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.
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!