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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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Blog Articles in Category: Learning Tips

Setting Up People, Places and Things

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, July 28, 2010

By John Miller

The use of space is a very important feature in American Sign Language. The way to be able to refer back to different people, places or things (referents) is to use the space around the signer. You do this by setting up the space. This is done in a three dimensional manner. It can be done in the space to the left or right of the signer, in front of the signer, in a semi-circle around the signer, or in rare cases behind the signer.

The signer establishes the person, place or thing by identifying them within the sign space, and then leaving them there (in space). The signer can then refer back to that specific space every time they are talking about that referent. Other signers in the same conversation can also refer to and use this sign space once it has been established (set up).

The setting up of the space can happen a few different ways:

  1. A person, place or thing can be fingerspelled in a certain location.
  2. You can make a sign in that location.
  3. A sign classifier can be signed in that location.
  4. The use of a directional verb can be signed toward a certain location.

One rule of thumb is to never set up more than six referents in any one conversation. Even that can be too many if there is going to be a lot of information associated with each. The proper use of space can make your signing much clearer and easily understood when done following these rules.

Happy Signing!

 

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Making signs plural or in the past tense

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, July 14, 2010

By John Miller

We have received several emails asking how to make signed words plural or showing if something happened in the past, as well as having emphasis to show desire.

There are a few different ways to do this:

  1. One way to show an emphasis or plurals is to repeat the sign. For example, if you are wanting to say “He wants that really bad!” You would sign WANT+WANT+THAT+HE. That double use of the sign want shows that he really wants it. You would NOT sign the word bad because it has a different meaning in this sentence. The double signing of want also makes it a plural.
  2. Showing something happened in the past can be done by making a gesture of throwing it over your shoulder. This is using the sign space that refers to the past. (Use the 5-hand with the palm facing backward, moving in a backward direction).
  3. You can also sign FINISH after a sign to show that it happened in the past. For example, if you want to say "He wanted to go." You could sign GO+HE+WANT+FINISH.
  4. There is an English signing method that has you add the S or ED or ING ending to the words but this is not as widely used and is actually frowned upon by most people who use American Sign Language. The more appropriate method is to determine what is meant and translate it accordingly. For example, if you want to say "He is left wanting." You could sign HE+WANT+MORE+STILL.

Happy Signing!

 

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How do I get my signs to flow together so that I don't look choppy when I am signing?

Learning Tips   |  Friday, April 30, 2010

By John Miller

As a beginning signer, it is just natural that you will be choppy. Once you get a larger sign vocabulary, you will not be so worried about searching for a way to say something that you know the signs for and you will be able to focus on the flow of your signs.

When you sign music it also helps with the flow if you let the music guide you. There are a few different sites on the internet for you to watch music being signed to show you what I mean. For example, check out the D-Pan. Remember as I have stated in previous blogs, when you are signing music it is glossed (changed into concepts rather than word for word). Check out some songs that are popular and see if you can catch what the people are signing and why they are signing them that way. It is actually an art form all it's own.

 

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How long until I am a fluent signer?

Learning Tips   |  Friday, April 30, 2010

By John Miller

Many people often ask me this question. That is really a hard one to answer because everyone's rate of learning a new language varies greatly. The motivation behind the learning is going to be a key factor as well as the opportunity to actually practice what you are learning with multiple signers.

It is important to practice signing with, and reading from, many signers as you learn so you don't just get used to the way one particular person signs. Reading the sign of small children is always an interesting feat because of their tiny hands and the ways they may modify the sign (baby sign). Then again reading the sign of teenagers who may have their own "twist" to their sign style can be a challenge as well. Don't be intimidated if you have trouble understanding someone when you first meet him or her. Just try to relax and grasp the concepts being discussed rather than getting word for word (or sign for sign) of what they are saying.

My first sign language instructor told me, "You will know when you have become a fluent signer when you have your first dream in sign language." I thought that was really strange but sure enough, after about two years of signing, I had my first sign language dream...no voice, only sign. Since then it happens often for me. I find myself also using sign language in noisy situations or at times when I am extremely frustrated and trying to get my point across...even when I'm communicating with people who I know don't sign. I think it just shows that it has become that much a part of my life after almost thirty years of signing!

 

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Tips for Reading Fingerspelling

Learning Tips   |  Saturday, March 13, 2010

By John Miller

Many people talk to me about their frustrations with fingerspelling and want suggestions on how to improve their receptive skills when it comes to reading fingerspelling.

My suggestions tend to follow a lot of the same rules that apply to teaching a child to read:

  1. Practice, practice, pratice...the more you work on reading other people's fingerspelling, the better you will get. Everyone's fingers are different so it is important to practice with many different partners in order to experience all the styles of hands. (Unfortunately not everyone has long easily read fingers!)
  2. Don't get stuck on reading each letter as an individual letter. Instead think of it and the "shape" of the word. Watch for double letters and the beginning and ending letters. You should be able to fill in the rest with the contextual clues (much like you do with reading an unknown word in a sentence in a written passage).
  3. Instead of saying each letter as you are seeing it, say each SOUND. (You are basically sounding it out.) This will help as you are trying to figure out the word. That way when you miss a letter here and there, by sounding it out you will be able to fill in the blanks.

Fingerspelling, hands-down is one of the trickiest parts of the language. Don't get too frustrated. Take it slow at first. Don't be afraid to ask a deaf person to "spell it again please", they more than likely will be happy to repeat themselves.

Happy Signing!

 

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