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American Sign Language: Tutoring

In a message dated 1/15/2006 5:04:44 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, lwilt@ .net writes:
Hi, Bill - I haven't asked for your help in awhile, not that I don't have questions but I don't want to bug you!  Thank you for the help you've given in the past.  Now - my story - I originally became involved in sign language because my 29 yr. old daughter has been interested for years and signed up for ASL 1 at the local community college - I took it with her so we could practice together - not knowing that it would lead me to a wonderful, close friendship with the deaf instructor.  For the past year I have studied on my own, reading about deaf culture, increasing vocabulary, watching videos, so that I can communicate more fluently without Karen having to always and only read my lips - and I've come a long way, we're almost at a normal pace of conversation, yay!  Not ASL, but our own conversational style.  Anyway, my daughter in interested in becoming an interpreter, but the nearest school is Gallaudet, about 70 miles from here.  Since she works full time I thought of asking Karen to give her private lessons until she can arrange to go to D.C. for their Summer/Saturday program.  I went on the internet looking  to find what a reasonable hourly rate would be to pay for private lessons.  It turned out that the answers I found were written by YOU.  Not the hourly rate, but your idea that it's not necessary to go for credit classes as long as she can pass the certification exam.  So now I'm thinking she can do allot of the work right here, with Karen, and become involved with some of the deaf population here and maybe that will all work out.  We don't have any certified terps here, but we do have a handful of uncertified ones.  Anyway, now my question is - do you have a feel for what the hourly rate would be?  I don't want to underpay her.  She has a masters degree in social work with focus on ADA policy.... unfortunately there are no jobs for her here unless she drives to D. C. and she has 2 babies now... so teaching is perfect for her.  I was thinking around $25/hr. but gosh, the voice teachers around here get $30/half hour...  Have you had experience with private lessons?
Sorry this is so your time answering...
I hope you and your family are well...
Linda Beth Wilt

Hello Linda,
I can see how you are concerned that since you and Karen are friends she might feel unduly influenced to say yes to a rate of pay that is less than what she feels she is worth.

If it were me I'd simply approach your friend with a question:  "Karen, I'm looking for an ASL tutor for my daughter. I'm wondering if you know anyone in the area and have any idea of how much they might charge?"

Then if Karen were even remotely interested she would likely volunteer herself and suggest a rate of pay with which she was comfortable.

There are many factors that influence how much you should pay an ASL tutor.
I'll list off some things to consider:

1.  Does the tutor have to commute?  If it takes the tutor a half-hour to drive to your house then a so-called one-hour tutoring session will take 2 and a half hours of the tutor's time.  (1/2 hour driving there, 1/2 hour driving back, few minutes filling up gas, an hour of tutoring, a few minutes getting dressed to go out side, 15 to 20 minutes preparing the lesson, etc.)  So, paying a commuting tutor $25 an hour is actually only paying them $10 an hour since it takes two and a half hours out of their day that they could be doing something else.

2.  Who is prepping the curriculum?  Have you bought a book for yourself and one for the tutor.  The tutor needs access to whatever curriculum you are going to use.  If you are relying on the tutor to provide the curriculum that puts an additional time burden on the tutor.  Tutors that already have a curriculum ready to go are more valuable than tutors who show up at your door and ask you, "so, what do you want to know?"

3.  Are you willing to commit to a series of sessions?
You should get a price break if you sign a contract for a bunch of tutoring sessions instead of just piecemeal.

4.  Are you willing to pay in advance? 
Back when I did tutoring I required people to write me sign up for multiple tutoring sessions and write me two checks.  The first check was for half the total cost of the tutoring and was payable immediately.   The second check was for the other half of the payment and was postdated to the day of our last scheduled tutoring session.  Both checks were given to me prior to my doing any tutoring.
5.  Are you willing to forfeit the session if you are sick or busy and can't make it?  
What I used to do was set up a ten-session contract.  I informed the student that they could miss one session and I'd let them reschedule it.  If they missed any additional sessions, they would forfeit (lose) that session and I would be paid the same.  If I missed one session we would simply add an additional session to our schedule.  If I missed more than one session I would owe the student DOUBLE time to make up for each additional session missed.  That was fair.  If the student flaked out more than once, he lost money.  If I flaked out more than once, I lost time and effort.  Such a policy helped to make sure that both of us consistently showed up when we said we would.
6.  Get creative.  How about instead of hiring the person as a tutor, you instead ask the ASL tutor to let you buy them a series of regularly scheduled dinners (or breakfasts).  For example, I regularly host an ASL breakfast at the local Denny's. (near Cal State Sacramento) I go there almost every-Saturday at 7:45 a.m.  I chat with whatever students or Deaf people show up.  It gives students an opportunity pick my brain for free.  I've done this for well over a year now.
7.  Find out what the interpreters in your area are charging for a one-hour interpreting session.  That is a terrific yardstick for how much to pay an ASL tutor.  If the terps charge $50 for the first hour and $25 for each following hour of the same assignment, that gives you an good starting point to consider what to offer your tutor.  Such a rate card would indicate to me that $25 an hour is a fair amount to pay if the tutor doesn't have to commute or only has to commute a very short distance.

8.  Many ASL instructors earn between $25 and $100 an hour for teaching ASL classes.  Some of them teach many classes a week.  I remember back when I was young, wild, and crazy, I used to teach 13 classes per week.  After I got so busy teaching so many classes, the thought of teaching a single individual was ludicrous.  Think about it.  20 people paying me $5 each to participate in a "community ed" class totaled to $100 an hour.  Compare that with someone offering me $25 an hour to provide private tutoring!?! 

Note:  People look at the $100 an hour statement and think, my heck, he must be rich!  Hogwash.  Not all classes had 20 people in them.  Some only had a handful.  Even so, 13 classes a week, times a more realistic figure of  $50 per class comes to $650 a week -- but a third of that goes to pay business expenses (advertising, office supplies, teaching supplies, gas to drive to the teaching location, wear and tear on the car, nice clothes to teach in, oh and let's not forget such items as medical insurance. When you are an independent you foot the whole bill yourself.  Back when I lived in Layton, Utah I remember paying over $1,000 a month for medical insurance.  (Which was critical considering one of my four kids is a "special needs child.")  Overhead expenses are why auto mechanics and plumbers  charge so much.  It would be different if you were earning that much per hour 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.  But you are not. That's why plumbers charge so much. If you look at any established business person who provides personal, in-home services, he or she charges $45 to $150 an hour or more (plus parts).  If you don't charge that much, you simply can't afford to stay in business year after year and feed your family.
If you are teaching college classes, (adjunct -- which I was) that helps quite a bit since the pay is pretty good and you generally teach in blocks of time.  Now I teach full-time and it is so very much nicer.

9.  Perhaps "semi-private" instruction would be a better way to go than tutoring.  If there are two or three other "wannabe" interpreters in the area they might be interested in receiving semi-private instruction. Four people contributing $10 each for an hour of tutoring is much more financially rewarding for the tutor than 1 person paying $25 an hour.

10.  You mention that your friend has two babies and no local job prospects.  That would indicate to me that she would indeed be grateful for the income. I'm sure the vast majority of people would not be offended by being offered $25 an hour that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to earn.  She can always turn it down or negotiate for a higher amount. 
$250 for a ten hour contract over a period of five-weeks seems reasonable considering the situation.  But remember this--whatever happens--do not let any aspect of the money or the contract become a source of irritation that might harm your friendship. Your friendship is worth more than gold.  If Karen flakes out or under performs, just kiss your money goodbye and call it an "experiment" that didn't work out the way you planned but one from which you learned a great deal.

I hope this has been helpful.
If you have other "tutor-related" questions, feel free to ask.
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 10/31/2001 12:19:39 PM Central Standard Time, a student writes:

Hello Dr. Vicars,
Do you have any suggestions on how I may narrow my search for tutorial services in San Francisco? Any help to guide me is greatly appreciated!
Thank you in advance for your assistance.
Warm regards,
-- "Jane"

Dear "Jane,"
As far as finding a tutor, I suggest you track down an interpreter for the deaf. Then ask him or her where to find a deaf person who might be interested in tutoring you. The phone book might list interpreters in your area. Or you could call the state division of vocational rehabilitation services and ask them, (talk to a counselor who serves the deaf--the receptionist might have no clue.)
You might consider asking June Kailes for some advice on finding an ASL tutor. She is a Disability Consultant at the Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco, 70 10th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
415-863-0581, TTY 415-863-1367.
A sort of off the wall approach might be to contact the U.C.S.F. Center on Deafness -- a mental health facility. Outpatient Email
Address 3333 California Street, Suite 10, San Francisco, CA 94143-1208
Phone (415) 476-7600 (TTY)  476-4980 (V) Fax (415) 476-7113
Location Served San Francisco Bay area Hours 8:30-5 Mon-Thurs

Who knows, they might let you come in and visit with the deaf patients?
They might even have a patient who would be willing to tutor you for free.

Plus you might contact the local colleges. Ask to speak to the disability services director. Ask him or her if there are any college students (deaf) who are good signers who would like to earn a few bucks doing some tutoring on the side.

Good luck on your studies and take care.

Bill Vicars

In a message dated 5/1/2005 12:29:09 PM Pacific Daylight Time, asl.tutor@ writes:

<<I want to know how ASL teachers can inspire extremely shy students to be confident when standing up to demonstrate ASL stories/etc.>>

Dear ASL Tutor,
The thing to understand here is how to deal with "exposure to public scrutiny."
For our discussion we will say that "exposure to public scrutiny" is the process of being subjected to observation, examination, study, or evaluation by a group.
This is a nerve wracking experience for most people due to the fact that if they mess up, many people will become instantly aware of it. The person being watched knows that he is more likely to mess up because he is nervous about messing up. The more nervous he becomes, the more sure he will mess up and thus the cycle continues until it becomes paralyzing.

You've stated that your goal is to get a shy student to be able to confidently stand up and sign a story (or perform some other task) in front of a group.

Here are my thoughts on how to do that:

Start by having the student practice the task in the safest environment possible and then work your way up.

The safest environment is likely to be their home, behind closed doors where nobody will see them.
To help make this possible, provide study materials that are clear and self-explanatory so that shy students can practice at home on their own.
Assign topics ahead of time. Give plenty of notice. Remind the student numerous times that eventually he or she will be using this information in class.
Review the material just prior to asking the class to practice it.
Next, have the whole class, at the same time, practice the task. They should all be facing forward and focused on their own progress not that of their neighbor). They should be sitting down and be given plenty of time.
Next, ask for volunteers to do the task in front of the group.
Next, assign everyone to work in pairs. Put a kind, patient, friendly student with the shy student.
Switch partners frequently so no one is stuck with someone they don't like for very long.
Next have them work in threesomes. Then as a group of five. Note: If you put them in foursomes watch to make sure they don't break into two pairs.
You don't have to do this all on the same day. It is good to spread it out and let the shy student get used to working in small groups.
Insist that they all learn each other's names.
Next, have a few members from each group move to a new group. Using tokens of some kind is helpful for this. For example you could hand out poker-chips blue, red, yellow, and white. Then you can sign, "ALL BLUE STAND-UP" "ALL WHITE STAND-UP" BLUE, WHITE, SWITCH."
Next have all the students sit in one big circle and play a game where everyone is watching everyone else, but only momentarily. Make sure students know that if they get stuck they can ask you for help. Or assign them to partnerships so that as you go around the circle, if one of them doesn't know the answer he can ask his partner.
Next, have five students come to the front and sit in chairs. They are all sitting down, facing the "audience." You can call them student 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. (This makes it a bit more anonymous.) Ask each of the five students some sort of question and have them respond. You might want to show them the sign for "pass" and let them know they can "pass" if they would like.
On another day you have them do this same activity but standing up.
Later you call up three people. Then individuals.

What I'm explaining here is simply that you can use a progressive approach to getting your students up in front of class.

In all my years of teaching (over seventeen years with around 10,000 in-person students) I have simply never had any problem regarding "shy" students in class.  By the second day of class I am usually directing individuals to the front and interacting with them.  I read my student's body language and begin with those students who are obviously fearless or actors. As class goes on, the shy students realize they will eventually have to come to the front. They prepare themselves for it and it ends up being a relief for them when it finally happens. I have had maybe three students specifically ask to be excused from "front of class" participation.  These I dealt with in ways that did not draw attention to them yet allowed them to participate from their seat.
Here are a few more pointers:
Avoid embarrassing a student in front of his or her peers.  NEVER put down or "pick on" any student.
Focus on helping him to have a successful communication experience.
If he is not understanding you, gradually bring the communication down to his level. Ask him something he can respond to. Let him succeed and then send him back to his seat and call up the next student.
Communicate to your students that you appreciate their participation and that you recognize standing up in front of class is easier for some than others. Emphasize that it is good for them and that you don't expect perfection but that this is a language class and that as such, we will be communicating to each other and to groups.

In a message dated 5/1/2005 4:10:44 PM Pacific Daylight Time, an ASL tutor writes:

"I'm an ASL tutor.  I provide one-on-one tutoring to ASL students.  I've had problems in the past when students interact with me socially... later on they don't take the teachings seriously. Suddenly they want to be my best friends and drop the formality of teacher/student roles.  How do you remain friendly with your students while keeping them on their toes with their studies in ASL?"

Response:  You might want to consider doing what lawyers do.  They bill their clients for every minute spent on the client.  This includes on the phone, in-person, doing background research, paper work, and leg work. 

When you first get a new client, explain to him the concept of billable time.  Explain your rates and how much you charge for what type of interaction.  Here are some examples (adjust the amount to what is worth your while).

Formal lessons: $15 an hour
Conversation practice: $12 an hour
Video Phone practice:  $12 an hour
Lunch Practice:  $5 an hour up to two hours  (Student provides transportation and pays for lunch including tip.)
Email responses:  $10 per 250 words (Hmmm, speaking of which, when you get done reading this email send me $10.92 via Paypal!)

It doesn't matter if they drop the formality of the role because the bill for your time will still show up in their mailbox. If they show up out of the blue and start chatting with you, track the time you spent chatting and charge them for it by sending them a bill.  To avoid hard feelings make sure this process is explained up front in your initial contract.

To make the process a bit more professional: get a clipboard and type up a "Sign In Sheet."

If a student shows up unannounced, hand him the clipboard and a pen so he can sign in.  That will immediately put the student on notice that he is being clocked.
You might even choose to select a dark blue smock (poncho) that you put on when you are "on the clock."  This could serve as an obvious signal that you are shifting into the role of a paid tutor.



In a message dated 10/3/2005 10:23:27 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

Do you have any suggestions for learning directions in ASL?  I am a beginning ASL student (very old one) and I am having difficulty with directions.  I keep rewinding the "Signing Naturally" video that comes with our workbook, but to no avail.  We have a large class and I cannot slow down the whole group because of my slowness.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks for taking the time to help so many of us...  Maureen Jacobsen

Maureen, Let me tell you this:  You are not alone.  I get emails from all over the world from students with the same frustration.  Your best bet would be to write on a corner of the board...Tutor wanted, contact Maureen Jacobsen at (your email).
Or you might write:  Would one of you youngsters be willing to help out an old woman? I need a study partner who understands this "direction" stuff....
Or you might simply pick a time that you think will work for lots of people and set up a study group.  Your library likely has rooms available to reserve for this purpose.  Then, when you get the tutor, ask her to sit by your side and show you how to do the directions.  Seeing the directions from someone sitting by your side is much easier than someone sitting in front of you.  Then later you can have the person sit in front of you and try it that way.  You might be able to sit at the front of the classroom off to the side where you could pivot your chair or desk so that you are facing almost the same direction as your instructor.  Then follow his movements that way. Bill



In a message dated 6/29/2004 2:24:23 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

I am a 48yr. old who is going deaf due to meineres syndrome.  i have already lost the hearing in my left ear and i recentely found out that the disease has gone to my right side. My family and i have decided to learn sign.  but there is a problem, i cant find any resourses here in oklahoma city where i live. what would you suggest.  we are a large mixed group of 6to12 people some of them kids under the age of 12.  we would like to do this as a group.  please help us.  thank you karen


Here are some ideas.

Go through the lessons at my website:

Get materials from your library.

Contact your state's division of rehabilitation services and ask them for guidance.

Contact your state's division of services to the deaf and hard of hearing.

Advertise in the newspaper for an ASL tutor to come to your house and teach you ASL.  You can use as the curriculum for your tutor to follow.

Call the local "community education" or "night school" departments of your school district and ask about ASL classes.


[Editors note:  The typical spelling is: "Meniere's Disease"]

In a message dated 3/10/2004 2:28:58 PM Pacific Standard Time, > writes: >Hello again Dr. Vicars, >Would you happen to know anyone who could help me like over a webcam? College >classes arent available right now so i was hoping i could get practice this >way.. thanks so much, >-Aaron

>From: >To: >Subject: Re: Hi there! >Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 18:44:25 EST > >How much are you willing to spend? >I don't know of any free webcam services...but maybe a tutoring service could be set up. Bill

In a message dated 3/10/2004 8:14:23 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
i don't want to underestimate.. or overestimate as a matter of fact but i think i could afford around 50-60 $$ a week? just let me know the price range.. I really need someone fun to work with. I look forward to hearing from you!!

This concept is really fascinating to me. The idea of hooking up private ASL tutors and students via webcam. I looked into the idea of teaching point to multipoint via the web previously and it wasn't feasible. But point to point certainly is. The trick would be to set up a system whereby a profit could be made. The hard part is finding qualified tutors and arranging the time. I will ask my newsletter audience to see who might be available for such an endeavor.

Using ASL to improve English literacy

In a message dated 12/6/2004 1:53:47 PM Pacific Standard Time, kormsby@Lee.Edu writes:

Hi Bill hope everything is good for you J I have an off the wall question: Before the question I need to set up my situation for you; I am a certified interpreter at our local community college my students range in skill level in English and sign, (that may sound surprising but is so true), anyway I have noticed those with higher sign skills do much better at learning the ins and outs of English. As I am asked to tutor many of my students for English class I want to boost their ASL skills in order to help with their English skills. Okay here is the question: is adding to their sign vocabulary enough? Are there other things I might do and if so what?

I do have to focus on the class I am being asked to tutor for, but in order to explain how things are set up in English I first show them how the concept is signed then what the English words look like for that concept. Maybe the more important question is am I on the right track? Am I out in left field? Please advise J

Kimberly Ormsby
Lee College
ASL Interpreter


I think you are on the right track.

What you are doing is known as a bilingual/bicultural approach to literacy.
This same approach also applies to interpreting in general.

I expect interpreters to supply the appropriate cultural and linguistic information that accompanies the "words" or "signs" involved in the interpretation.  This is not adding to or changing the meaning, but rather providing a "full" and appropriate interpretation. Some Deaf prefer and/or can benefit from minimal interpretation because they already understand English and Hearing culture.  These people are bilingual and bicultural and simply cannot hear.  Other Deaf people need expanded interpretation because in addition to not being able to hear spoken English, they also do not have the cultural background necessary for spoken words to make sense if simply changed into signs. The same is true of Hearing people.  Some "Hearing" people have been around Deaf people enough to not need an explanation/interpretation that the puff in a Deaf person's cheek as he signs Deaf means "and proud of it" or that a "Deaf School" is considered more along the lines of being a prestigious boarding school rather than some sort of "institution."  For other Hearing people though, you are going to need to include that information in your interpretation else wise "something" has been lost in "translation."

(Dr. Vicars)

 In a message dated 9/27/2005 5:51:36 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

Hi Dr. Vicars,

 First, let me apologize if this information is in your FAQ.  If it is, I couldn't find it.

 I am an ASL student; however, the fall class (ASL 3) at my local college was cancelled due to lack of enrollment.  I am quickly losing my signing skills since the last class, ASL 2, ended in May.  You know the old adage--use it or lose it!  I'd like to keep up my skills by chatting live via webcam in ASL with other ASL users.  Do you know of any sites like this?

 Secondly, our college has organized an Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board of which I am a member.  When they began offering ASL in the fall of 2004, no research had been done as to the feasibility of an ITP in our community, the need in the community for more interpreters, or the interest in students enrolling in an ITP.  Needless to say, the program was poorly run and students did not enroll for fall 2005 but rather went to other colleges.  (The closest college that offers an ITP is a little over an hour away from me.)  The Advisory Board has to research all of these issues.  Can you tell me the best places to begin researching the needs of the Deaf Community so that we get true numbers as to how many people would use certified interpreters (vs. family members) if they knew the service was available?  Where is the best place to find out how many people in a geographical area are deaf?  We can get some information from one of our school districts who has a large Deaf Community.

 Thanks for you help! 

 Marta Andrews-Suttorp


Hello.  Sorry for the delay in responding.  I've chained myself to this keyboard for most of the day and have my email list down to 62 left. Heh. I won't get them all tonight...but maybe a few more.

You asked about the best places for researching the Deaf Community.

I recommend you check with the Center for Assessment and Demographic Studies at Gallaudet University.

Here's a pertinent link:

Note: They will confirm what you've already found is very difficult to obtain reliable data pertaining to this subject.

I also suggest you consider contacting:

Center for the Preparation of  Educational Interpreters   NTID at RIT, LBJ-1234

 Lomb Memorial Drive,  Rochester, NY 14623-5604


 Also, do a google for:  ASL Program Proposal

and:  Interpeter for the Deaf program Proposal

You will come across numerous examples of program proposals that you can glean ideas from regarding what they did.


If you haven't checked with your state's school for the deaf, I suggest you do so:

 Now, about live video chat...I don't know of a "go and chat" place for hearies who want to practice their ASL skills.  But I suggest you visit and to get a feel for the technology that is out there.  Here is a site that I know of for "chat" but I don't know if they use video yet:

I know of an ASL tutor who will chat via video for a fee. But I know of no "free" sites for that sort of thing.

Also, you might enjoy my fingerspelling site:

Best wishes for your success.





If you want to know about ASL classes at your college, I suggest you contact their office of services to students with disabilities.  The people in that office will likely know about any ASL classes at their school.  They might even be able to put you in touch with a Deaf college student who could tutor you and your family in ASL. It is worth asking.


Also see: Tutor Request



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