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01 February 2016

Memorandum Monday–Give Me A Sign

It’s a new Monday – here’s the memo:


This past week hubby and I started sign language classes. Our son is dating a lovely deaf girl.  Naturally we want to be able to communicate with her and vice versa.  Our son has picked up sign from her pretty quickly; we old folks need more formal training.

We were just barely introduced to the subject on our first night of class, but we did learn that the signs for hello include a small salute from the temple or, as you would expect, a side-to-side wave.  So hello to Sian @FromHighInTheSky and friends this Monday.  (A wave will also start the countdown timer for the camera on my tablet, another new thing I am learning.)


According to our instructor American Sign language has its roots in French grammatical structure. If you know French that would help you. I do not know French, although hubby had studied it back in his high school days. She explains the origin of the signs she shares with us, so we better remember them. It is a way of connecting a little story with a mental picture.  As a scrapbooker, I liked that.

I asked the instructor if ASL is like shorthand, an obsolete skill I excelled at in high school and college.  I hoped it might help my brain process it more logically.  She explained both American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed English (SE) are used when communicating with the hearing impaired. The basic signs for words are the same; however, with Signed English (SE) a sign is executed for every word in a sentence whereas American Sign Language (ASL) seeks to convey a concept. So SE is closer to shorthand -- all the words are included, but are shortened to symbols.
Here is a good example I found online.  If I were to sign “I have two sisters” in SE, I would make a sign for each word. In ASL, I might make the signs for “two” and “sister” and then point to myself, conveying the thought “two sisters, me.”  Based on videos I have seen online, the who, what, where parts of a question come at the end in ASL.

Initialized signs are another tool for teaching as they help students differentiate between words that can be represented by one single sign. For instance, one sign can mean car, bus, or truck. But by using a “C” when car is made, a “B” when bus is made, and a “T” when truck is made, the signer can increase the expanse of vocabulary introduced.  The example given in class was that the inclusion sign for a group of people is often the same, but using a “C” for class and an “F” for family adapts it to the situation. Signs, therefore, are most usually taught in groups of words.

Signed English is used most often in a classroom setting where sentence structure is being emphasized (for example, lessons in reading or grammar). ASL is used in settings where the focus is on the thought or message (like history or psychology).  Our instructor, who is personally acquainted with our son’s girlfriend, knows that she mostly uses Signed English. 

The book pictured above was given to hubby by his mom.  Our instructor thought it was an excellent one from which to learn.  At home, we began using it as a reference for learning to form  letters of the alphabet.  The instructor did not want us to practice finger-spelling until she could go through it with us. Indeed, she promised to “properly clean up” the alphabets of those who have  been using it!

Well now, there is a hint that our instructor is quirky in a fun, entertaining way.  She definitely knows her stuff, including several languages other than sign.  She shared stories of being called upon by the police and other public agencies to help out in situations with the hearing impaired.  I think our learning experience will be enjoyable.  Our reward of getting to know our son’s girlfriend will be extra special.

Do any of you know sign language?  Why did you learn?


  1. I don't know sign language-but it's great to learn new skills!

  2. How wonderful that you are learning!! I learned it a LONG time ago when I volunteered at the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf -- I mostly just know that most common words and of course the alphabet :)

  3. How sweet of you to go to so much trouble to be able to communicate freely with your son's girlfriend. It will be a good skill to learn. It's interesting how there are different kinds of signing, I didn't realise that.

  4. What an interesting Deb, I didn't realise there were different forms! Xx

  5. I have several friends who have taken classes and one who started working for a sign language charity and then ended up retraining as an audiologist. She tells me that sign language here even has dialects! There are special signs for local phrases. I think it's fantastic that you are learning.

  6. I think it's great you're learning to sign. My grandson is also deaf.

  7. How awesome you are doing this to be able to communicate with your son's girlfriend! I know nothing about it, except that they have a school for the deaf here and try to do some integrating into the elementary school.

  8. A brilliant thing to learn - my Dad became deaf before I was born so we have always had our own form of sign language with him, though he has now had some hearing restored with a cochlear implant.

  9. I take my hat of to you...that is real learn a new language for the ones you love xx

  10. I would love to learn sign language.

  11. An interesting read - thanks for the info. I have that book and am encouraged to pick it up again!