Gimme a Sign

Hi Everyone! First, let me wish you all the best for the holiday season. Whatever holidays you celebrate, I wish you much happiness, good health, laughter, meaningful time with loved ones, and of course, a wonderful New Year!

I really appreciate when people try to find ways to communicate with me when I tell them I’m deaf. Many people think they’re helping me by talking louder, so I explain that louder overwhelms me and doesn’t help me understand – that I need them to speak a little slower to help me read their lips. I don’t think some people realize when they talk fast all the words seem to blend together and are impossible for me to read.

Conversely, some people slow down too much and exaggerate their mouth movements, which makes it harder to read, so I always ask people to speak normally, just a little bit slower.

Some people try to talk to me with gestures, pointing, hand signals, and without realizing it, some of them come very close to actually signing. Signing is a great way to communicate.

DHH and I studied American Sign Language for two years several years ago. We did pretty well and found we love the language. It’s so beautiful and when people are truly fluent, the flow is poetic. We were fortunate enough to have some visitors to our class who “sang” for us in ASL, and we were mesmerized. We were nowhere near fluent and can only imagine the wincing our instructors tried to hide when we signed, but we could communicate.

Not only did we learn basic conversation, we learned about the Deaf culture, the syntax of ASL, and of course, what’s polite and what’s considered bad manners. For example, when two people are having a conversation in ASL, walking. between them is very rude. If one must pass through, bending down and signing “Excuse me” is an absolute must.

When DHH and I started studying ASL, we started noticing when people signed around us. One night we were waiting for a table in a restaurant and we saw a group of people signing fluently and quickly, and we were amazed. Without meaning to be rude, we found ourselves watching, hoping we might recognize a word. We suddenly realized what we were doing was the equivalent of eavesdropping, we signed a very big “Sorry”, and felt very contrite.

We used to practice a lot. We’d declare a no voice time and communicate only in ASL, using fingerspelling and even actions when we didn’t know a word. That was especially useful when we were on a beach or by a pool and I had to take my hearing aids out. But somehow, gradually, we slacked off and stopped practicing. And then we realized we were forgetting much of what we learned. And then we realized we were sometimes using wrong signs, but somehow we understood what we were trying to say to each other. I attribute that to many years together – the point where a couple knows what the other is thinking in any language.

We decided that we really miss signing and even though we can only sign to each other (no one else in our immediate circle knows ASL), we want to practice again. We want to regain our skills, we want to communicate in ASL – it can make so many situtations easier. For instance, at an airport once, DHH was at the ticket counter and I was waiting across the floor with the luggage, and we communicated silently across the room. Handy indeed. (And if you’re so inclined, you can sign things to each other discreetly that others won’t “hear.”)

We’re thinking we might even enrol in a refresher class to help us get back in the groove. The funny thing is, in our last round of ASL classes, I was the only one who couldn’t hear. It’s a popular language and many people want to learn it for many reasons, some to better communicate with students, colleagues, or customers. In this day of smart phones and texting and dictating text, it might not be necessary, but it’s so enriching and fun. So now I tell DHH, “don’t write it down for me – gimme a sign!” Maybe after we practice more, it’ll even be the right one!

Again, wishing you all very Happy Holidays – and here’s how you do it in ASL: