Talking with my hands

It’s ironic, considering that I’ve been hard of hearing basically my whole life, but I’ve always wanted to know sign language. I think it’s amazing and expressive and just … wonderful. If there had been sign language classes in my high school, I would’ve taken them in a heartbeat!

But I’ve never learned. The opportunity just never presented itself to me and I never pursued it. When I had my first episode of hearing loss in 1993, I had to consider the possibility that I might become entirely deaf in the not-so-distant future. I assumed I had to learn sign language. At that time though, I didn’t learn because I would’ve had nobody to practice it with. What was the point of learning sign language if your family isn’t going to use it to communicate with you?

I really didn’t consider that there are a lot of deaf people who never learn it – it just seemed to me that anybody who couldn’t hear (i.e., hearing aids didn’t help) would know or learn sign language.

I realize this is a really, really common misconception. I’m coming across it more now because if I tell someone I’m deaf and need accommodations, they assume it means a sign language interpreter. I have to explain that I’m newly-deafened and don’t know sign language. I think the only thing that would benefit me at this point (besides good old pen and paper) would be CART (or real time captioning) where somebody listens and types what’s being said so that I can read it on a computer screen. At least I think that’s how it works – I’ve never seen it in action, just read about it and I know it’s available.

I did the same thing this time around, when I lost the rest of my hearing. My first instinct was to get information on sign language. I realized there’s no classes in my area – the local college has one class coming up this summer, it’s only got 2 openings left (we would need 4 openings for the whole family to go) and it’s prohibitively expensive. It would cost nearly $600 for all of us to attend, and we just can’t afford that. If there are classes available in the community, I can’t find them.

However, Dave used to teach a casual sign language class many years ago (before he and I met and, ironically, before he lost his hearing) and he has a lot of materials. He remembers some of the signs and taught my daughter and I how to fingerspell. We’ve been talking about it and decided that learning ASL is probably unrealistic for the whole family, so we’d be better off learning our own form of PSE or contact sign, a combination of ASL and signed English. I don’t think I’ll ever know sign language well enough to use an interpreter, but I’d like to know it well enough that I can use it with my family to get past those stumbling blocks where I can’t lip read.

Raven, my daughter (and no, that’s not her real name…LOL…she asked me to use it as her pseudonym here) really loves the idea of learning sign language. She’s already adept at fingerspelling and does that when I can’t catch certain words she’s saying. I can remember being her age and thinking how cool it would be to know sign language, so I could talk to my friends without other people knowing what we were saying. 🙂

So we’ve got some books, we got some DVDs from the library and we’re trying to use signs when we can. In the past when I considered learning sign language, I quickly abandoned the idea because it really doesn’t work if you don’t have somebody to sign with and practice. I would eventually forget about it because I didn’t need to sign to communicate. Now, though, I find myself asking Dave what the sign is for a certain word, or practicing phrases with him. It’s really fun!

Now that the pressure is off, I can take my time and learn sign language at my own pace and in the manner that will work best with my family. Before there was this sense of urgency: Oh my gosh, if I don’t learn sign language immediately, how will I communicate?! I realize now that it’s ridiculous to think that way – just like if I moved to a foreign country, I would need time to learn the language. Even though I don’t expect to rely completely on sign language, I still think it’s a good thing to know. It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn and now I’m really motivated!

About wendiwendy

I'm a real-life bionic woman.

Posted on April 27, 2008, in Observations. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. A great website that allows you to SEE the sign being done is

    It not only has an extensive dictionary, but it has phrases, quizzes, etc. It might be a great link for you to save. Books do a great job of providing a description of how to do the sign, and many have 2-dimensional pictures. However, sometimes SEEING it is better. I recommend using this in conjunction with your books. (I have no connection to this site by the way; merely recommending it to my students.)

    Love your blog!



  2. You’re going about it the wrong way…learning sign should be a joyful and soul-enriching thing. Stop trying to learn it from the ABC’s up and just pick up useful signs for yourself and your daughter that relate to difficult words to lipread, or daily pleasures you share, or naughty signs for the moments you mutter under your breath.

    It should be fun, and not a chore to learn. Some are really interesting signs and cool to pop up in specific situations, like giving directions: (left, right, go long, back up, bridge, etc.) It’s better to have a Deaf person show you, but a book will do. So will a website.

    Whenever you think of a word that you wish you knew the sign for, look it up immediately and use it right away. Develop it with your daughter and get into giggle fests. Pretty soon you’ll be thinking in sign first before words and even dreaming in sign, even before you reach fluency. Just hang loose about it.


  3. I am in the process of learning sign too! I learn more sign language going to deaf events then I do sitting in front of a computer or reading out of a book. At first I was flimsy with fingerspelling, it felt ackward. Now, I can easily sign different words with ease and some speed on top of that!

    What really messes me up is the syntax but I learned to get the general idea of what you want to say.

    I’m glad you stopped by my blog, i’m looking forward to reading yours! 🙂


  4. Yep– I’m learning sign too. They syntax also messes me up, but when someone explains or you see it over and over it begins to make sense in a visual way. There’s no point in using extra words like we do in English to describe things because ASL uses visual ways of describing. Same with syntax. Often saying things a certain way with a weird syntax makes more sense visually. This is hard to explain. I’m only just now beginning to get it.


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