American Sign Language (ASL) Safari

The official blog of Safari Bill (Dr. William Vicars)-- Lexicographer, protologism developer, enchiridion author, ASL evangelist, and immersion excursion guide.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The "right" way to learn ASL?

In a message dated 12/6/2008 1:10:46 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Hello Dr.Bill~is there any danger of 'hard-wiring' my brain if using
Contact Signing/Simulaneous Communiciation, that this would prevent me
from acquiring proper ASL usage and syntax recognition? Thank
you~Michelle Kern~A very impressed ASL student from central Minnesota~

No. There is absolutely no danger of hard-wiring your brain via SimCom.
We are at least 20 years away technologically before we can hardwire people's brains and even then it will be done via surgery -- not SimCom.
This is an "old" argument: Will learning one thing interfere with learning another thing.
To answer it I'd need to know things like: How old are you? How smart are you? How rigid is your thinking? When did you learn the first thing? How many things do you "know?"
I once read some research that indicated if a Hearing person were to learn ASL first and Signed English later that he/she would be more successful in acquiring "both" skill sets.
Yada yada, -- they used to say "eggs" were bad for you and now they say a couple eggs in the morning will help you lose weight and stay healthy.
Research is only as good as the researcher, the methods, and the sample size.
If you want to acquire proper ASL usage and syntax recognition then you've got to be EXPOSED to proper ASL usage and syntax recognition. Your neural networks are similar to a footpath.
If you've got two paths in your brain and one is narrow and overgrown with weeds while the other path is wide, comfortable, well-used, and accessible -- your brain will tend to use the wide, comfortable, accessible path.
If you invest the time and effort to expand the smaller neural network path in your brain so that is just as wide, comfortable, well-used, and accessible as the other path then your thoughts will be able to go down either path with ease.
Your question has to do with the idea of "which path should I build first?" If I build one path will it make it harder to build the second path?
To answer those questions you need to understand "horizontal skill transference." Certain skills can be transferred to other activities. If you become good at skateboarding you will probably pick up surfing much faster than you would if you never learned to skateboard.
Similarly, if you learn a bunch of ASL vocabulary while using SimCom it is conceivable that you would be able to transfer the knowledge of those signs to help you learn ASL more quickly. To the extent that your SimCom neural network is "larger and more convenient" than your ASL processing network you will tend to "slip" back into SimCom. So there are positives and negatives and so there is not a "yes" or "no" answer to your question.
If you are young and you learn one language and then get old it is harder to learn another language because your network is more solidified.
If you are intelligent and learn new things easily then it will be easier to pick up a second sign language or signing system.
But what it really comes down to is that if some idiot teacher somewhere tells a student "no," "stop that" and "you are doing it wrong" -- sure enough the student will "stop" doing it wrong. In fact, the student will often "stop" doing it altogether. He or she will stop learning sign language and leave the field. We will have lost a potential interpreter or advocate because some "expert" heard or read some silly statement from some other "expert" and felt the need to squash a student's passion into a little box.
Ah yes, that is the real issue: Passion.
If you are passionate about SimCom and you are excited about it then GO FOR IT. Have a ball and do good with your skills. Then to the extent that you are passionate about ASL go for that too!!! Because a passionate person doing something at 50% efficiency will beat a boxed person's "right way" every time.
The person with passion doesn't quit. They persist until they succeed. They reach their destination using the small path overgrown with weeds because they chose the path. It is their path. They love the path with its views, smells, ups, downs, and turns. And so what if it took them longer to get to the destination? The journey is the thing.
Dr. Bill

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hospital Communication and the Deaf

In a message dated 12/3/2008 3:53:03 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, jennifer writes:
Good Morning Bill, I am a nurse at Banner Desert hospital. I had a horrible experience with a deaf patient recently. I couldn't understand him and he couldn't understand me. It was awful due to the situation. It seemed like it took us forever to find someone to interpret for us. Treatment was delayed. I don't want to be in that situation again. I need to learn ASL with an added twist... medicine. For example, "I need to place a tube in your penis to drain your bladder." :( Will your program help me with that? If not where can I turn? Any help will be greatly appreciated.

If I were you, I'd try to hire a local interpreter to function as a private tutor and pay him/her to teach you 10 or so phrases each week. Use a video camera to record the signing so you can practice on your own later then have him or her test you the next week.
Was the patient able to understand written English? Sometimes a small whiteboard can be very effective for communication with bilingual Deaf.
Have your hospital check into the feasiblitity of using video relay interpreting. You could use an internet connection and a laptop to connect to an interpreter online. (Very common these days in the Deaf world.) See: for a discussion of VRS that might apply to your situation.
--Dr. Bill

Hello Dr. Bill,

I came across one of your blogs and there was a post from a nurse at Banner Desert Medical Center who said she had had a horrible experience trying to communicate with a deaf patient. This concerned me greatly, since Banner Desert has a number of tools for our caregivers to use to communicate with deaf or hearing impaired patients. Caregivers can choose from a number of options depending on the situation, including contracting with a one-on-one interpreter, using notes, and our newest tool, which is the DeafTalk remote interpreting equipment. I would have posted this information on the blog, but I was not able to access it.
Thank you for your time.
Nancy Neff
Director of Public Relations
Banner Desert Medical Center and
In a message dated 12/3/2008 1:58:50 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, daryl writes:

Dr. Bill,
I have a question that I’m hoping you will not mind answering. I have a friend who is writing a paper on the writing style of those who are Deaf. In particular she is writing about (in her words) ‘the use of ASL by Deaf individuals when writing’ (especially in e-mails and web forums). We have entered into a technical debate, which we realize is irrelevant in all practical use, but is technically interesting (especially to me as I’m an engineer and have often been accused of focusing on the immaterial minutiae :-). I’m hoping you will shed some light to clarify this once and for all. Her claim is then that most Deaf individuals’ (whether, or not, by conscience choice) will (in her words) “write in ASL.” An example would be something as simple as writing “Who you?” instead of the English “Who are you?” I describe the former as writing in English, but using ASL syntax, not “writing in ASL.” Although we both agree that ASL is a language, we differ on the point of it being (technically) possible to write in ASL without having a way to reproduce the actual ASL handshapes for words. I understand that one can go as far as installing a fingerspelling font and fingerspelling words while typing, but that is not considered ASL. For instance, if I were to fingerspell every word to someone in front of me (even if using ASL syntax or phrasing), it would not be considered ASL. I’m hope I’m being clear as it is somewhat difficult to express. I guess the exact question would be, to restate the above, is it possible to write (as in ‘write down’ with a pen or pencil) in ASL without coming up with a way to represent the animated handshapes? In addition, I contend that ASL differs from most languages in that, although the language can be spoken (so to speak), and read (as in from another’s hands), it cannot (easily) be written down (evidenced by reviewing ASL instruciton books and dictionaries). In addition, it is my assertion that writing down “Who You” is (technically) not “writing in ASL.” Do you agree or disagree with my positions?Sorry to waste time on something that is irrelevant in a practical sense, but I think that it is an important issue to clarify when doing a paper on “people writing in ASL.”
God Bless,

"Who you" is using the orthography of English to list two common "labels" for ASL signs.Some might consider the writing or typing of "who you" to be a form of gloss. (But there are specific conventions for glossing that go way beyond just writing the labels of words, see:
So, it seems to me that you are right when you state that "Who you" is not the equivalent of writing "ASL."
However, ASL does have a "writing system."See: You can obtain software that allows ASL to be "typed." So, ASL does have a "written" form. Signwriting doesn't depend on English. Signwriting is used by only a small fraction of the overall deaf community. Now that we can stream video so easily I doubt "writing" of sign language will ever catch on with a larger audience (beyond researchers).
Dr. Bill
In a message dated 12/3/2008 10:34:50 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, pikachu writes:

Hi, i'm an interpreter in fresno, ca. My husband is deaf. I was reading the deaf culture lesson 1 article on your website and came across this:

"In general, the global "Deaf Community" consists of those deaf and hard of hearing people throughout the world who use sign language and share in deaf culture. Hearing family members, friends, interpreters, and others are also part of this community to the extent that they use sign language and share in the culture.

As used here in America, the term "Deaf Community" refers to Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, (along with our families, friends, and others), who use ASL and who are culturally Deaf. Being culturally Deaf means sharing the beliefs, values, traditions, moral attitudes, manners, and ways of the Deaf community."

I got to thinking about this and it made me wonder. I know that one can be physically deaf but not culturally Deaf. So does this statement from the article mean that it is possible to be physically hearing but culturally deaf?

Thank you for taking the time to read this.


Dear Pikachu,
Yes, you can be physically hearing but culturally Deaf.Consider for example the hearing children of Deaf parents.Such children grow up bicultural. Their "first" or native culture is "Deaf." Then as they watch TV, surf the net, attend public schools, and hang out with Hearing friends they acquire a second culture (Hearing) and thus they are bicultural.
--Dr. Bill

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Can Interpreters Still Go to the Deaf Club?

In a message dated 11/16/2008 1:41:19 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,

Hi! I'm an "unconventional student", still waiting to see the results of my first ever performance test to become a Sign Language Interpreter. By the time I finally found some resources (and friends) to teach me the ASL and PSE I've been interested in for more than 30 years, I had 3 children, a husband, and no money to spend on my own continuing education. Having one degree already made me ineligible for a PELL Grant. If it wasn't for my friends and primarily YOUR website, I would not know 90% of what I do now! So, first of all, THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I've also been able to learn a lot from the kindness of one interpreter's agency in my area; they have allowed me to study on my own for free in their library for just over a year now.

With very limited funding, I've still managed to go to the local Deaf Club to visit with the seniors and play bingo about once every 4 or 5 weeks. I've made some friends there, of course, and it feels like a family-environment to me. Even my husband (also hearing) managed to take off work on one Wed. morning and went to play bingo and to meet the great people I've been associating with since around May 2008.

I took my performance test on Aug. 5th, and I'm anxiously waiting for the results (now, late). Recently, a hearing teacher of Deaf Culture I was introduced to has told me that I should not go to the Deaf Club any more once I become an interpreter. She said it is very hard to maintain the professional distance needed to be unbiased.

I'm distressed and confused. Wasn't the whole purpose of learning ASL sopposed to be getting to know the people who use that language? For me, the prospect of interpreting is secondary. I agree that I will not be able to interpret for close friends because I might not be able to emotionally distance myself. But I disagree that I should stop going to the club once I've achieved my certification. To me, that's like using people as bugs in a science experiment! I'm not that kind of person.

I know I "have a long way to go" in learning, and I haven't had the circumstances to allow me to go through the great interpreting program at a nearby community college (Florissant Valley Community College in Florissant, MO)......but my gut tells me this lady is wrong.

Please help me to understand.

Many thanks,

Alana Dickson

Hello Alana,
As with most complex situations, if you ask enough experts you will eventually get an opinion that goes along with your own opinion. Most people stop asking at that point and go on with their lives. It doesn't mean they are actually right (or wrong), it just means they can now "feel" right because an expert has agreed with them.
So, for what it is worth, I agree with you.
That doesn't mean you and I are right. It just means you, in your limited amount of experience and me in my somewhat more extensive experience have come to the conclusion based on our experiences that it is okay, and even good, for an interpreter to interact with and be a part of the deaf community.
A bias is a preference for or dislike of something.
Distance is space separating two people, places, or things.
The opposite of bias is neutrality or "not caring."
The opposite of distance is closeness.
The heart of the "argument" comes down to should we give up membership in the Deaf Community so that we can (supposedly) maintain "professional distance" and "freedom from bias?"
I guess it depends on whether your clients actually want a "professionally distant (separated from the Deaf Community)" and unbiased interpreter.
It seems to me that the most sought after interpreters are CODAs -- Children of Deaf (Adults).
They understand our signs, our acronyms, our references, our namesigns, our lexicalized fingerspelling, our places, our issues, our peculiar phrases, and our biases. Their understanding of these things is what empowers them to be effective interpreters. Thus they are effective precisely because they are not distant from us. They are effective because they have biases -- our biases.
I believe it is impossible for a person to be unbiased.
Of course I don't want my interpreter, CODA or not, to misinterpret a speaker's message due to the interpreter's own biases.
The solution to bias is not to distance yourself from the Deaf Community but rather to have the professionalism and self-awareness to distance yourself from specific interpreting assignments.
If you are biased against a specific topic or individual then don't take that assignment.
Additionally it is a myth to think that because a person has biases that he or she can't do their job.
Hogwash. Professionals do it all the time. It's called self-control. Look at what professional actors do on a daily basis. They stand in-front of a camera or an audience and deliver a message. Do you think that an actor playing the role of a thief, rapist, or murderer is unbiased? Do you think he or she is neutral regarding the morality of murder? Of course not. But the actor is still able to do the job because he or she is a trained professional. They put their own believes on hold and do their job.
Do you think we are ever going to find an interpreter for a defense attorney in a child rape case who is unbiased?
"So, Bob, what do you think about the raping of children?"
"Well Bill, I'm neutral on that."
"That's great Bob, because I've been looking for an unbiased terp for an upcoming case."
Seems to me that rather than focusing on "professional distance" and being "unbiased" we should focus on "self awareness" and "learning to recognize ahead of time those situations in which we are (or are not) able to function professionally--and choose our assignments accordingly."
Dr. Bill

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Teacher tips: Using the latest PPT formats...

Dear ASL Heroes,
Recently a teacher emailed me regarding a "broken" link to a Powerpoint file. So I "fixed" it for her.
To fix it, I didn't really make any "corrections" -- the previous file was fine, and the link was fine. She couldn't access it because her Powerpoint program needs "updating." What I did to "fix" the problem was I simply uploaded a format of the file that is "old" so that people with older Powerpoint programs can open it more easily. The previous file and link worked just fine for those with the latest version of Powerpoint.
Note: It is possible for people to download a patch for older Powerpoint programs that lets them open 2007 versions of Powerpoint files. You can visit and do some searching and find the right download. Doing so could save you a lot of money and still let you open the newer versions of ppt files (the newer versions are ".pptx" files.).
Dr. Bill

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can you become fluent at ASL by studying online?

Someone recently asked me if it was possible to actually become fluent by just studying online.

In the past I would have said, "Well, you probably can't become fluent without taking actual classes and hanging out with Deaf for many months."

But that was before vlogs and youtube.
These days you can learn enough basic signs from a site like to bootstrap yourself up to basic levels of understanding. Then suppose you were to spend your time watching Deaf vlogs for a few hundred hours? If you started by using captioned vlogs and then branched out from there you could probably get to the point where you could understand basic conversations. After a thousand hours of viewing you might be to the point where you could understand quite a bit of everyday signed communication.
It would be interesting to do an experiment with a prisoner who had access to the net but not to any real live deaf people. Then after several years of watching vlogs give him (or her) a level 5 receptive ASL test.
Any volunteers? Just commit a felony and let me know how it goes.
Dr. Bill

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

In a message dated 11/14 10:24:03 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, a student writes:
Hello Professor Vicars,
My name is Elizabeth O_______.
I am recently diagnosed with Meniere'sDisease/Sudden Hearing Loss. I am enrolled at Brookdale Community Collegein ASL 101 and am working on a 5 minute autobiography. Is there a sign forhearing dog?
Thank you,

To sign "Hearing Dog" you do the sign for "HEARING-(culturally)" and then snap your fingers. It might seem that it would be better to to sign "Hearing Dog" as "HEARING-(sense of hearing)" and then snap the fingers, but that isn't what I see in my area. So, I asked my friend Pam (whom I consider very knowledgeable about "Hearing Dogs" and Deaf dog adoptions) and she said she uses the "HEARING-(culturally)" version and it's the only one she's seen "out there."
--Dr. V

How to improve receptive fingerspelling ability

In a message dated 10/5/2008 5:51:54 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, an ASL student writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,
I am taking an ASL 2 class.
I am concerned because I generally understand signing, but for whatever reason I have a difficult time when someone is finger spelling to me. A lot of the time when someone is finger spelling to me I cannot link the letters together because some people sign words differently or inaccurately. My teacher has probably noticed a confused look on my face on more than one occasion. I have spent quite a bit of time on your web site and I have been practicing with the fingerspelling quizzes and they seem to help.
Do you have any other suggestions?
Thank you!
-Carly _________

Dear Carly,
Here are some links for you: Fingerspelling explanation Fingerspelling Quizzes Fingerspelling Wallpaper: ABC's Font Download
You indicate you've been using my fingerspelling quizzes. Does that include the website?

My suggestions are:
* Download and install one of the fingerspelling wallpapers onto your desktop or laptop computer.
* Download and install the fingerspelling font.
If you ever have to read online material for any of your classes, I encourage you to copy and paste that material into a word processing document and change the font to the Gallaudet fingerspelling font. Increase the font size until you can read it easily. Then read the material as fingerspelling.
* If you need to create flash cards for some other class, use the fingerspelling font to create the flash cards and study from them. That way you will get the benefit of improving your receptive fingerspelling skills as well as studying for your other classes.
* Teach a friend how to fingerspell and then go on a "fingerspelling date." During that date ONLYcommunicate with each other by fingerspelling.
If you've got a few extra bucks, go here: and buy the download version of my "Fingerseek" manual then print some fingerseeks and do them for practice.
* Constantly fingerspell whenever and wherever you are able. Fingerspell your thoughts as you walk from class to class. Fingerspell between bites of food. Fingerspell as you rinse off in the shower. Fingerspell your prayers before going to bed. Fingerspell labels on food items while you shop.
* Most importantly, since you are a Hearing person, make sure you develop the ability to spell words while sounding them out as they would be pronounced in English. Then when you are reading fingerspelling strive to sound out the letters as you read them. Instead of trying to "name" the letters one by one, instead you can pronounce them in your mind and then let your brain "hear" the sounds of the letters and recognize the word that it "heard."
Dr. Bill

Friday, October 03, 2008

temporary post

This next bit is just my personal notes that I typed in-between classes. I will go home and use my notes to improve the curriculum and update Lifeprint.
I'm using this blog as a "very" convenient way and for the most part "secure" way to make notes and transfer them from anywhere. You are welcome to read them...chances are the "notes" wont' be here very long. The Journal entries will though.
-- Dr. Bill

Notes: Level 1 items for unit 1 review:
fix here if what many how-many why need video movie bad good more work outside ("let's see the card") "it is your turn" "you start"

Level 2 items for unit 4 review: fair/equal outside sometimes socks habit clothes dirty summer winter before-now before-event glasses should/must/need/ought-to wind cat washing clothes purple refridgerator

change president weather month finished
snow white vs like

"If you choose to use lip movements while spelling your name, please use the correct pronunciation of your name as a whole rather than individual letters." Spell your name smoothly

D vs F bedroom before-now before-event hearing-person, hearing-aid, hearing going down, travel train vs training=practice

fish vs fishing year year-lazy-version year-last year-(two years ago) battery

life "the use of the word no"
yesterday vs home tomorrow vs girl rain freeze

silly breakfast what-kind first last wish can't step-father

soap put Sunday bug ""E" GET=receive GET="hit me" backpack
Recently I was asked:
"Do you use that new version of FrontPage to build your sites?"

I do use Expresssion Web somewhat. Eventually I'll switch over to it for all of my web work. But I still prefer FrontPage (even though it is a dinosaur) since I'm familiar with the interface and it does a good job of managing most things. I'll probably keep using FrontPage until my host server stops supporting it. Then I'll move on to the newer editing programs.