Recommendation: Basic Sign Communication
Many years ago I taught from from a text titled, "Basic Sign Communication."
It was a really terrific book. I do not use that text any more since
some of the information in it is
outdated. (I truly wish there was an updated edition.)
While using to teach at Weber State University I typed up a study
guide for my students to prepare for their quiz on ASL-related
terminology. I'm sure you'll see from the sampling of information below
that the text was full of an amazing amount of great information. -- Dr. Bill
American Sign Language does not use
ASL affirms that something 'is' by using a head nod or the sign 'true.'
The four distinct 'sub-parts' or parameters of signs:
TERMS TO KNOW:
ASL classifiers are a set of handshapes which represent classes of things
sharing similar characteristics. A classifier is similar to a pronoun in
A name-sign is a sign by which deaf people can refer to persons in their
community. A name sign becomes attached to an individual and within the
group of deaf persons who know that individual, the name sign becomes a
referent for the person.
An initialized sign used a letter of the manual alphabet as the handshape
of the sign which has the movement, location, and orientation of an older
form of the sign. An example of this would be include the signs for FAMILY
In sign language, time indicators are expressed in relationship to an imaginary
line that runs from the behind the signer to the front of the signer.
The fingerspelled forms of the months as used in ASL:
J-A-N, F-E-B, M-A-R-C-H, A-P-R-I-L, M-A-Y, J-U-N-E, J-U-L-Y, A-U-G,
S-E-P-T, O-C-T, N-O-V, D-E-C
Nouns of noun/verb pairs have repeated movement and verbs have single continuous
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN "HEARING IMPAIRED," "DEAF," AND "HARD-OF-HEARING"?
A hearing-impaired person is one who has a hearing loss, and may be
deaf or hard-of-hearing. Most hearing-impaired persons can hear sounds
to some degree. This hearing ability is called residual hearing.
HEARING IMPAIRED is a general term used to describe and encompass persons
with all types of hearing losses from mild to severe.
(Note: The term "hearing
impaired" is considered by many Deaf individuals to be pathological in
intent and therefore offensive in usage. I recommend you avoid using this
term when talking to and/or about the Deaf. -- Dr. Vicars)
A hard-of-hearing person is someone whose hearing loss is not as severe
as that of a deaf person. His/Her ability to hear and understand speech
(when it is made louder) is generally better than that of a deaf person.
HARD OF HEARING is a condition where the sense of hearing is defective
but still functional for the ordinary purposes of life, (usually with the
help of a hearing aid.)
A deaf person is someone whose hearing loss is so severe that only very
loud sounds, if any, are heard. Those sounds which are heard are not clear.
This makes it difficult for the deaf person to hear and understand speech,
even when it is louder. For all practical purposes, a deaf person usually
cannot understand speech through hearing alone.
DEAF is a condition in which perceivable sounds (including speech) have
no meaning for ordinary life purposes.
The difference between a person born hearing-impaired and one who becomes
hearing impaired as an adult will be his/her knowledge of spoken language.
Persons who become hearing-impaired as adults will be able to speak well,
with few flaws in their speech. However, these persons may not necessarily
be exceptional in their speechreading abilities, and may therefore have
difficulty understanding the speech of others. The quality of the speech
of a person born hearing-impaired or who became hearing-impaired at an
early age depends upon things such as: the age at which the loss was discovered
and when the use of hearing aids began/how much hearing remains/how motivated
the person was to learn to speak the type of training provided and at what
age it began.
A hearing-impaired person's speech may sound very much like that of a person
with normal hearing. When differences do occur, it is because it is hard
for hearing-impaired persons to make sounds which they cannot hear themselves
or others saying.
In some cases, the speech differences may be as slight as a lisp. For others,
you may hear such things as: Sounds are produced alike (because they are
heard that way) which should not be alike (such as "fin," "sin," and "thin"
all sounding like "fin"). Little words (on, in, a), parts of words (-s,-ed,-ing),
and some sounds (k, g, h) that are hard to hear or see on the lips may
be left out. Words are mispronounced. Abnormal pitch and rhythm occur and
words are used in the wrong order. Sounds which are not heard (by that
person) are left out. The more you hear the speech of a hearing-impaired
individual, the more understandable it will become for you.
DO HEARING AIDS HELP?
Hearing aids are helpful for many hearing-impaired people. But they
are not a solution to deafness because they only can deal with one part
of a hearing loss: loudness. They do little to make unclear sounds clearer.
WHY DO SOME HEARING-IMPAIRED PEOPLE SPEAK BETTER THAN OTHERS?
Oral language is learned by listening. Children learn to speak by listening
to what others say, understanding speech, mimicking and playing with vocal
sounds, making closer and closer approximations of spoken words, and during
all of this time experimenting with and formulating the underlying rules
of the language they are exposed to. Most children with normal hearing
have learned to speak reasonably well by the time they are 3 to 6 years
old. If a hearing loss is present at birth or before the age of 3, it will
be more difficult for the person to learn to speak, read, and write a language
because he/she has never heard it spoken. If the loss occurs after age
3, the person will be able to speak, read, and write better. If the loss
occurs after age 12 or 13, the person typically will have good reading,
writing, and speaking skills, but difficulty understanding others.
Manual Alphabet: 19 handshapes and 2 movements to represent the 26 letters
of the alphabet.
Signing Exact English: A manual English system using signs developed for
American Sign Language (ASL): A sign language which has a separate and
distinct grammar from English.
Sign Language Interpreting: The use of signs and voice / lip-movement by
a third party to help a deaf and hearing person communicate.
Simultaneous Communication: The use of manually coded English with speech.
Pidgin Language: A language which is a combination of two different languages.
Total Communication: A philosophy of education which advocates the primacy
of language learning for the deaf and supports the use of gestures, signs,
fingerspelling, speech, and auditory training.
Manually Coded English: A general term for signed language designed to
represent English in the gestural-visual modality.
Pidgin Signed English (PSE): The combination of ASL signs with English
Rochester Method: A method of education which supplements oral speech with
SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF ASL AND MCE:
Manually Coded English: usually follows English word order.
Manually Coded English can be used simultaneously with speech.
Manually Coded English is the language used most often in communication
situations involving hearing people and deaf people together. (The version
known as PSE)
Manually Coded English: has varying forms according to how closely it approximates
ASL cannot be used simultaneously with speech.
ASL has a separate and distinct grammar and syntax from English.
ASL has been extensively researched in recent years leading to its recognition
as a complete language system.
Both ASL and Manually Coded English can be used in educational settings
which use sign language.
Both ASL and Manually Coded English are appropriate for use in a Total
Both ASL and Manually Coded English are used by many deaf adults and their
Some of the variables which will affect a person's ability to adapt to
age of onset
degree and type of deafness
appropriateness of educational program
Some strategies for reducing communication difficulties include:
-ask clarifying questions
-ask for slowed repetition/rephrasing
-ask for fingerspelling/writing
-to clarify ask for speech/lip movement
A deaf person might not use simultaneous communication because:
he or she is using ASL
he or she is communicating with another hearing-impaired person
he or she may not be comfortable using speech
Sufficient and efficient communication from birth on is a basic need for
everyone and is necessary for language and personal - social development.
Sign language can be an efficient communication system for acquiring language.
A hearing loss at birth will make it more difficult for the person to learn
to speak, read, and write an oral language.
The age at which a person acquires a hearing loss has a large impact on
the individual's ability to speak, read and write English.
RESIDUAL HEARING is a term which refers to the amount of hearing that a
deaf person is able to make use of.
Although deaf people have normal vocal mechanisms, it is difficult for
them to develop normal sounding speech in most cases.
Facility with speech in deaf people is not directly related to their intelligence.
The process of understanding what is said by reading the movements of the
lips and vocal / facial muscles is called lipreading and or speechreading
Many deaf people don't know any formal sign language at all. Some deaf
and hard-of-hearing people communicate effectively in most situations without
using sign language.
Only a fraction of profoundly deaf people are excellent speechreaders.
This is a skill that some deaf people can do well and others are less effective
using even after years of training and daily practice.
Newell, W., & National Technical Institute for the Deaf. (1983).
Basic sign communication. Silver Spring, Md: National Association of the
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