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When & when not to fingerspell:

One of the most common mistakes of new Sign Language students is the practice of using the manual alphabet any time they do not know the sign for a word. This is not a good idea! Fingerspelling is exhausting to watch. Even more important is that it is one of the most difficult skills to learn and smooth and readable fingerspelling doesn’t usually emerge until well into the learning of the language. The key, if you do not know a specific sign, is to try to describe it, use a different word, gesture, point, mime, write--anything but fingerspell. Fingerspelling should be used as a last resort as well as for proper nouns, and concepts that do not have a particular sign. The exception to this rule is some rare places that still use the Rochester method of communication. This is the practice of fingerspelling every word. This is not a widely popular or liked way of communicating though.


Rules for the Road:


1.      Use the hand you write with. That is your dominant hand. The only time you would use the other hand is for emphasis when you are much more advanced.

2.      For practice, hold your right wrist with your left hand to make sure that your palm is facing out.

3.      Do NOT bounce your hand/arm. Holding it (#2) should help you.

4.      Palm should ALWAYS face out towards the receiver except for the letters “H” and “G.” With these letters, the palm faces the signer.

5.      Speed is not important. Do NOT make it a goal to fingerspell fast. Work on being smooth and on making the letters of the word you are spelling flow together without being choppy. Speed will just naturally develop much later.

6.      Do NOT say the letters you are fingerspelling as you spell -- whether it be to yourself or to the receiver. This is a TERRIBLE habit that is very hard to break. When you fingerspell, especially when you’re new and not fluid, it may be necessary that the deaf person watch both your hands AND read your lips. Deaf people cannot lipread letters. Say the word as you sign it. Also, saying it to yourself creates a mind-set of each letter individually, instead a word as a whole.

7.      Fingerspelling is NOT a substitute for a vocabulary word you don’t know. Always use fingerspelling as a last resort. Mime, gestures, using other words, and writing are all better alternatives that fingerspelling everything you don’t know. Try to only use this skill when you are referring to proper nouns. Think of fingerspelling as a cop-out.

8.      When reading someone’s fingerspelling, try to see the whole word instead of looking for letters. When we read print we don’t look at each letter. The same thing applies here.

9.      When reading someone’s fingerspelling, do not look at their hands, if you can at all help it. Look at their face (just as you would when you are watching them sign) and watch their hand with your peripheral vision.




Practice Exercises:


vet                  curious                                  Senegal                    Eisenhower               Aristotle

van                 pauper                                  Thailand                   Hoover                      Planck

car                  critical                                   Venezuela               Roosevelt                  Van Gogh

all                   demerit                                 Vermillion                 Coolidge                  Augustine

job                  euxenite                               Christian                    Cleveland                Becquerel

kit                    knuckle                                 Garfield                     Van Buren                Picasso

hot                  ghostly                                   Jefferson                   McKinley                  Write

hit                    assistance                             Goshen                     Tyler                           Bolivar

sun                  preview                                 Braxton                      Harrison                     Rontgen

mud               lacquer                                 Cowlitz                       Buchanan                Gutenburg

toe                  nickel                                    Spokane                   Pierce                        Einstein

new                                                                Okanogan               Hayes                        Plato

Tom                Providence                          Loudoun                   Washington              Bonaparte

big                  Aberdeen                            Halifax                       Arthur                         Beethoven

old                  Duluth                                    Middlesex                Lincoln                      Columbus   

Beaumont                                                    Churchill                   Mendel

Leap              Tampa                                  zoologist                    Thatcher                   Pasteur

Clap               Omaha                                 electrician                Constitution              Shakespeare

Sing                Olympia                               radiologist                Alexander                Michelangelo

Sign                Amarillo                                mechanic                                                    Rubens

Plot                 Milwaukee                           soldier                        Isaac                          Bean                    Topeka                                                          technician               Thompson                Audiogram

Drum              Peoria                                    builder                      Perkins                       Tinnitus

Crib                Tuscaloosa                           captain                     Richardson               American

Dash               Paducah                              manager                  Wray                          Language

Chow             Minneapolis                         psychologist            McIntosh                   Foreign

Skit                                                                  stewardess                Zey                             Deaf

Glum             Australia                               gardener                  Howell                       Culture

When             Bolivia                                   dairyman                 Swanson                   Audiologist

What              Ghana                                  mortician                  Welsh                         Amplification

Than               Ethiopia                                 journalist                   Garrett                       TTY

Keep              Guyana                                illustrator                   Estes                            Vertigo

Tray                Honduras                                                                                                      Bilateral

Slim                Indonesia                             Reagan                     Bell                             Unilateral

Salt                 Nicaragua                           Kennedy                   Gallaudet                 Sensory


When practicing these exercises, do one group at a time (groups go vertically and have a space between them). Although your dominant hand is the most important, practice signing with both hands. Do not rush. Purposely sign slow at first, making sure each letter is properly formed and trying to have the letters come together to form a smooth and easy-to-read word. Speed will come later and is not important. Follow the rules listed in the above chapter. If you make a mistake, stop and start the entire word again. DO NOT pick up where you messed up in the word. This is too confusing for the reader. Better yet, for practice’s sake, if you make a mistake start over from the beginning of the section until you can do each word without a mistake. Before long, you’ll be at ease with the manual alphabet!


"The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished." ~ George Bernard Shaw