March 2013 Blog
ERGONOMIC ASL TIPS
After many years of studying numerous of ASL students in the past 18 years – it dawned to me that many ASL classes I took when studying ASL linguistics and ASL Literature and ASLTA workshops --- rarely discussed the importance of aligning a signer’s body in a way that helped them improve their expressive signing skills.
Amazingly after experimenting with various ASL students – I realized that when one holds the body in the wrong position, it creates a lot of expressive ASL errors – this applies to finger talking too. (I borrowed this term “finger talking” from a Gallaudet teacher). When I figured out which position of our head, limbs – people began to instantly improve. We also have to keep in mind where we position our bodies, how far or close we sign with others and how to manipulate your muscles to enhance our signing skills.
Common tendency that beginning ASL signer does is have their hands above their chin or even above their ears when signing sentences or stories or finger talking. Raising their elbows 5 to even 10 inches from where it should be resting is too high, distracting and exhausting. Elbows need to be resting at your side of ribs 98% of the time – when there’s a sign (like sun or moon) that requires reaching above your head, only then you can raise it. Otherwise majority of the time elbows need to stay lowered. If you’re constantly forgetful, grab a thick marker and slip it under your arm so you’re forced to hold it. If you raise your elbows too high and forget to keep them lowered, the marker will slide out and fall to the ground.
THINK INSIDE THE BOX
For once we want to actually think INSIDE the box. By this, I mean imagine that you’re in a glass box and there’s a boundary where your fingertips should not cross. To measure the accurate size of your personal signing box – with your elbows still resting at your sides – raise your hands, palm down, and hold it up at 180 degrees. Imagine the front glass sheet is where your fingertips are. The outside of your arms is the right and left side of boundary. The top of your scalp is the “ceiling” of the glass box. Once in a while there’s permission to go past the “ceiling boundary” for signs that requires to go high like ‘sun’, ‘moon’, ‘clouds’, etc. Practice daily to keep your fingertips, wrist, fore arms inside the glass box. You’ll feel much more relaxed, less fatigued and noticed long ASL conversations flow.
DON’T STAND TOO CLOSE
When watching a signer, how close should you be? Hearing folks sometimes have a habit of standing too close and constantly misunderstanding the signer. It’s kind of like trying to read a newspaper with a 20/20 vision, one inch away from your nose. Words would be blurry and you’ll develop a headache and cannot read the article. The same with watching a signer – it’s appropriate to stand 4’ to 5’ feet away.
Advanced signers are used to seeing the entire torso, shoulders, neck, head and arms. A lot of beginner signers want to zero in just the hands without having the peripheral vision of the rest of the signer’s body. Step back and giving breathing room and notice the dramatic different of how much you’ll comprehend when standing or sitting four to five feet apart. If you’re stuck in a crowded room, bus or a place that forces people to be too close – then try tilting your head back and lean your upper torso a few inches to give some space and signers sign smaller. When you’re trying too hard by hyper-focusing on the hands two feet away, you will miss out important details.
RELAX AND GO WITH THE FLOW
Ironically tensing up your fingers, wrist, arms, shoulders, neck, upper torso creates physical mistakes. The more you tense, the more expressive ASL mistakes you’ll make. For years I couldn’t understand why people could not simply follow my suggestion to physically relax. I then learned to physically show the difference between a relaxed signer and a tensed signer. I won’t reveal my secrets beause I want to publish a book someday – if you want to know what they are, you’re welcome to meet me in person if you’re local or on a web-cam and ask me. For now, in this blog, I’m recommending you to R E L A X your muscles. Make sure your hands are loose, fingers are limber (not clenching), wrist straight and resting at 80 degree angle (not 90!), arm muscles are relaxed and shoulders are resting. And BREATHE when you’re signing. When I get nervous or tensed, I tend to stop breathing as I sign excitingly or nervously…. It’s a hard habit for me to break and I’m still working on it. Meanwhile, remember the more physically relaxed you are, the more your signs will flow. I have witnessed a great ASL student struggling to master advanced ASL grammar but has a tendency to sign stiffly and contact language mode. At a Deaf social event we once attended, we overstayed until really late, like around 1am. The ASL student was so tired that his body began to lax and I was stunned of how fluent he appeared as his entire body was too tired to clench all the time. Interestingly enough when his mind was tired, his ASL grammar improved too! It shows you how much how our inner state of thinking influences our bodies. There’s been evidence, too, with ASL students who get drunk from wine or beer, suddenly seem to sign ‘better’. Make a conscious effort and relax your entire body, relax your mind and go with the flow. Be a running smooth river passing around river rocks.
Well, that’s all for the “ergonomic ASL tips” this month. :)
RaVen started to learn ASL at the age of:
1. 5 years old
2. 16 years old
3. 24 years old
4. 1 years old
I need to alert everyone that I am moving out of northern Colorado next month (April, 2013). I have to hunt for a new rental in another city, not sure where I will be relocating exactly. When I move, I will alert my current ASL students of my new location. Let's hope that I will get a nice new house to rent with a back yard for Ziggy! I also have to look for a new local professional & patient dog trainer who understands Deaf culture, hopefully fluent in ASL and knows how to work with learning challenges. If I don’t find a new place to live after my lease expires, I will look for a free wi-fi in coffee shops or a library and continue tutoring/mentoring/evaluating ASL signers. Thanks for your patience during my transition. I hope find a nice new home fast!
PLEASE READ ONE OF MY DEAF ASL STUDENT WHO NEEDS VOTES TO WIN A WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE VAN!
I was wondering if you could help spread the word for my special request below? I captioned the video. ;-)
As you know, I have a genetic disorder called "mitochondrial disease". I require use of a wheelchair and without an accessible vehicle of my own, transportation is limited for me. I want to be able to help serve my community again, obtain my masters degree, and do things like I used to be able to do before I got sick.
NMEDA is sponsoring a contest to give away an accessible van to three deserving people who are making the most out of living with a disability and I am trying to win one! Can you help by voting for my contest entry and spreading the word to family and friends? It would mean the world to me to be able to do more of the things I used to be able to without transportation as a barrier.
To enter the contest, I put together a witty, two-minute film about mitochondrial disease and how it impacts my life, but I need people to vote in order to make this dream a reality.
People can vote EVERY day from now until May 10th for my video. If you choose the option to "get an extra vote" first you can answer a simple trivia question and your vote will count twice!
Thank you for your consideration....
Vote here: http://www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/erica-rodman-buffalo-ny/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Help-Erica-WIN-a-Wheelchair-Van/168576616625942
I learned the ASL alphabet when I was 5 years old. Then when I was 16 years old, I learned sign language at MSSD.