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How fast should I sign?

In a message dated 2/9/2014 10:07:48 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, Donna writes:

Dr. Bill,

For the past three months I've been getting on your ASLU website and I've learned so much. I've followed along with each lesson and I'm up to 8 now. Your website is a wonderful resource. I'm sure it's development has been a great labor of love on your part and I thank you for sharing it.

My husband is a medical social worker at our local hospital. For years he's talked about how difficult it is to find sign language interpreters. There are so few in Illinois and none in our immediate area. I was a stay-at-home mom for 18 years and I went back to work part-time 6 years ago--a dead-end job that, unfortunately, will not lead to anything. However, working part-time affords me the luxury of time to study. Having two children in college means no money for me to go back to school. The area we live in has the lowest unemployment rate in the state which means no job prospects for me. I'm 47. I thought I would set a goal for myself to become an interpreter by the age of 50. (I'm old enough to know that it takes a long time to learn a new skill!) Here's why I'm contacting you: I made the mistake of looking up just what is involved in the interpreter evaluation and now I'm feeling so overwhelmed and full of doubt at my ability to achieve this goal. The evaluation indicated a signing speed of 110-130 wpm. Is that even possible? Or does it seem unattainable to me because I've only been learning for a short time? I'm a fairly skilled typist having started at the age of 15 and I can't type that fast! Any words of encouragement or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you again for sharing your site. Even if I am unable to become an interpreter, I will continue to learn sign language because I love it. :)

Donna LaMotte



According to the "Words Per Minute" page of Wikipedia, under the "speech and listening" section it says, "Audiobooks are recommended to be 150--160 words per minute, which is the range that people comfortably hear and vocalize words."

So, yes, you need to be able to "sign" 110-130 wpm.

Take heart though.

American Sign Language is not English on the hands.

Visual languages (such as ASL) are geared to use space, movement, and direction to convey concepts very efficiently. For example, the English phrase, "It is nice to meet you" -- can be conveyed very efficiently with just two signs, simultaneous head-nodding, and modification of the direction & location of the signs.

Thus the equivalent of "six" English words can be fully and specifically conveyed via "two" ASL signs (combined with head nodding, directionality, and sign placement).  Nothing is "left out." There is no ambiguity. The whole message is conveyed.

Dr. Bill


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