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.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

The First 100 Signs You Need to Know

The first 100 signs everyone should know when learning ASL. Build a solid foundation as you learn sign language and it'll pay off later.

I love checklists.

I love being able to cross off items on my lists.

I'll write something down, that I've already completed, just so I can cross it off. It just feels good.

It feels right.

Soda splashes on the list

I receive hundreds of emails every day, quite a few of them asking for some type of list of signs that must be known so they can be mightily successful with their ASL.

I put it off for months until I could set aside research time at my local library. There's just something special about time in the library all on your own.

I've compiled this list based on language learning research done that day in the library. I sat at the only available table next to some tacky guy slurping his drink, sitting next to the sign that says "no drinks allowed."

The Top 10 Most Common Mistakes ASL Newbies Make

ASL Newbies are so easy to spot. Why? They are generally sporting at least a quarter of these mistakes when you see them sign.

Now now, don't get all discouraged and upset with me. Well, you can if you want, I can't dictate your feelings.

Take a deep breath, pull on your big-kid britches, and be honest with yourself.

Are you making these mistakes?