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Fingerspelling 4: 
Fingerspelling 1:  Introduction  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8   |  9  |  Lexicalized  |  Font  | Quizzes  |  Practice

Learning to fingerspell is a lot like learning to type.

First you should start with small combinations of letters like "cat" then work your way up to longer words. Spell the word over and over to yourself while pronouncing it normally. For example, the "c" in "cat" should be pronounced like the letter "k." Remember, don't say individual letters! Say whole words. Avoid spelling the abc's in order: "a, b, c, ..." Instead, practice using names of family members and nearby cities. Once in a while spell the sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs." (Notice that sentence uses each letter of the alphabet at least once?) If you need to study for an other class, why not fingerspell your way through the text?

I recommend that you don't practice spelling license plates. Sometimes students like to spell license plates while driving or riding around in a car. I think this a counterproductive habit because it causes you to think letter by letter instead of whole words. It is much better to spell road signs like "exit" and "yield." Again, you need to say in your mind the complete word, "yield," not just "y" then "i" then "e."

Some people enjoy using a mirror to practice. I've heard at least one teacher say that mirrors are not good because you see a mirror image of the sign and not the actual sign. My opinion is that mirrors are okay (after all you are going to eventually meet up with a left-handed signer--you might as well get used to it now). However, mirrors are not near as effective as a camcorder and VCR. 

If you have access to a camcorder, you can videotape yourself fingerspelling various words. Here is an approach: write a long list of words that are important to you. Then sit down in front of a camcorder and spell the words one at a time to the camcorder leaving a short break between words. Then put the video and your list away. After a few days, get out the video, a blank sheet of paper, and a pen or pencil. Pop the video into a VCR and test yourself. Write down the fingerspelled words. Then get out your original list and compare to see how well you did. Keep making videos and testing yourself until you reach the level of skill you desire.

Of course the best way to practice is with a partner, (a deaf partner if you can find one). Grab a friend and a phone book and head for a park or a restaurant. A phone book is an excellent resource for practicing fingerspelling because it has lists of cities. (Look under the zip code section) Then after you have mastered all the cities, you have a few thousand names you can work on. Or you can look under the government section and spell various agencies throughout the city and county. Then if you need even more practice, you can turn to the yellow page index and spell the various headings in the yellow pages.

An other idea is to play board games. Many popular board games can be modified to include fingerspelling. For example, you could play "battleship" using fingerspelling and numbers.

One of my favorite activities is what I call the "Helen Keller speller." You work with a partner. You closes your eyes. The other person spells a word into your hand and you say or sign the word back to him or her. Then you switch roles. This is a lot of fun. It even works if the power is out! 

One more idea that will work for those of you who use the internet: You can set up your chat room to use fingerspelling letters instead of normal typed letters.  They look like this:  That (jpeg picture) is a sample of what is called "fingerspelling font."  The actual name is "Gallaudet font." (Named after the fellow who went over to Europe in search of information on how to teach deaf people. Then all you have to do is sign on to any live chat room and watch the fingerspelling. Use your search program (yahoo will do) to find the font on the net then download it into your computer then use your preferences option in your chat program to select a fingerspelling font. If you are computer illiterate, make sure you get your buddy to help you install the font, elsewise it is likely to take you a LONG time to figure out how to set it up on your own.

There is also a great site or two out there on the web that will spell words to you and you have to type in the right answer. A few minutes a day doing that and before you know it you will be pretty good at reading fingerspelling! 

In a message dated 5/1/2003 1:03:19 AM Central Daylight Time, Camcmillion writes:

From: Camcmillion
To: BillVicars

My name is Susie and I am a CODA. My father and his brother were born deaf also was my step father. The 3 of them went to MSD in Fulton MO the sister school of the first in Hartford CT. They had taught me a 2 handed alphabet and I cannot find the origin of this type of sign. Have you heard of this as I don't recall all of it. The men who taught me are no longer with us and the deaf community my mother and Ibelong to, they remember some of it but not all. I was wondering if this is a form of slang?

My father did teach me some slang words. These Men had High IQ's, and many talents. Which I have been seeing more and more as I have aged. I am glad the public and people who need to know more about this impairment are starting to learn more. Even the public school my sons attends lets me give small seminars. How can we urge the schools to make this a required language as in French or Spanish. I still do not agree with the majority of the hearing impaired schools who do not allow sign language or even classes taughtin sign.

Lately I have met women in their 20's who had to pay for sign language classes. It doesn't seem right. Do you have any ideas on how to show the importance of this situation?

Sorry, I didn't mean to run on. This topic is very important to not just me but quite a few hearing impaired persons who needs to communicate with everyone. I will continue to volunteer my services at the public elementary school in this area and keep searching for new ways to get the word out.

Thank You for your time and knowledge

--Susie Pleimann

Hello Susie,

The alphabet you are referring to is probably the British Two-handed Alphabet.
Here is a site:
You can find many more such sites by typing
"British Manual Alphabet"
into a search engine. You will come up with hundreds of entries.
For example, I found this site
which has a fingerspelling translator. You type a word and it spells the word for you using the two handed alphabet.
Perhaps you'd like to type up a short report for the Lifeprint Library about your father. A "biography" maybe?

In any case, I wish you well in your endeavors.

Bill Vicars

In a message dated 5/1/2003 1:03:19 AM Central Daylight Time, Camcmillion writes:

<<How can we urge the schools to make this a  required language as in French or Spanish. I still do not agree with the majority of the hearing impaired schools who do not allow sign language or even classes taught in sign. Lately I have met women in their 20's who had to pay for sign language classes. It doesn't seem right. Do you have any ideas on how to show the importants of this situation? >>

Dear Camcmillion,

I suggest you join your state's "Association of the Deaf." Pay their membership dues and offer to head up an "ASL Promotion Committee." Then invite like-minded individuals to get involved with a campaign to contact education leaders in your state and encourage them to include ASL the curriculum.

Make sure that your state has passed a law mandating that ASL be allowed to fulfill entrance and exit requirements at all high schools and post-secondary institutions. This doesn't mean they have to offer ASL. It just means that ASL can be used for those purposes. For information on ASL as Foreign Language credit, visit

Then you need to join ASLTA (The American Sign Language Teachers Association) and encourage other ASL teachers to do the same. It is no good if they pass laws and set up classes then have no one to teach the classes, or worse, if they hire incompetent instructors who don't know ASL, Deaf Culture, and appropriate teaching methods. All three are important.

Next, make a list of every person at every school in your state who has direct influence on curriculum decisions and course offerings at their school. Type up a letter explaining the value and benefits of ASL and its increasing popularity as a course of study. Send it to those people and encourage them to contact you.

You said that you didn't think it was right for people to have to pay to take a sign language class. There are two sides to that. I make a living teaching ASL. But I also donate my time to help others. This letter is an example of that. So I think it is okay to charge for teaching ASL just as if I were teaching any other topic. But I also think there needs to be a balance. Families and educators of Deaf children need low cost, subsidized, or free access to ASL training.

It costs money to run a campaign and people need to see ASL as a valuable resource, not as a charity. That doesn't mean that you can't still do free workshops, I'm just saying that people need to recognize that ASL instruction as an honest profession.

Vocational Rehabilitation and school districts can be pushed to pay for ASL training for deaf children and their families. There are laws which point in this direction but the agencies will fight you because they have only so much in their budget. So push for it anyway and let the legislature appropriate more money for them next year.

Have a nice day,

Bill Vicars

Section:  Fingerspelling 1:  Introduction  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8   |  9  |  Lexicalized  |  Font  | Quizzes  |  Practice


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