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Fingerspelling & Numbers:
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This course will help you become proficient at American Sign Language
(ASL) fingerspelling and numbering. The course is intended for Hearing adult second-language learners who
are familiar with English, learning ASL, and reasonably computer
(Click on the above link for an
example of the syllabus is being used for Dr. Bill's EDS 156 Course
at Sacramento State. Check with your local instructor for a copy of
the syllabus that applies to your own class.)
Question: What is fingerspelling?
Answer: Fingerspelling is the process of
spelling out words by using signs that correspond to the letters of the
word. An ASL user would use the American Fingerspelled Alphabet, (also
called the American Manual Alphabet). There are many different manual
alphabets throughout the world.
The American Fingerspelled Alphabet consists of 22
handshapes that--when held in certain positions and/or are produced with
certain movements-- represent the 26 letters of the American alphabet.
Question: When should you use fingerspelling?
Answer: There are lots of times when
fingerspelling is used.
The typical "these things are spelled" list includes such items as:
- titles, and
That list is so woefully inadequate as to be
It only scratches the surface of the variety of fingerspelling going
For example, flowers. Where are "flowers" on that list? (Other
than the sign "ROSE" there really aren't any well established signs
How about food? While there are quite a few signs for various food
items, there are thousands of types of foods that have no
established sign. Hold on to your chair when I tell you
this--there isn't even a widely accepted sign for
burrito. (As opposed to a burro, which is a small donkey.
We do have a sign for "donkey," but try showing a picture of a
both a donkey AND a mule to 10 different Deaf people
and watch 'em tell you "mule is spelled.") And a mule is a
relatively common animal -- don't even get me started on "ring-tailed lemurs!"
I collect ASL dictionaries. Some are quite
large. I have a printed sign language dictionary that
was published "many" years ago (by the Oregon School for the Deaf,
in Salem) that has about 10,000 individual signs (not exactly
"pure ASL," but ASL vocabulary with a bunch of Signed English signs).
I've also got an ordinary college-level
English dictionary on my shelf. It has about 180,000 words in it.
Do the math. 180,000 "words" minus
10,000 "signs" leaves about 170,000 "words" unaccounted for.
What to do? Hmmmm.
Well it is a fact that a huge number of "signs" are not yet
in any dictionary (online or otherwise -- yet).
It is also a fact that we can combine existing signs to clearly
express almost any concept. For example, I've never see the
concept "Venn Diagram" show up in an ASL dictionary listing, but
earlier today I signed it while chatting with a friend. I did
so by using my hands and fingers to show the shapes and then adding
the sign "OVERLAP" (Note: As of this writing, the sign "overlap"
isn't in any ASL dictionary either).
Now, if I want to express a concept and there
is no existing sign for it, and there is no convenient method
of combining other signs to express it, or the closest existing sign
has multiple meanings and I want to specify a less common meaning of
that sign, well then I reckon I'm going to go ahead and do some
What do I want you to know or be able to do at
the end of this course?
Below I'll post a list of knowledge, skills, and
abilities -- going from easy to challenging:
* Knows proper placement of hand
* Understands concept of simultaneous attention to lip & hand movements
* Can recognize each letter of the alphabet when signed slowly
* Can fingerspell each letter of the alphabet slowly
* Can recognize at least one variation of numbers 0 - 31
* Can sign at least one variation of numbers 0 - 31
* Knows how to form double letters
* Knows different forms of individual letters, specifically E, M, N, G, T, B, Z
* Can recognize letters fingerspelled quickly and in random order
* Can recognize variations in numbers 0 - 31
* Can recognize numbers 0 - 31 signed quickly in random order
principles and circumstances related to phonetically correct mouth
movements while fingerspelling (correct mouthing as if
saying the word--rather than mouthing individual letters)
* Can mouth
name accurately while fingerspelling
* Can rehearse the ABCs
while mouthing alternate pronunciations other than the letter names
* Knows how to sign
variations of hundreds, thousands, millions, billions and so forth.
* Can recognize letters in a two handed speed drill (simultaneous
* Can recognize numbers in a two handed speed drill
* Can sign numbers 0 - 1,000,000
* Can recognize 3 letter words
* Can play Bingo in ASL with little difficulty
* Can fingerspell 3 letter words
* Can recognize 4 and 5 letter words
* Can fingerspell 4 and 5 letter words
* Knows how to sign and recognize a decimal point
* Knows how to recognize and produce fractions
* Knows how to count dollars up to 9
and handle general money concepts
* Knows how to sign ordinal numbers
* Knows how to sign phone numbers, addresses, and long numbers
* Knows how to keep score
* Can recognize long words spelled at a moderate pace
* Can recognize regionally common words fingerspelled very quickly
* Can recognize long numbers (up to seven digits) when done quickly
* Can recognize long words fingerspelled quickly
That might seem like quite a bit, but really
it is several different levels of the same few skills.
You can do it.
►here◄ to access various
(Note: This curriculum is being updated frequently. So, links will
change from time to time. I appreciate your flexibility and
understanding. -- Dr. Bill)
Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is available now for just 99
GET IT HERE!
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Notes for lesson plan
if it is to be
tic tac toe
Bingo using words
Bingo, group of 5, take
turns spelling one word from the grid, try to get five in a row before your
Helen Keller Speller
Wheel of Fortune
* When a student wins a game, have him spell his name to another student who
writes it on the board for later choosing between 1 and 100 to see which student
(from the names on the board of students who won games) is closest to the number
and wins the prize.
* When it comes time to pick a number between 1 and 100 have a student go
to the board where the names are listed and have him spell RANDOM names from the
list (not in order) to the class and those people then do their number and the
person at the board writes them down.
* Make sure to teach the sign "PASS" and give students the opportunity to "pass"
so you don't stress them out.
In a message dated 11/15/2009 7:51:01 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, dolphindawn99@
Do you have any ideas on how I can improve my finger spelling--specifically
increasing speed. I can read it really well and use your recommended site to
practice but I need more practice with expressive finger spelling. Any ideas?
Practice common letter
combinations until you can do them without thinking.
Say them in your mind the way they are pronounced in english at the same time as
you spell them.
Never think the "individual letters." When spelling "rig" in your mind SAY "rrr--i-gh"
as if you were pronouncing the word in English simultaneously while spelling it.
bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, sat, vat
big, cig, dig, fig, gig, mig, pig, rig,
Question: A student asks: "If you have a name that is a word (like
'Hope'), would it be appropriate to use the sign for that word, or would you
still spell it?"
Response: In general if you are first entering the Deaf community and
have not yet been given a name sign I recommend you spell your name. Then after
you've associated with us sufficiently you will probably be given a name sign by
your new Deaf friends or associates. If your English name also happens to be a
general English word your new name sign may or may not end up being related to
the ASL sign for the English concept. If your English name is "Hope" we may or
may not use the sign "HOPE" as your name sign.
* I recommend that Hearing newcomers to the Deaf community do not pick their own
name sign since they likely do not know what name signs are currently in use in
the local community or wider Deaf World.
* If your name is "Hope" there might be someone else in your local Deaf
community with the same name who is already using the sign HOPE as her name
* I met a lady named Charity. Her name sign consisted of "half" of the sign for
CHARITY and then the sign for BOSS. In actual use, the thumb of the dominant "C"
hand was touched to the upper left chest area and then to the right shoulder
area (by right-handed signers).
* A friend of mine is named Roseann. Her name sign moves from one side of the
nose to the other as it changes from an "R" into an "A."
* If someone named "Hope" were to enter the Deaf community and people were to
spell her name, it is likely that the spelling of the name would become somewhat
lexicalized (which in this situation means the fingerspelling would morph to
take on the characteristics of a "sign"). For example, the letters "O" and "E"
might only actively use the index finger, the middle finger, and the thumb.
* I know a fellow who has a last name of "Cheeseman." His name sign is a
combination of CHEESE and MAN.
* It is very likely that a person with a last name of "King" would end up with a
name sign of KING or perhaps the initial of their first name done using the
movement of KING.
* People whose names are reminiscent of "things" often end up with name signs
for those things. For example I know a lady whose name is Rainee and her name
sign is RAIN.
* People whose names mean common English words that are short will likely end up
fingerspelled. For example, "Pat" is quite likely to be fingerspelled. On the
other hand, a person named "Pat" might end up with people signing her name by
"patting" the area over their heart, or patting their head.
* I know a fellow named "Tuck" and we all sign his name by miming the action of
tucking something into an imaginary (or real) breast pocket.
* I know a fellow whose last name is "Steed." We all sign his name as "HORSE."
* I don't know anyone personally with a (last) name of "Steel," but I could
certainly envision him receiving a name sign of "METAL-(steel)."
- Dr. Bill
Question: A student asks: "It's easy to understand B-I-L-L-V-I-C-A-R-S
because you're unlikely to meet anyone (at least in America) named Bi Llvicars,
but what would you do if you have an unusual/ambiguous first/last name break? It
seems like you could 'pause' between the two, but seeing how quickly skilled
signers fingerspell, I doubt that's the right answer."
Answer: Actually, your answer is right. We do "pause" when
transitioning between two parts of a fingerspelled concept. It is a challenge
for newbies however to recognize such transitions because the pauses tend to be
very brief and or involve a very small lateral (to the side) movement. So your
example is a bit off. It wouldn't be:
But rather it would be:
The "space" between the "L" and the "V" is small but important. You, as a
skilled reader of English, easily catch that "space" which takes up no more than
one "letter" width. The same goes for skilled ASL signers – we can easily
recognize one "letter space" between fingerspelled words.
- Dr. Bill
E: (The letter "E") In a promotional video for the 2012 Deaf Studies
Today conference Dr. Bryan Eldredge spelled the word "keynote" (as in
"keynote" speaker"). At the end of the word "keynote" he is clearly using a
version of the letter "E" that rests only the index finger and middle finger
on the top surface of the bent thumb. (Source: "Keynote Speakers" video at
the 14 second mark. Retrieved 4/12/2012 from http://youtu.be/IBPAkkZjepw
which was embedded at http://www.deafstudies.org/ )