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