Improving Signing Skills

I found these cute kids playing at Billy Bear's Playground

Here are a few ideas I've gathered from a number of people on improving signing skills:

I tried something this week that turned out well, and wanted to share the idea. We were working on vocabulary, so I took a 'Hands Down' game, and made my own set of cards on the computer. They had pictures of the words we wanted to study (in the upper left corner), some known and some new. We played the game according to the regular rules, then after a match was made we had to sign the word as we laid it down. Sort of sneaked in the learning, as our son seems to balk at things that look like 'school stuff'.

One lady tells me she goes through a kind of mental game when listening to her child's song tapes in the car; she tries to mentally imagine herself signing the song. She also does this while reading children's books. She says this gives her a good idea of the vocabulary used by children. 

Along with taking classes, join a local group that includes many signers.   Some possibilities are: a deaf place of worship, or gatherings associated with a state school for the deaf, etc. You will then have wonderful reinforcement for your new knowledge and will experience true communication in addition to classroom learning.

Get on a mailing list for a Deaf organization such as the state association of the deaf and try to attend some events that are of interest to you.

Try sign videos or the new CD-ROM's that provide lots of practice in vocabulary acquisition, sentence structure and sometimes education in issues of cultural sensitivity. Often tapes and CDs can be borrowed from public libraries or from local school programs that provide services to deaf or hard of hearing children.

Videos such as "Children of a Lesser God" can be helpful in broadening sign understanding.

Another way to increase signing skill is to practice fingerspelling while doing other daily activities.  When I drive and stop at a stop light, I often fingerspell all the names of the intersecting streets.  I try to do this to increase my spelling speed and accuracy. I think it impacts my dexterity.

Keep a few sign books in the car or your backpack or tote for times when you have a few moments to spare waiting at the gas station or picking up someone. Even a few minutes of study at a time can be a significant help.

Have silent dinner times where voices are off in the family.  A "kitty jar" can be fed if spoken words are used during this allotted time.  Signing videos could be purchased with the proceeds.

We have dinner weekly with deaf friends and not only our signing, but also our cooking has improved!   ;-)

Post photos of a friend signing certain household signs of the object in question.   Tape the sign for refrigerator on the fridge, etc.

Learn a series of signs associated with a special event such as Valentine's Day or Summer, etc.

I took an 8 week Signed English class in college out of curiosity.  Then I started going to the local Deaf club at least once a month.  As I made more friends, I joined the bowling and golf leagues.  After a few years, I was being mistaken for having Deaf parents. 

Try to find if the local Deaf school or Interpreter training program has immersion (silent) weekends.  These are great opportunities for the whole family to be surrounded by language.

We made a choice that ASL would be the language of our home.  Even though the first weeks of no-voice were a bit frustrating, the results have been great.

In our area there was a college training program for sign interpreters. Each of them was required to do so many hours of interpreting prior to graduation.  When we were just starting out I arranged for one to come to our house an hour per week to help me with sign

Invite your child's deaf friends over.  Just spending time with them will help you stay on your toes.

Take the ASL classes that your child's school offers.

Volunteer in your child's classroom once every two weeks or so (this gives you the chance to see what level your child's' peers are at and to see where he's getting those signs that you don't know about!). 

Have a chat with his teacher using ASL ( kinda lets the teacher see your skill level and give you a chance to ask any questions you may have) If you drive your child to and from school yourself as opposed to their being bussed this is a lot easier to do.  

Hire a tutor to teach you/your family ASL.  I've heard of some families doing this when they can't come to class at night or they are having a hard time learning it and need one on one help.  If you can't afford to pay someone maybe you can barter with them, you know exchange services with them, you could bake something or baby-sit for them whatever works...

I made up little sheets with signs that may need to be used in each room of the house: for example in the living room I used a sheet of construction paper and glued on copies of signs for all of the furniture and for sounds that may be heard in the room, and did the same for all other rooms of the house.  Then had them laminated so that we could keep them neatly.  I kept the signs in the room posted where they could be gotten to very easily.  I also did the same thing with basic kinds of phrases that we would use, and then each week would add vocabulary words.  We would pass them through our family to help us to become familiar with them.  I also made little books of signs based on themes for example: sports, clothing, animals, etc.  I know that they sell these kinds of books, but it was a real learning experience for me and my daughter to work together to make these books, and we kept them in the living room for all of us to look over when needed.  And now they are currently my youngest daughter's favorite books to look at (she is 17 months) we added many pictures from magazines and drawings by both of us to make the sign very easy for both my husband and myself of course able to read, and then for our young daughter ( at that time) could also understand them very easily due to the picture.  We truly were learning together, so this was very important that everything had pictures also for her to understand it clearly.

Our school district provides free sign classes for parents and family members of children enrolled in regional program for the deaf. Other community members can take the classes for a very low fee (I think about $25 per semester). Surrounding school districts also can send their family members free to sign classes, if their districts don't offer them. These districts may have to pay the $25 fee for the classes. The community colleges offer non-credit classes at about $80 per semester. Credit courses in ASL are also offered through some local colleges. These vary in cost. There are also excellent classes offered through some of the local churches. Another idea is to use a video course and get a group together to learn that way. Your public library may have the set of 16 tapes of the Bravo family. These are GREAT. If they don't have them, you might be able to convince them to buy these tapes if enough people are going to use them. There are also other good sign curricula offered on videotapes. If there is a local interpreter program, check to see if they will allow you to use their video lab. Ours has a HUGE number of tapes available. Another idea is to get some sign-language tapes through Captioned Media Program. Some of these services have a large number of sign tapes. Also, check with your state school for the deaf. They may have a resource library that you can use (even by mail). Finally, sponsor 'Silent Night' activities for you and other families and friends. Invite some deaf adults to come. You can interview each other, play games, and just visit using sign only. All these activities can increase your fluency and knowledge of sign.


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