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The disconnect between classroom learning and real world signing:

A student writes:
I have a serious question. I'm Trying to learn ASL as best as I can. The hand position, facial expressions, continuity of movement from one sign to the next, sentence structure etc. But what I'm learning also is that I rarely see people in real-life sign something or in the order in which I learned it. Often they use a completely different sign for something then what I it the same as we learn proper English or Spanish in a class but it is rarely spoken that way in real life??


In regard to your question of, "... is it the same as we learn proper English or Spanish in a class but it is rarely spoken that way in real life?"

I do indeed think that classroom learning is often quite different from the signing we see in real life. The main (but certainly not only) difference is the lack of context in the classroom. Classrooms are low context environments. Real life is typically "high context." For example, often you don't need to sign something if you can just point to it! Often you don't need to sign something if your conversation partner already signed it. You can just refer to the location in space that your conversation partner established for that concept.

You state that you rarely see people in real-life sign something or in the order in which you learned it.

Before we use that statement as a basis for a discussion on the topic, might I first ask, "How often do you really, actually, see people sign something?"

It has been my experience that many people have way too small of a "sample" upon which they base their decisions when discussing something as complex as "a language."

Please read the article at this link:

Also read this article:

Make sure to also scroll down a bit on that page and read the notes that go with the article.

You state "Often they use a completely different sign for something then what I learned."

I'm going to invite you to share one or more examples of these differences in signing -- so I can comment on those specific examples as a way of responding to your question. (If you would like.)


The student writes:
"I have a pretty sizeable ASL vocabulary, but at normal speed for native signers, I hear the word spoken but do not recognize the sign as the one I learned I'm trying to learn to read ASL but at real world speed it is difficult."

Hmmm. You "hear" the word spoken?
Is someone interpreting and you are listening to spoken English while watching an interpreter?

Your statement about "hearing" a word spoken and the sign not matching -- is ambiguous. (Not clear / confusing.)

If someone is speaking and signing at the same time it typically yanks their signs out of the realm of ASL and into "Pidgin Signed English."

If you are watching live interpreting then there is going to be lag time between the spoken word and the sign or set of signs used to represent it.

Often a spoken phrase requires a totally different sign than the main entry for that sign in a lesson or an ASL dictionary.

Needing to use a different sign from what you learned out of a dictionary or from an ASL lesson is totally to be expected and normal because the of huge number of different meanings most individual words can create when combined with other words.

"Take a class," "take a pill," "take it easy," and "take a vacation" all use different signs for "take."

Let me provide you an example of the challenge you are facing. Using a full-size browser (not a phone, not a tablet -- but on a desktop computer or laptop computer" copy and paste this link into the address bar:

If that link doesn't bring up a list of YouTube results it may mean you are trying to use the link on a phone or tablet. Again -- use a full size browser like on a desktop. It won't work on a phone unless you select desktop emulation.

See the part after the "?" in the sentence? That is the query string. That string queries my signing channel's database of over 12,000 signs. See the "=take" part of the string? That means it searches for the word "take."

If you scroll down in the search results you will see over 20 different ways to sign "take."

That's twenty different examples I give regarding how to sign "take" -- and there are many more -- all depending on context.

The fact is -- even having what you "think" is a substantial vocabulary in ASL -- if you are not recognizing the signs being done by native signers that indicates you probably need to learn thousands more signs. By "learn" I mean to actually become familiar with the signs to the point that you can recognize them when they are signed (and mutated) at high speed.

An approach is to go through all 60 lessons at and click on the individual vocabulary links and scroll down a bit and see the signing notes.

Start at whichever lessons are advanced enough to not be boring for you at your level (but realize that the more advanced you become at a skill -- the more you have to wade through stuff you already know to pick up new information). Sometimes I go to workshops where I know 98% of what is being taught -- but at my level that "new" 2% is pure gold.

Also (if you are not already doing so) use the master playlist and review the videos after Lesson 60 to expand your vocabulary even more.

Eventually, with enough exposure and practice, your brain will start to catch and understand advanced signing.




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