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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"What Did You Say?"

I grew up with some hearing. Only one ear worked, but the one that worked, worked fairly well. So I spent my growing up years as a "hard of hearing hearie." I spoke and my hearing loss was mild enough that I didn't have any trouble speaking and learning new signs. It also left me able to sing, so I did community and professional musical theatre.

But time went on and, at the age of 29, I found myself stone deaf with absolutely no residual hearing whatsoever.

One thing I always enjoyed--other than live theatre--was English grammar. This includes pronunciations. I was a stickler for correct wording. But after I went deaf, pronunciations because a problem for me (for obvious reasons). We moved to a new state--with its own way of doing and saying things. I had to handle people saying, "Pop," instead of "soda," and seemingly trivial things like that. But how to say names of people, organizations, and even city names proved immensely difficult! My family would sit and laugh and laugh, because I pronounced "genre" as "gen-er," and not "johnrah." I thought they were setting me up and being mean when I found out "pilates," was not pronounced "pilots," or an autistic savant was not pronounced the same as "savage."

Yes, it's true that I'm not very skilled with pronunciations nowadays. It's darn impossible to know these things if I have no way of basing things in it.

I guess it's funny ,in a way, to the people who are listening. I'm just thankful that I use sign language and most of my deaf friends don't have a clue of how badly I speak. At least I try, right? I could just turn my voice off. That'd be the easy way. But I much prefer using my signs in public, saving my words to hearies who can then entertain themselves by embarrassing me.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Demons Be Gone!

I’m not one to mince words. I’ve been known to be more than a little paranoid. Sometimes even closing in on a disorder of being too paranoid. But one day at the library, I just knew I was being followed.

It started out with me sitting by their fireplace reading a book. I had my hair pulled up in a ponytail, so my lack on an ear on the right side of my head was pretty much visible. I wouldn’t say “Lack of an ear.” There’s something there on my head, but it’s a deformity and usually makes people a little uncomfortable. If it were up to me, I’d charge people to touch it and see how much money I could make. “Hey, come touch my deformed head! Only $2.00!” I have yet to try that tactic. Hmmmm…….

So, I’m at the library, reading, enjoying the fire, and Kenny (my hubby) approaches, signs a few things to me, I sign back and he leaves. That’s when I noticed some young boy (maybe 16 or 17 years old) watching me like a hawk. I’m used to staring, but this just have me the heebie jeebies. So, I got up and walked towards the books and where Kenny was.

This boy, too, got up and started slowly following me through the rows and rows of books. I finally found Kenny and said, “Kenny, someone is following me!” For once, he actually considered that it might be true and told me to just stay there with him. And that’s when the boy approached the two of us.

I don’t know his exact words, but the way Kenny interpreted, it seemed that this boy goes to a charismatic church and believed that he could cure my deafness through Christ’s power by a putting on of hands (or whatever you call it). I looked at Kenny; Kenny shrugged. I figured what the heck and said OK. So, the boy cups his hands over my ears, prays and says something and then yelled, “Demons be gone!” (snicker) He then asked if it worked. Alas, no, No difference. “Well, it usually takes a while. Just keep the faith,” and he disappeared off into the other realms of the library.

That was years ago and I’m still stone deaf. Seriously, I don’t believe that it would have worked. It’s just not what I believe in. But the purpose of this story would be to say to my husband that sometimes I’m NOT just being paranoid. Deaf people have weird encounters with the hearing world. This was just one of many.