As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working to learn ASL. I already know sign language, but there is a range of sign in the US.
At one far end of the spectrum is SEE (Signing Exact English), which is nothing but words in English word order. There is no spatial use and no translation of meaning, it is like typing in the air. If a word is spelled the same and pronounced the same, the same sign is used. It’s basically like only using the first dictionary definition when going from one language to another. If you were to translate “I’m going to the park” into Spanish, you would use one word for park, and if you translated “Park the car” you would use another. With SEE, you would use the same word in both cases, despite one being a noun and one a verb, and them having entirely different meanings.
ASL is its own language with its own grammar. While spoken English derives from..well..England, ASL derives from France. It has its own word order and its own grammar rules, and just like when translating between any two languages there are multiple word choices for any one sign, and the sign you pick is based on meaning, not phoenetics. So for example, you might translate “beautiful” and “pretty” using the same sign, but you would never translate “bow of the ship” and “bow at the waist” as the same sign. ASL is a visual language, which uses space well and has it’s own flow that works for a language that is seen instead of heard. There is a lot of non-manual information included in ASL, such as expression, mouth shape, head/body tilt, and more. These are like the tone of words in spoken English, they can change the meaning of the sentence in the same way the meaning of “That was great!” varies greatly depending if you say it enthusiastically or sarcastically!
I do not sign either. If you view sign language as a contium, with SEE on one side and ASL on the other, I’m right about smack dab in the middle. My word choice is dependent on meaning, and I use some ASL grammar structures that I have picked up, but for the most part I use English word order. While this style of sign makes more visual sense than SEE, it is still tiring to watch/read, and I want to get all the way along the spectrum to ASL!
I recently got myself a copy of Signing Naturally, a great workbook/DVD set that I bought on Half.com for about $30. It is all about learning ASL. It is aimed at people pretty much exactly like me, who know sign but not ASL. There is not a lot of vocabulary in it, it is mainly grammar and visual skills needed to speak fluently. (Alternately, you could say it’s aimed at people learning their vocabulary somewhere else!) I am greatly enjoying working through it, and in four days have completed three out of twelve units. I will slow down as I continue, I promise, I just already know a lot of the intro to Deaf culture and vocab, and even some of the basic ASL skills. Already, though, by Unit 3 I am learning great ASL skills! They put into writing things I had picked up on..but never quantified, so I only used them sporadically. Things like the way you hold your head/face for a yes/no question vs and wh- question. It’s great!
On to the point of this post (hope you’re still with me): Is there anyone out there in a similar position to me, who knows at least some sign, but wants to improve their ASL? I ask because I am looking for a language partner(s)! If anyone out there would like to chat periodically via webcam with only sign, that would be awesome. If you live in the Puget Sound region, we could meet for coffee. I’m flexible. I’m too cheap not in a position to take an ASL class right now, which would also be a lot of review for me, and I don’t feel quite confident enough to go barge into the Deaf community with my skills rusty (plus I can’t find them). So I have no one to practice with. And, you know, it’s hard to learn a language when you don’t use it! We could go through the book together if you wanted, incorporating their partner activities, or just chat. Flexible! Really!
So. Any language partners out there who feel like chatting in ASL? I promise I’m not a creepy stalker or anything! If you’d be interested, leave me a comment and I promise I’ll get in contact with you!
*crosses fingers there’s SOMEONE out there who’ll be interested!*