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Zombie Level -- as a solution to freezing up:


Hello Dr. Vicars,

I am bothered somewhat because I have began studying ASL at a local college and I am afraid I am not very good (at least not yet). I am getting better but only at my pace which seems to be slower than the class. Call me the runt if the litter because that is the best way to explain the feeling.

The reason why I am texting is the hopes that I could get some information about if Deaf men and women actually appreciate when people try ASL?

I see some videos where Deaf people get annoyed when people use ASL too slow or some of them just think it rude that we try to sign when we don't have the fluidity. On the other token, I know that it is rude to speak when you know sign yet some videos I watch show people speaking and signing at the same time. It is bothersome because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or offend them and this causes me to freeze up and can't move let alone sign.

Is there any advice that you could offer me to help me out; anything really would be greatly appreciated.

- Curtis Rudolph


Hello Curtis!

I recommend you visit this page and read some student to student peer advice:

Since you are taking ASL at a college, check to see if the same class is offered in multiple sections and if so try attending more than one section of the SAME class. If the other section is from a different teacher, inform the other teacher that you are already taking the class from "Professor Soandso" and ask if it would be okay to sit in the back (or wherever) and get more exposure. There is no guarantee the other teacher will do that but if you approach them nicely they might approve. The point is that if you are half-as-fast as the other students then you are going to need twice-as-much exposure and practice.

In your comment you mentioned the conflicting behaviors and attitudes you see in the Deaf Community. My response is simply: Exactly! The Deaf Community is full of conflicting behaviors and attitudes. Compare it to "the ocean." The ocean is both a beautiful and a scary place. It is both a wonderful and a dangerous place. It is full of harmless creatures and also deadly creatures.

Your choices in how you approach the ocean are going to determine your experience of the ocean.

You are taking an ASL class. That is like going to the beach and dipping your toes in the water. Getting involved in the Deaf Community is like going into deeper and deeper water. It is less scary when you have the proper knowledge, preparation, and skills.

If you want to avoid freezing up when talking to someone you need to have practiced signing to the extent that it becomes "muscle memory." If you sign "HOW YOU?" (How are you?) a thousand times in a mirror you won't need to consciously think about signing it any more.

Visualize meeting a Deaf person in your mind and then physically sign "HOW YOU?"

If you do that literally a thousand times in practice -- I can pretty much guarantee that it will be so ingrained in you that your hands can do the movements even if your mind is "frozen."

It is the same concept employed by the Army in how they train young people to "keep moving" when being shot at.

As scary as it is to meet a Deaf person -- it simply doesn't compare to being shot at by someone who is trying to kill you. The Army sergeants drill the soldiers again, and again, and again, and again, and again (add another hundred or thousand "agains" to this list) until the soldiers reach "zombie level" wherein they can function and keep moving even when the bullets are flying past their heads.

So, if you want to be able to sign without freezing up regardless if there is a Deaf person in front of you or bullets whizzing past you -- simply practice, practice, practice -- until you reach zombie-level.


(Reference: Rudolph, C. (12/02/2019), Publicly posted comment, Vocabulary Expansion Series (21) American Sign Language (ASL), Comment section. Web: Retrieved: 12/02/2019)





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