Conversational ASL: What to Do When You Don't Know a Sign

You’re thinking about going to a Deaf event… finally.

You’ve been practicing, working up the courage, and have decided you’re going this week… but oh hell, what if I’m signing something and my mind goes blank… or I don’t know how to sign something??

So you want to be confident and capable with conversational ASL, but you’re not sure what you should do if you’re signing along and don’t know a sign!

In this video I show you 3 quick fixes for when you’re stuck and nearing panic.



(P.S. in an upcoming video I’ll go over what to do when someone signs something to you and you have NO IDEA what they just signed)

 

You’ve got 3 options and none of them include not going to the Deaf event and signing with people.

 

1) Describe what you’re trying to say with other signs.

Explain what you mean with the signs you do know. For instance, you want to sign what your hobbies are. 

You don't know the sign for hobbies, so you maybe sign THINGS MYSELF LIKE DO and then continue on with the thought. 

(Surprise! That’s pretty close to how you actually sign it (ENJOY + list)

 

2) Use classifiers to show it

Show what you mean with classifiers. 

I would recommend a mix of signs + classifiers (or just pure classifiers) to show what you’re trying to say.

For instance, you want to talk about the process of building a fire, but ohmygosh, that's a lot of signs you don't know, but you don't want to just drop the conversation awkwardly and skulk away in shame. NO! 

You know what to do! 

Explain it, show it, with classifiers. You can use the signs you do know, describe with signs, and use those classifiers to show what you mean. 

 

3) Fingerspell it

You may be thinking, well shouldn’t this be my first choice? Not really.

Use this last.

If you're pretty well versed in ASL and have been using it for quite a while, then yeah, this can be your go-to method. 

However, if you're new, I'd discourage you using this method every single time. 

 

 

Okay, I lied, there’s 4 options.

The 4th is my preferred method:

 

4) Fingerspell + describe

This is a combination of method 1 and 3. You can do this one of two ways. 

Describe the sign or concept, then fingerspell the word, term, or phrase. 

Or

You can fingerspell the word, term, or phrase and then describe it using signs. 

For instance, the term, Ring of Fire.

You can sign what this means-- the volcanoes, etc, etc and then sign THAT NAME WHAT? fsRING OF FIRE 

Or you can do this: 

fsRING OF FIRE KNOW?  then describe with signs 

 

For yourself, you do this: 

  1. Fingerspell a word + KNOW + describe
  2. Describe + THAT NAME WHAT? + fingerspell

 

Word of warning

Remember you do not make up your own signs!!!!! You can set up a sign or abbreviation for the moment in that one conversation, if it’s something you’ll be talking about over and over again, but it’s not an official sign and should be used one time.

 

Your challenge

Pick two methods -- okay pick 1 of the first 3 and then the 4th method -- and practice these methods on a few concepts you're not sure how to sign. 

Share your results in The ASL Club and maybe you can learn the new sign as well! 

I've got a worksheet with some words, phrases, and concepts you may not know how to sign right now. Use them to complete your challenge! 

After that, you'll have several to use throughout your ASL practice time. 

Will you do that? 

 

 

QUESTION of the day:

Which of the first 3 methods will you try first? What is a sign or concept you don’t know how to sign? Scroll through the comments and, even if you know the sign for it, reply to others and share how you’d sign it using methods 1, 2, or 4.

 

 

 

ASL Receptive Practice: Where Do I Look When Someone Signs to Me?

When someone is signing do you look at their hands, their face, the body, their eyes?

If I look at their eyes, I’ll miss what they’re signing!

If I look at their face I’ll just try to read their lips and miss their signs.

If I look at their hands, is that rude?

 

 

Where to look when someone signs to you



 

Here's the answer to all these questions:

Look at the neck.

 

Say what!?

 

 

You’re not staring at the neck, you’re looking in that area. You get the hands, the shoulders, the face all in one glance.

 

 

Think of it like driving a car.

You look out your main windshield (the neck area), and every few seconds or moments, you’ll flick your eyes to the rear view mirror, the side mirrors, and out your side windows.

All the while returning back to your windshield.

 

 

When watching someone sign, you’re not going to be flicking your eyes around like crazy.

You want to take in the scene and look at specific areas when appropriate. Fingerspelling, look more to the hand without losing sight of their face/mouth.

 

When possible, make eye contact. When they’re being ultra expressive, make sure you pay closer attention to their face.

 

How to be receptive friendly

This is also why you, as a signer need to have a smaller signing space than you think.

Keep it tight in here in this box to help others to see the whole view.

 

 

Sometimes I refer to watching someone sign like looking into those old magic eye pictures. Now, I was never ever ever able to see one of them, so I’m just basing my analogy on what everyone told me to do.

 

Relax your eyes and see the entire picture without staring intently at one spot.

 

The exception would be when you need extra clarification (like repeated signing because you missed/misunderstood something).

 

ASL receptive practice how to

Your next steps are to practice your new receptive gaze as much as you can while it's fresh in your mind. 

Watch videos in ASL and practice looking at the neck area, while keeping a wide gaze on the other areas of the signer. Slightly flick your eyes to the important areas, as well as make eye contact where possible. 

The more you practice the more natural and comfortable this will feel. Soon you'll realize you're making eye contact quite a bit, as well as understanding everything they're signing at ya! 

That's when you know it's par-tay time! 

 

Receptive practice video 

I went an extra step so you didn't have to do anything crazy, like do a Google search, or a YouTube search, and wade through crummy videos-- I made a receptive practice video for you!! Yes YOU! It's a short video that gives you a chance to try out the new skill and see how you do. 

You can watch the video as many times as you'd like, or move on to longer videos when you have the time. 

It's FREE to watch, just click the big pink button, enter your email and you'll be taken straight to the video

       

Question:

Where have you been looking when watching folks sign? Did you watch the practice receptive video and try out your new skills? How’d it go?

 

MWAH! 

Rochelle

 

 

ASL Questions: Learn ASL Grammar

Wanting to learn how to sign questions in ASL? Watch the video to find out how to sign ASL questions, see plenty of examples of WH questions and Yes/No questions, and get the free workbook to practice different sentences on your own. Super helpful and super awesome! 

I bet you woke up today and asked yourself “why!?!?!!”

Okay, I’m joking.

 

It is true that we each go through our days asking mini questions. Questions to ourselves, questions for others.

For instance, “why did you pour baby powder all over the carpet?”

 

Your goal for ASL is to become conversational.

Well, that means you need to know how to ask all sorts of questions.

 

Today, we’re going to cover the top 2 types of questions-- WH questions and Yes/No questions.

Be sure to grab the FREE practice workbook underneath the video before you head out.

 

 



2 basic rules for ASL questions:

 

TIME + TOPIC + COMMENT + QUESTION

 

TOPIC + COMMENT + QUESTION

 

Time = tense

Topic = main subject

Comment = what you’re talking about in reference to the topic

Question = the wh-question word -or- the y/n question word.

 

Related: Sign Language Sentences: The Basic Structure

 

WH Question Signs

Here’s a list of the signs you’ll use when asking a WH-type question.

  • WHO
  • WHAT
  • WHERE
  • WHEN
  • WHY
  • HOW
  • HOW-MUCH
  • HOW-MANY
  • WHAT-DO
  • FOR-FOR (what-for)
  • WILL

 

Do you remember what your eyebrows are supposed to do?

Furrow your eyebrows, as if you’re thinking [ thinking emoji ]. You’re also going to jut your chin out a bit. Nothing crazy!!

 

Related: WH-questions video

 

Yes/No Questions

For Y/N questions it’s whatever the question is and you add your y/n question eyebrows which are….. ? UP and tilt your head slightly forward.

For instance: PARTY GO?  SHOE LIKE?

 

The question part of the sentence is the LAST word, and sometimes it may be the last 2 words, depending on the question and length of the sentence.

 

Ask Questions in ASL

 

Let’s take some English sentences and translate them into ASL.

#1 Do you like fish?

TIME = none

TOPIC = fish

COMMENT = like

QUESTION = do you

 

2 variations:

FISH LIKE YOU?

FISH LIKE?

 

I’d sign: FISH LIKE? to keep it short and sweet.

 

#2  Are you going to the library tomorrow?

TIME = tomorrow

TOPIC = library

COMMENT = go

REFERENT= you

QUESTION =  are

 

TOMORROW LIBRARY YOU GO?

 

#3  Do you know where the museum is?

TIME= none

TOPIC= museum

COMMENT= know

REFERENT= you, it

QUESTION= where

 

MUSEUM YOU KNOW WHERE?

 

#4 Why is that man staring at me?

TIME= none

TOPIC= man

COMMENT= that, stare

REFERENT= that, me

QUESTION= why

 

THAT MAN he-STARE-me WHY?

 

#5 Are you sure the party starts at 6:30?

TIME= 6:30PM

TOPIC= party

COMMENT= start

REFERENT= you, it

QUESTION= sure

 

6:30 NIGHT PARTY IT START?

** or **

6:30 NIGHT PARTY IT START TRUE-BIZ?

 

sign language questions wrap-up

The rule of thumb for questions is to keep it simple. You probably noticed that I didn’t use all the referents or even all the comments. Perhaps the question word was a bit different than what was listed.

 

Don’t freak out.

You want to drill down to what the real meaning is and sign that and let the rest fall to the side. You don’t need it.

 

I’ve got a mini-workbook with questions for you to try this out yourself to really get a feel for how to do this.

 

 

Remember if you work on the questions on paper and really start to feel comfortable with the concept, when you go to sign with Deaf folks, the questions will come to you naturally and you won’t have to worry that you’re doing it wrong.

In upcoming videos we’ll be going over more types of ASL sentences!

 

Make it a habit to sign questions (either in your mind or for real) when you hear a question being asked or when you ask a question.

 

This is the #1 habit that helped me get from average signer to a professional signer today.

Soon, you’ll be able to sign any question, like:

CARPET AREA BABY POWDER POUR-OVER WHY!?!?!?!?!?!??!!!!!

Question of the day: Do have any questions about signing ASL questions?? Ha!

Sign Language Sentences: The Basic Structure

Sign Language Sentences: The Basic Structure

Did you ever diagram sentences?

Ohmygersh, I lurv diagramming sentences.

 

I could do it all day long and be happy.

Call me crazy.



ASL grammar, while being intimidating to English speaking folks is actually straightforward and easier than English grammar.

You just need to know the parts and their places. Rearrange the words into a new order and wham, an ASL sentence is born.

It’s totally therapeutic.

Learn the ASL Alphabet: Common problem letters + Mistakes

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

One sunny Texas Thanksgiving Day, I donned my brand new basketball pants and sweater and challenged my mom to a game.

 

We had 2 super super handsome male guests over for Thanksgiving while they were away from their families for the holiday.

This 15-year-old was in lurv.

I dribbled down the drive, going for a layup, just as the guys came out to play with us.

I tripped over my own clumsy foot. Tore my brand new pants. Embarrassed the crap out of myself.

I sprung up accusing, “Mom! Why did you trip me?”

The poor woman wasn’t even near me.

Dashing into the house to clean up, instead, I ran up the stairs, threw myself on the bed and cried.

 

I HATE being embarrassed.

I want to throat punch embarrassment.

In fact, I want to throat punch people that embarrass me, and people around me when I’m embarrassed.

It’s just not right.

 


how to avoid embarrassment when signing

 

I hate embarrassment so much, in fact, I want to help you avoid it at all costs.

 

I’ve got lots of tips and tricks to share with you to avoid it, but for today, we’ll just focus on the ASL alphabet and the common problem letters.

Because, dude… it’s embarrassing to have people correcting you all the time.


 

Download the Drill Sheet to practice the tricky letters, test yourself, and develop good fingerspelling habits. 


 

I see several different problems and mistakes, so we’re going to take them one by one by one by one by one (what movie, y’all?) and show the mistakes and the fixes.

For more visual examples, be sure to zip through the video, if there are any that you aren't sure on.

 

Mistake #1 Holding letters sideways

 

Here are the letters that are held sideways when they shouldn’t be:

O, C, D, P, K, H

You’re right, H should be held sideways, just make sure it’s facing the correct direction-- your palm is facing your body.


The ONLY 2 letters to ever face sideways are G and H. That’s it.

Keep your palm facing forward for every other letter.

You can even sign G facing forward.

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

Mistake #2 Mixing up letters:

These letter pairs are often mixed up. People will either completely forget the letter or will sign the other letter instead.

Not to worry. I’ve got your solution here.

D & F

D looks like a lowercase d when you look at its side.

F has 3 feathers on top of it.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

 

S & T

S has the thumb across the fingers and T has the thumb tucked between the middle and index finger.

You can remember S with sucker punch, with your hand in a fist as though you were about to sucker punch some poor fella.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

 

 

Q & P

Most people get stuck on these all together. They know they know them, but WHAT are they??

Some people even know they’re similar to G & K, but get mixed up.

 

Don’t sweat it. It’s no big deal if you get stuck a bit.

Q is G with your palm facing the ground. It’s a mini duck bill that goes Quack-Quack at your feet.

 

Sound silly? I know… but silly helps things stick.

K is P with your palm facing the ground. It’s sitting down to Pee.

Yup. I went there.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

Mistake #3 Wrong direction:

This is an easy one to fix. These are generally more of an issue for left-handed signers.

Your J’s & Z’s will be backwards. It’s not because we don’t love you. It’s because we do.

The J’s are hooked in toward you and not out away from you.

Z’s are drawn out.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!
If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!
 

Mistake #4 forming the letters incorrectly:

Some letters are just plain signed incorrectly. These are your highest priority to fix first.

G: You can point this one forward or sideways. Make sure your other fingers are under control.

M & N: don’t put your fingers down against your palm. Instead, rest them lightly on your thumb

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

 

E: get your fingers down on top of your thumb or else it’s a screaming E and can be confused with a C.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

K: your fingers are not in a V shape with the thumb between, instead, the middle finger is extended forward and the thumb rests on the knuckle.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

T: keep your index finger resting lightly on your thumb and don’t push it down against your palm.

 

I: (not mentioned in the video) keep your thumb across your knuckles or it can be confused with a Y. This is one I can be guilty of. To help, sometimes I press my thumb onto my index finger with a slight bend to make sure it’s not sticking out.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

Fixing your fingerspelling mistakes

Give yourself an honest evaluation. You may need to whip out your trusty camera and video yourself fingerspelling some words and watch it back.

You’ll catch more mistakes this way over watching yourself in the mirror. You won’t be able to shift something when you see it wrong and you won’t be able to say, oh that’s good enough.

Seeing yourself on video will be very clear and easy to see where you slip up.

Remember, there is ZERO judgement for any troublesome letters. Do take the time to fix it now and you’ll be grateful you did.
— Rochelle

 

I created a drill sheet with lots of words that have the problem letters as well as the rest of the letters in the alphabet. You can use this sheet to test yourself as well as drill the letters that give you trouble.

Now you too, can avoid hiding in your room for hours, with torn pants, and damaged pride.

 



Question: Which ASL letter gives you the most trouble?