Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fool Me Once -- Shame On Me

Eight o-clock in the morning. Time to take my oldest daughter, Mollie, to her summer job. We get into the van and start on our way. All of a sudden the van skips a beat--sending Mollie and me bumping up and down in our seat.

"What was that?" Mollie asked.

"I think I hit a pothole," I signed. "No big deal."

We both heaved a sigh of relief. I dropped Mollie off, giving her a big hug, and then started on my way back home. BUMP! It happened again!

"Man, there's got to be something wrong." I decide to drive to the nearest auto mechanic and see if they can help me.

I pull up to the service station.

"Something's wrong with my van. It keeps bumping or something."

"Is it making any odd noises?" The man behind the counter seemed very nice.

"I'm Deaf. Can you write that down?" I ask. And he does.

"Oh, well obviously, because I can't hear, I wouldn't know." Duh. The man behind the counter blushes and asks me the kind of van I have.

"Uh...silver?" I honestly have no idea. "I'm pretty sure it is a Ford of some sort." I cringe.

It is a Chrysler Town and Country. And thank goodness for this man being polite about it.

"Have a seat and I'll do a test drive."

The man eventually takes my keys and heads out to figure our what's wrong. I stay in the lobby, watching some uncaptioned soap opera on their television.

"I see what worried you. I'm glad you brought it in. Looks like you're losing fuel out of your gas cup and the entire left sided Spockter Galley is loose."

I had absolutely no idea what the man just said, so I asked him (again) to write it down and he did.

"Oh my! I'm glad I brought it in, too! Can you fix it?"

"Well, we can fix it, but it's pretty major work. If we start on it now we can have it done in about four hours.

Wow! Four hours = a lot of labor costs.

"Well, I guess there's no question here. I mean, it's gotta be done, right?"

"I'm afraid so. These kinds of repairs will run you about $2500. But if you like, I can throw in a few free fluid checks."

"Great! Thank you SO much," I said, sincerely grateful.

There was a mall across the street, so I decided to spend my time waiting, window shopping. Four hours went by very slowly. When the time was up I headed back to the mechanic.

"Hi! I dropped off my van four hours ago and the guy said it'd be ready by now."

"What work did we do on that one?" The other guy was checking the books.

"Something with my gas cup and Spockter Galley."

The man looked up from his books and gave me the weirdest look. After a couple of seconds his light bulb came on. "Oh! Yeah! You're the Deaf lady. Sorry about that. Yes, it's ready. It cost us a little more to fix than we expected though. Your total came to $3300."

Heaving a big sigh, I handed over my credit card. I then took my van and headed home. BUMP! I was dumbfounded, so I asked my hubby to test drive it when I got home.

"It's OK, You must have just hit some of the holes in the street. Michigan got it pretty bad last winter."

That's when I broke the news to him.

"$3300!!! For what?!?!"

I told him and just stood there with a bizarre stare in his eyes. He was obviously as stunned as I had been.

When I saw he was upset, I did my best to calm him. "Hey, it's OK. They did some free stuff, too. They even filled up our blinker fluid on both sides. No charge!"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Immersion Can Be Scary

Ask any Deaf or Sign Language teacher the best and most important way to learn ASL and they're bound to say immersion. You learn by doing. Get out there and meet other deaf people or sign language interpreters. Deaf is best!

When I lost all of my hearing decades ago, I knew that it was time to buckle down and finally learn ASL. The Signed English I was using would no longer do.

At this time, my son, who was born four months early, was in occupational therapy in our home. They hired an interpreter to come to each session so I would be able to participate, too. Most of the time, though, we would sit on the couch and chat or she would help teach me ASL. After a while, it got to where I couldn't really learn more without putting myself out there.

Now, if you know me, you know that I don't do well in social situations. In short, people scare me. Not like, "Boo!" I mean, people don't jump out from behind trees and try to make me pee in my pants (though I'm sure that happens to some people), but the idea of getting out in public and, even worse, chatting with strangers makes me run for the bathroom to lock the door. I'm not sure what I'm afraid of. But, unfortunately, the few times I have put myself out there, my fears have been validated. People can be very rude and mean--especially when they encounter someone with a difference (like deafness).

But, I decided I wanted to give it a try. There was a Deaf club in a town close by and they were meeting one Tuesday night. I asked my little sister to come with me and we ventured out that night.

Oh! It was a terrible experience! Scared the heck out of me. My sister pledged to never go to another Deaf club with me for the rest of her life.

When we got there, we were asked to introduce ourselves. My fingerspelling at that time was horrendous! I couldn't even spell my name fluently. And P-R-A-I-R-I-E-T-O-W-N was a very scary word to attempt (that was where I was living at the time).

Later, during the free social time, my sister and I sat at a table, scared to death, and talked with very few people. Eventually, an older Deaf woman came over to chat. We couldn't make heads or tails of what she was signing, so we did the logical thing--we giggled at everything she said.

"My name is Esther."


"Have you lived in the area for very long?"


"Why are you laughing at everything I'm saying?"


Finally she gave up and left, rightfully agitated with us. So there was not a positive experience to be had. Of course, that was because we did it wrong.

So, as you can see, immersion isn't always easy. It's still the best/only way, mind you. You can't avoid it. But it can be a very scary task. Just be sure, when you do go out, to make it worth your while. Actually socialize. And, if you don't understand--please don't giggle. Take it one step at a time. That's what I had to do. You can do it, too!

Monday, May 26, 2014

CORRECTION: Make Them or Not?

Before I started teaching American Sign Language, I made a lot of assumptions. I assumed that everyone knew never to wear black socks with shorts and white tennis shoes, that when people asked for your opinion, they actually wanted it, and that all Sign Language students wanted to be corrected if blatantly wrong. What I found out, though, is that I was three for three. Plenty of people don black socks in the summer. No one wants to know if such and such an outfit makes them look fat. And, many times, new signers (and some more experienced ones as well) don't want to know when they're signing wrong. Many just want to "amaze" you with their so-called ability and leave it at that.

I learned this the hard way. With my kids, they didn't get to say -- I had to correct them so they'd grow up to be at least partially fluent. Signing DESERVE when they meant MOST became a terrible habit, but at least it wasn't my hubby signing PENIS when he meant PERFECT. (In his defense, he only did this once -- in a group of Deaf people -- but I've teased him about it incessantly since.)

I can recall one time when my child's physical therapist invited me to go to a scrapbook party with some of her hearing friends. All was going well till the end when she decided to interpret a conversation for me. Now, this woman had only learned sign from a book. Which book? I do not know, but I would have guessed the book was titled, "50 Things Not to Do When You Sign."

As she chewed her gum and smiled hugely (over-enunciating as she signed), she started signing for me: BOSS DONT-WANT S-A-A ARREST HIS HAIR. WALK DESERVE BROTHER NOW INDEPENDENT WE. They all started giggling and clapping at their remark and then turned to me for my reaction. The look on my face was priceless. I looked like I was trying to hold off on a big fart. Huh??? I looked at my friend and she gave me the dirtiest look that clearly said, "Act like you know what's going on or I'll kill you." Again, I had no idea, so I asked for a repeat. She smiled politely and then signed the exact same thing again.

"I'm sorry, but I don't understand. Can you write that down for me?" Another woman picked up a pen and wrote, "The President doesn't know his ass from his head. Maybe the new guy can save us."

Ohhh!! I nodded and acted like it was funny. They left for easier conversations and I turned to my friend and started to show her how to sign those two sentences. She glared at me and walked away without saying anything. In fact, she never spoke to me again. Ever.

The longer I've been dealing with students, the more I'm realizing how being corrected can be quite the insult. However, if you truly want to learn -- and be correct while you're doing it -- you have to embrace the opportunity when fluent Deaf people offer their "services." I , also, have to learn when to show people the correct sign and when to smile and let it go. However, if you're my student, be prepared to learn. That's my job. I'm not there to clap and sign praises if you're wrong. That's why you hired me. But I am very nice about it.

BOTTOM LINE? Respect the language and learn as you go. Be around Deaf signers and get as much education from them as they offer. It's really the whole point, isn't it?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Having the Memory of a Hamster

You know, it's not easy living with an ultra short memory span. Both my short term and long term memory have been affected by various things over the course of my life. I meet people once and the next time I see them I'm like, "WHO are you? Never heard of you."

"Oh, sure! We met yesterday. I came over and dry walled your daughter's room. Remember?"

"Nope. Still nothing. Sorry." I feel bad. I'm nicer about it, but I seriously can't remember people or places...or things...Nouns. Let's just say "nouns."

A couple of days ago I was in Schular's Book Store (a local shop) and decided I wanted a sweet tea (I'm addicted!). When it was my turn, the girl at the counter started jabbering at me. "I'm Deaf," I told her, as I usually do.

"You're DEAF?!?! I LOVE YOU!" Of course she said this as she shoved the sign for "I love you" in my face. (This isn't the first time this has happened to me. Seems a lot of people love me when they find out I'm Deaf).

"Uh, thanks, I just need a large sweet tea to go, please."

"Noooo! Don't go! Stay here and chat with me!"

"No, really. I have a limited time and I need to go look for something."

"Oh...that's so sad. I'm learning ASL at the local college. Watch! A...B...C...D, wait that's F...A...B....C...D, dammit! A...B...C..D, that's right, right?"

"Really, I have to go."

"Oh. OK. Well, bye!"

"Can I have my tea please?"

"Tea?" This woman had the same memory span as I, but I finally made it out of there OK...eventually.

The next day I needed to go to Hobby Lobby. As I approached the counter, a young, blonde woman shouted, "Hi, Michele! How are you?" She signed this all rather well at the same time; even her fingerspelling was smooth."

"Hi! Uh...I can't remember your name."

"Oh, I'm Jessica."

"Hi, Jessica! Where'd you learn to sign so well?"

"From your class. I took your class last Spring."

"Oh, I am so sorry I didn't recognize your face." She smiled and then quickly looked behind me. I looked and...

"Heeey! Remember me? I made you a tea at Schular's yesterday. I'm learning sign language, too," She said to Jessica. "My name is 'Diane.'" She started to fingerspell her name. "D...wait that's F....D. No wait. Grrr." Jessica and I showed her a "D." "No, that's not it. D... (she used an "U" this time)...."

"We gotcha, Diane." Then Jessica and I proceeded to go through Diane's name letter by letter.

I finished up and tried to escape, but Diane followed me out to my car. I was slightly afraid for my life--she was so hyper! But I did survive.

Now, I have a terrible memory and I will probably not remember Jessica the next time I see her, but Diane? Her face is embedded in my brain., It's kind of sad. The students from my classes, whom I cherish, I sometimes forget. But make me wait for a tea and I'll remember you for the rest of my life.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Five Best Ways to Learn American Sign Language

As a teacher of American Sign Language, I am often approached by family members and friends of Deaf people or by ASL students wanting to know the best way to learn the language of American Sign Language. "Wow," I think. "What a loaded question!" I think it has a lot to do with why you want to learn (Do you have a deaf grandchild you want to communicate with or do you just think it's cool looking?), how serious you are (was this just a last-minute idea or have you been planning this seriously for a while?), and what resources are available to you (Do you have internet access readily available; are there Deaf events in your area, etc.?).

If you're serious and you know you'll be sticking with it, here are five great ways to start your journey...

1. BOOKS WITH DVD's WITH THEM -- This would be for the very beginner or as a refresher for those coming back to ASL after a hiatus. If you're just going for vocabulary at first, I strongly recommend "The Gallaudet University American Sign Language Dictionary." Gallaudet University is by far the top resource for Deaf Americans and their dictionary only proves this. If you want to get started with sentence structure right away, try "The American Sign Language Phrase Book," by Lou Fant and Barbara Berstein Fant. The latest edition has a DVD with it. The pictures aren't the greatest, but it's great to learn basic ASL sentence structure. There are many other good books as well. I recommend going to Harris Communications and looking through their available ASL books.

2. INTERNET COURSES -- If you have the time to sit at your computer and do Facebook, you certainly have time to learn some great ASL lessons off the internet. There are online dictionaries at ASL Pro and Signing Savvy, etc. Both of these have a plethora of vocab words to show you and ASL Pro even has phrases available. ASL pro is based out of Texas and Signing Savvy is based out of Michigan, so you might see slight differences. Truth is, you'll be meeting Deaf people from all over and so it's good to know as many variations of sign concepts as possible. You can also go to and type in "American Sign Language" and you'll get tons of basic sign language or you to learn. If you type in "Intermediate American Sign Language," you'll get some pretty good, more advanced videos. Be wary of who is signing on them. You don't want to learn from another student.

3. LIFEPRINT.COM -- I'm giving this site it's own number, because if there were a way to learn ASL strictly online, the ASL University is the forerunner in this department. Filled with vocabulary, history, Deaf Culture, numbering/lettering (beginners and advanced), phrases, videos, facts, and more, it's taught by Bill Vicars (a Deaf/HOH ASL user) who is personable and thorough. There's even ways to contact him for information (though you shouldn't need to since it's all on the site) and it gets very advanced as you go -- as slowly or quickly as possible. You can pay and do the curriculum with his help for credit or you can even self-teach yourself the curriculum (if you're highly motivated). Very worth your time to check it out!

4. IN-PERSON/COLLEGE CLASSES -- Sure, some high schools are starting to offer ASL at their facility (Yay!), but most classes worth taking are college or just in-person classes. Every class should be evaluated on its own though. Attend at your own risk. There are some amazing ASL Interpreter Training Programs around the country, but there are also programs that bomb. Before signing up for an ASL class, find out who the teacher is. Are they Deaf/HOH/hearing/certified interpreter/CODA/etc? How much experience does he or she have? Which curriculum do they use? Do they use their voice the entire time or so you get to have some silent signing at times? Be careful and get recommendations. But in-person training is by far the best way to go about learning the basics.

5. DEAF/HOH EVENTS -- After (or while) you learn Basic American Sign Language, it's time to venture out into the Deaf world and get to know some native and skilled signers in your neighborhood. Look in your yellow pages for Deaf service agencies -- they should be able to supply you with local meeting times and activities to whet your appetite. For example, here in West Michigan, there are Deaf nights at two different malls, coffee meet-ups, ASL movies, softball, dances and even galas! If you're looking to work on your receptive skills and practice your expressive skills, there's plenty of opportunities for this! So, don't be shy. Get out there and mingle. It may be the only way to make yourself into an advance American Sign Language user.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

An Interpreter to the Rescue!

These past few weeks have been very trying for me. My anti-depressant was taken away and I fell into a deep somberness. Crying for now reason, calling out to God to please help me get through this. And, of course, He did. One of the things I wanted to try was to attend church with my family. They go to church every Sunday, but there’s no interpreter for me. I could go to a different church, but, instead, I had gotten in the habit of just staying home. However, while I was truly struggling with my depression, I decided to do a search to see if anyone would be willing to come to my church and interpret for me. So, I sent the request to the head of the interpreter training program at a local college and found one wonderful student willing to take the bite.

Imagine how she felt…second year ASL student, never interpreted before outside of internships at college. She walks into this rather large church and shakes my hand. It was wonderful that she was willing to do this and I knew in my heart that, no matter what happened, we would forge through this day together.

Linda seemed a bit nervous when I saw her in the lobby, but I, too, was a basket of nerves. Not because I had an interpreter coming to church, but because I hadn’t been to church in years and I remembered no one. If you know me, though, you know that I’m always nervous and I have no short term memory whatsoever (my long-term memory ain’t that great either).

We only did Sunday School that day instead of both SS and church. I felt a little overwhelmed and thought it best to sit back in church and just read along with some of the pastor’s notes. SS was enough though for Linda, I’m sure. Picture an older gentleman, interacting with the class and reading Biblical scripture at the speed of rabbits. Linda basically took the reigns and held on. I was so impressed with her.

Sure, there were parts that were missed (so I was told), but none so much that it lost it’s meaning to me as she translated for me. I was dressed in this stupid pants outfit that made me feel like Liberace and I had forgotten shoes, so I finished off the outfit with some black, fluffy slippers. LOL Not the best church outfit, if you ask me.

Anyway, the point of the post is that Linda did a great job and I was once again reunited with the congregation my family has come to love and be attached to. She’s interpreting again on Easter and I’m very excited about that. Thanks, Linda. This really means the world to me!

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Anywhere I go, things can get "interesting." Being asked questions, needing to ask questions myself, having to explain to whomever I am in contact with that I'm Deaf and cannot read lips--it gets old and I'm often misunderstood.

The other day had yet another couple of "interesting" experiences. First, I had to go through a fast food drive through for my daughter. Yelling into the speaker and having my daughter "interpret" what was being said--it turned into a yelling match...and not a fun one (as we all know yelling matches can be).

"I want a french fry with cheese and a vanilla shake." I have no idea what they said back. All my daughter did was nod. "What size," I asked her.

"Huh?" was her excellent retort.

"What size shake do you want?"

"Oh. Medium."

"I need a medium vanilla shake." I yelled into the speaker.

My daughter asked, "A second one?"

"Huh?" It must run in the family.

"A second vanilla shake?"

"No. I need the first shake to be medium."

"And what size for the second shake?" the people on the speaker obviously yelled.

"There is no second shake!!!" I was getting pretty frustrated by this point. "I need a french fry with cheese and a medium vanilla shake."

My daughter looked at me and nodded. "OK."

"OK, what?"

"You're done. Please pull forward," she smiled. Man, did I want to hit someone!

Later that day, I took my son to Subway as a way to get out of the house--just the two of us. The place was packed and there were four or five workers frantically trying to keep up with the crowd.

I let my son go first and then it was my turn. I'd been there many times, so I thought I could guess the questions the worker was going to ask me. Wrong.

As he went down the line, he finally stopped and asked me a one-word question of which I had no idea. My son was ahead of my--taking care of his own order--and I didn't want to bother him. Again the worker asked me something....."______?"

"Neutral?" was the only word I could guesstimate from him.

"What??" He was very confused. "_______?"

"Squirrel?" I tried again. I'm very bad at lipreading, in case you haven't guessed yet.

Finally, I think I caused enough stir in the line that my son noticed my struggle. He turned to me, "Mom, do you want it toasted?" Ahhhhhh...........

"Toasted? Really?? Man, I really stink at this. No thank you." We finished our orders and sat down to eat. My son, who is always there to start a great conversation, looked at my for a long time.

"What?" I finally asked. "You look like you have a question on your mind." I said.

"Yeah. I was just wondering, is it hard being Deaf?"

Hmmm. I pondered this and finally answered, "It has its moments. Sometimes good, sometimes bad." I was trying to be nice. What I really wanted to say was with great sarcasm--is it hard being Deaf?

Just a little.........

Friday, February 28, 2014

Mouth Morphemes in ASL

If you're a serious student who wants to learn ASL, and you've passed at least ASL I and II, it's time to start learning some mouth morphemes. A mouth morpheme is the way your mouth should be shaped to convey different meanings and grammatical aspects of ASL. There are many mouth morphemes and  this truly is a very advanced part of ASL. I will go over a few well-known mouth morphemes that you should keep in mind while signing. Keep in mind that without photographs, this may be hard to understand. I recommend the book and video set entitled, “DEAF TEND YOUR,” or the video, “Mouth Morphemes.” Here are a few to keep in mind. In general, where the word is underlined in the example is where the mouth movement will be.

MOUTH MOVEMENT / DESCRIPTION / EXAMPLE:                        
CHA / big (height, length, size) / MOTHER WANT COFFEE LARGE
TH / clumsy, lousy  
Puffed Cheeks  / very fat, long ago, many / POINT JAPAN SUMO WRESTLER WOW FAT
Clenched teeth / very many, huge, smart, sexual climax, dark, dangerous / BELT (DARK) BROWN
Tongue out & down / not-yet, ugh, accident, lousy,  erratic, hungry, exaggerate / TEACHER NOT-YET COME CLASS
STA-STA / struggle, long process
Pursed lips / work hard, read carefully, sorry, hearing  person, persevere, secret
Pursed lips with twiggled nose / characteristic, the way it is
Puckered up lips (mmm) / write, drive, read, curious, medium-sized, comfortable / POINT SOFA COMFORTABLE
Puckered up lips with “AWFUL” sign / interesting, wow
FOR-FOR / what for, why, how come / I SIT TTY YOU COME BOTHER FOR FOR?
PAH / finally, big success
POWOO (Pow-oo) / stricken, forget, boom
WATT / don’t want, want  / MY WIFE DON’T-WANT EAT FISH
SOO tired, cold, dirty, delicious, good riddance, curious, close call
SOW / very cold, very tired, very hard, very embarrassed
FISH / finish, stop it / MY HOMEWORK FINISH
PUTT / tend, give in
POW / explode, hit hard, trigger a gun, repress, hot temper
SHH / use exceedingly, make out, poke fun, wild time 
MUM-MUM  / win an unbroken series of games, nab  many suspects
FK / skip work, ignore
PS-PS / fancy, chic

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Top Five Things You Should Know Before Learning ASL

1. It's not easy as some think it is.
Some people jump in high aspirations and have no real training in using ASL in their everyday things. You must go through school. We recommend at least a bachelors degree minimum. Many people call me up and ask me to do a program for their kids or at schools and these students (children and adults) always think that if they pass my beginning Sign class, they're qualified to work as an interpreter or something using ASL.

2. ASL is not universal.
ASL comes from French Sign Language (FSL) except many assume it's from British Sign Language, since the spoken language there is often English. Truth is most countries have their own sign language, which is full and beautiful and a bona fide language there. Mexican Sign Language, French Sign Language, Italian Sign Language, all legit languages. American Sign Language is used in North America and some of Canada (and sometimes a little of Mexico). And even within America, there are accents and variations. Words such as EARLY, BIRTHDAY, PIZZA, OUTSIDE, etc., are signed differently in West Michigan than, say, Texas. It's all different.

3. Facial expressions are grammatically necessary in ASL.
If you're not making facial expressions as you sign ASL, you're not signing the true language of ASL. There are necessary aspects of signing ASL that involve sticking out your tongue. blowing, lifting or lowering your eyebrows, etc. I've seen some great signing from high school music groups who try to play their music and sign ASL at the same time, but they don't have any expressions. Signing ASL has requirements--especially facially--and signers need to know that. There's more information on my web site about mouth morphemes and other such things. Check it out at

4. English Sign Language (ESL) is not the same as American Sign Language.
There are still many people who don't know the lingo. ESL is an English sign system created to help children to learn how to sign and read at the same time. However, ESL isn't a real language and I don't recommend learning that. It can be a bad experience and get you hooked on it. It's a signing system (not language) where students learn to sign every word, every part of a word, exactly as they'd speak in English. It's confusing and it takes a lot longer to express yourself. ASL has a life all its own.

5. Certification.
You will not know enough the first year or two to test for certification. No, I don't mean the first set of classes, I mean "year." It takes about seven years to become fluent in a new language. ASL is the same. You will require lots of practice, attending classes and workshops, reading, etc. To take the test to make you a certified interpreter, you'll have a written test and a signing test (both expressive--you sign what the hearing person is saying, and receptive--you speak what the Deaf person is signing) and they're quite difficult. There is state testing and then, if you want, there's national certification (which is the best option for someone wanting to interpret).

Friday, January 17, 2014


I really appreciate hearing people who know some signs--how they use what they know when they're around me. I know many--if not most--professionals I've been to, in addition to hiring an interpreter, seem to try a few phrases and work from there. They often ask me or my interpreter what the sign for such and such is and so forth.

What happens though is actually pretty amusing. I mean, yes, I should be respectful, and I am. But many of their efforts don't always come across quite the way it was meant to be.

My grandmother died a few years ago. I was able to attend her funeral and it was nice to be around family. As I sat down to wait for the service to begin, my younger sister sits down and slowly, with an evil expression, signs, I'M SATAN! Now, that's one being you do not want to have attending a funeral. (She meant to sign PARANOID about her weight.) After the service I was pretty broken up. My mom saw me crying and signed "ITS OK. GRANDMA NOW WITH QUEEN." I didn't even know she was British. (She meant to sign LORD.)

My DBT trainer has worked well with me and sometimes inquires about how to sign certain things. She asked to learn BIRTHDAY. A week later it was my birthday and my trainer wasted no time calling me a HAPPY MOTHERF*****." It was an honest mistake, but one that will last a lifetime in my head.

Finally, I taught a group of ASL students the sign for MORNING. Six out of 8 came back and started signing "F*** off" instead of a gentler "GOOD MORNING." Careful now.

So, learning signs can be fun, silly, and exciting. But beware--if you're not careful, you may end up wishing and calling people every name in the book. And I don't mean the Bible.