing Savvy word list to get you started on an interactive cooking activity that is great for spicing up language learning at home or in the classroom. These activities provides teachers and parents with amazing language opportunities through teachable moments.

Teachable moments are everyday moments that happen throughout the day and open up prime opportunities for you to teach your students/children valuable language lessons. Hearing people learn so much through incidental learning (just overhearing conversations or discussions), but deaf children don’t have these opportunities because of the lack of hearing so we need to use teachable moments to directly teach these types of things.

Tips for the Cooking Activities

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you do these cooking activities.

1. Sign throughout the cooking activity.

Pick up and sign each ingredient. You can do this as a check list through the recipe to make sure you have everything you need before you get started. Food is always a great place to start, but sign everything, not just the ingredients! Sign the steps and pick up and sign the tools you are using too.

2. Use the recipe’s accompanying word list as guide to help you review the steps of the recipe and what signs you will be using.

You can also use the wordlist to print out the signs as a reference, or have your computer up with the wordlist while you are cooking.

3. Don’t limit yourself to the ingredients (or signs) in the recipe or word list!

You have the freedom to modify the recipe to your liking - swap out different ingredients like substituting a fruit in a recipe for your favorite fruit, or make changes to accommodate any allergy or dietary needs, and of course your personal preferences. Experimenting is part of the fun and the learning! Use Signing Savvy as a reference to look up any additional signs you may need.

Additionally, you can create your own word list if you want to customize the signs for the recipe based on the types of ingredients you choose to use.

4. Share your delicious treat with others and tell them, using sign language, how you made it!

5. After the cooking activity, you can also have the children use the digital flash cards or quizzing option on Signing Savvy to review the signs from the word list. You can also share your word list with others.

We hope you enjoy this series and all the tasty creations you make along the way!


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5 Tips for Creating a Language Rich Environment for Deaf Children Through Routines and Consistency

5 Tips for Creating a Language Rich Environment for Deaf Children Through Routines and Consistency

Learning Tips   |  Monday, October 5, 2015

By John Miller

Deaf adults who grew up in hearing families often talk about their lives as young children being a blur because they never knew what was happening or why. Being herded around and gestured to without proper communication are commonly reported.

You may have heard the old saying, "chaos breads discontent." It’s true. Children thrive on a routine and consistency in their lives.  For many young children, the beginning of their school career is the first time they are exposed to a schedule and have to follow a routine. The transition may be difficult in the beginning, but before long most children have settled into this new way of life and feel comfortable because the routine helps them to know what to expect.

The same thing holds true for deaf children, maybe even more so. Many deaf children are born into families where communication is a struggle and if the household lacks routine, the child may have more difficulties understanding what’s going on. This is where routines and consistency will be helpful for them. Routines and consistency also help with reinforcing language and vocabulary learning, as well as concept development.

Here are 5 tips to help with creating a language rich environment through routine and consistency:

1. Eat at the dinner table with the family as often as possible.

Set a realistic goal of eating dinner together as often as you can. While at the dinner table, take advantage of the "captive audience" by asking questions and getting them talking/signing.

2. Read at least one book a night to your child.

Read at least one book a night even if in the beginning it only consists of looking through the book and doing signs here and there for the various pictures. You can create wordlists on Signing Savvy to go along with the books to help you and your child learn the signs from the book. Your child’s teacher can help with this also.

Also see our article on Tips for Reading with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

3. Communicate daily with your child’s teacher.

If your child is in school (or daycare), ask the teacher for topics discussed and activities conducted each day so that you can review them with your child before bed. This is great example of an activity to help expand you and your child's vocabulary.  Signing Savvy's ability to look up signs and create shared word lists, especially if done in collaboration with the teacher, can assist with this routine.

4. Create a schedule with signs. 

Creating a schedule helps to give your deaf child a clear idea of what will be happening throughout their day. When creating the schedule, include  pictures, words, and signs (you can print signs from Signing Savvy).

Create a schedule for a consistent routine

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

5. Have your child write about their day.

Have your child keep a special notebook or journal where they write about their day. "Writing" in the journal can consist of pictures, words, signs, and/or shadow writing through parents as helpers. This is a great way to create memories, brainstorm things to talk about, and go back to read what they wrote so they can reflect on their week. The journal can also be shown and shared with others. 

To get started, any notebook will do, but if you are looking for a journal with questions and prompts to help get your child writing and doodling, here are some you could try.

Starter Journals for Younger Children (4 - 8 years old):

My Book About Me

Draw & Write Children's Journal

Doodle Books for tweens and teens (8 - 16 years old):

Doodle Diary: Art Journaling for Girls

Doodle Sketchbook: Art Journaling for Boys

The key with any of these suggestions is to be consistent. Consistent, predictable routines with language can help make their world a "clearer" one.

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Use Sign Language to Communicate With Your Hearing Baby Before They Can Talk – An Overview of Why to Use American Sign Language (ASL)

Use Sign Language to Communicate With Your Hearing Baby Before They Can Talk – An Overview of Why to Use American Sign Language (ASL)

Learning Tips   |  Thursday, August 6, 2015

By Jillian Winn

Babies have thoughts and feelings they want to communicate with you much sooner than they develop the verbal skills to be able to express those thoughts through speech.

How Babies Communicate

Newborn waivingMy son waiving his hands at about one week old.

Babies communicate by crying differently in different circumstances, cooing and smiling in response to you, making baby-babble sounds, making facial expressions, mimicking your gestures, waiving their hands, and squeezing your fingers. There are theories and even products to help parents analyze their baby’s cries, but you don’t have to be a baby whisperer to understand what your baby is trying to communicate if you give them tools to express themselves in a way you can understand – baby sign language.

On average, babies don’t start to say words until around 1 year old. However, their cognitive skills for thinking, feeling, and recognizing action and reaction develop much earlier. They also develop hand-eye coordination at an earlier age – first they squeeze your finger and eventually they point, wave, and mimic your gestures.

Babies naturally use their hands and facial expressions to communicate. Both of my sons, like many babies, would pucker their lips into an “O,” tilt their head to the side, and punch their little fist in the air when they were hungry. They are instinctively looking for the breast or bottle, but they are also clearly communicating through their hands and facial expressions.

Because babies are able to make and mimic gestures, they are able to learn baby sign language and use it to communicate before they can talk.

Signing with Hearing Babies

Baby sign language is the use of signs to communicate with infants and toddlers. It’s not its own language. When you teach signs to a baby, often you would use American Sign Language (if you are in the United States or Canada where American Sign Language is used, otherwise you would use the sign language used in your region, such as British Sign Language or French Sign Language), but some people use other types of sign language or even use modified or made-up signs. Of course, we recommend using American Sign Language (ASL).

There are many advantages to using ASL when teaching your hearing baby to sign. It is a real language. Because it is a real language, other people are familiar with the signs, there is no need to “remember” a made-up sign, and there are resources to use to look up signs (Signing Savvy, of course!).

Knowing ASL is also fun for children when they see others using it. As the child grows up, they may meet deaf peers or other people who know ASL. Some preschools and daycares are beginning to incorporate sign language into their curriculum and it is becoming more common to see ASL in popular media, such as commercials, television shows, and movies.

Benefits of Signing

There are many benefits of being able to communicate with your baby using sign language before they can talk. Research studies have found parents who sign with their infants and toddlers reported:

  • Fewer tantrums1
  • Better social skills1
  • Less frustration (from both children and parents)1
  • Less parenting-related stress2 3
  • More affectionate interactions2 3
  • Easier time responding to upset children2 3

Research studies have found that signing activates the area of the brain that makes learning a new word easier4 5 and infants and toddlers that used signs had better language skills than children that did not use signs.6 7 They found children who used signs:

  • Had larger vocabularies and understood and used more words5
  • Used longer sentences5
  • Had a higher Verbal IQ8

Of course, the greatest immediate benefit is that your baby is able to communicate with you and you are able to understand them. 

We started signing with our first son when he was born.  MILK is the first sign he started to use and the sign that he would use most often (he still has an addiction to milk at the age of 2.5 years old!).  He would use some signs, but I remember clearly the first time he used sign to really make a strong statement. I had given him a sippy cup with water in it.  He instantly started to cry, dramatically threw the sippy cup on the ground, and forcefully raised his fist in the air and began repeatedly signing milk.  His actions, combined with his signing, made his message very clear: “Mom, this water is not going to cut it. I want milk!!”  So although he had a mini tantrum, it was short-lived because I knew he wasn’t frustrated just because he didn’t want water, but because we wanted milk – and NOW!

Although most useful for understanding our son’s desires, signing was also a great way for us to learn and practice vocabulary together and get a glimpse into his thoughts.  One example is we would use animal signs when reading books with animals and when playing with animal toys.  Because he wasn’t talking yet, it was hard to know if he was learning the animal names, but we were happily surprised when we went to the zoo and he was excitedly signing all of the animals to us as we saw each new animal.


It’s easy to start signing with your baby and it’s amazing to be able to communicate with them through sign before they are able to talk.

To get started, simply use signs when communicating with your child. There isn’t a “right” way or specific order to learning or teaching signs, just start by picking signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life.


  1. Acredolo, L. & Goodwyn, S. (2002). Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
  2. Gongora, X. & Farkas C. (2009). Infant sign language program effects on synchronic mother-infant interactions. Infant Behavior & Development, 32, 216-225.
  3. Vallotton, C. (2012). Infant signs as intervention? Promoting symbolic gestures for preverbal children in low-income families supports responsive parent-child relationships. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(3), 401-415.
  4. Kelly, S., McDevitt, T., and Esch, M. (2009). Brief training with co-speech gesture lends a hand to word learning in a foreign language. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24(2), 313-334.
  5. Xu, J., Gannon, P., Emmorey, K., Smith, J., & Braun, A. (2009). Symbolic gestures and spoken language are processed by a common neural system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(49), 20664-20669.
  6. Goodwyn, S. & Acredolo L. (1993). Symbolic gesture versus word: Is there a modality advantage for onset of symbol use? Child Development, 64(3): p. 688-701.
  7. Goodwyn, S., Acredolo, L., & Brown, A. L. (2000). Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Verbal and Nonverbal Behavior, 24(2), 81-103.
  8. Acredolo, L. & Goodwyn, S. (2000). The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. International Society for Infant Studies. Brighton, U.K.


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