Today I went out to eat at one of Chicago's gazillion Thai
restaurants. As I was eating, I noticed that the table of four next
to me was engaged in a lively conversation through sign language. It
looked as if they were casting spells learned from some ancient
Anglo-Saxon tome, or miming their way out of a series of existential
tunnels that could be described in no other way.
I never learned to sign. My hearing loss wasn't, and isn't, severe
enough. That's been a source of embarrassment in my life. When
"signers" see my hearing aid, they often immediately assume that I've
been initiated, and I haven't been. I can only say "thank you", which
looks like a dove taking flight from the center of the chest, grazing
the chin on its way; and "see you later", which is pretty straightforward.
Are there any people on this group who sign? Is it terribly difficult
to learn? Have you found it useful in your life?
- Hello Mahiruha,
Although I know nothing of American Sign Language other than the
alphabet which I learned in Girl Guides many years ago, I have
recently had experience teaching French with a new approach using
hand signs and gestures to help the children learn more quickly.
The hand signs are not ASL, but rather they were created by the
woman who put together this new approach to teaching foreign
It has been incredibly successful. Children who before would just
sit with a frightened look on their face when I spoke French are
finally getting it. They are participating in class, they are
understanding the language, and they are able to communicate much
easier and they are excited about it.
I especially notice it with our children who come to us from other
countries and speak no English. The hand gestures seemed to have
opened up some kind of mental portal for them and they are speaking
more French than English.
The kinisthetic hand movements seem to add another dimension that
aids in the acquisition of language, then once they have mastered
the new vocabulary, the gestures seem to fall away naturally as the
language becomes embedded and they no longer need them.
I know it's a little off of your topic, but I thought you might find
Hope to read more posts about this topic.
- Hi Mahiruha
I have always wanted to be able to sign and admire people who do. I
am astounded at the speed; on TV here we have some channels where
someone is signing in the corner, I like to turn the volume down and
see if I can work it out!
I am sure you would enjoy being able to sign! You have a natural
empathy with people, I think it would be very rewarding. If you
Google 'Chicago ASL' (American Sign Language) you will see that
Columbia College do what looks like a good introductory course.
I have just looked at some interesting online Flash tutorials on
signing, however I would imagine that if you are serious about it
the best way would be to learn it from someone.
- Hi again Mahiruha,
I just remembered something that I learned from a friend who used to
teach signing to people who could not hear or speak.
He said that they have very interesting conversational etiquette.
If two people are in a signing conversation and you need to get by
them, it's considered impolite to walk around them, and rather you
should just walk in between them.
Sort of the opposite of our conversational etiquette.
I'm not sure if this fellow was pulling my leg, but it would be
interesting to look into.
- Thank you, Purnakama and Pavitrata, for responding to my post. It is
always so gratifying to me when people reply to my messages. I am
sure that that is a universal sentiment.
Thank you for your fascinating insights on new methods in teaching
language. I almost wonder what an expert on Indian mudras (sacred
hand gestures) could tell us about particular hand postures and the
acquisition of knowledge.
Thanks for looking up sign language study programs in Chicago. Now, I
have no excuse not to get out there and learn this beautiful, silent
Thanks to you both!
- Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to reach a level of
skill where you can order a Chicago pizza with all the veggie
trimmings. In sign language of course. The curve ball here is to
find a pizza place in Chicago where sign language is understood.
What say you?
- I don't know any thing about signing, but I would hazard a guess that
showing a greenback or two and pointing hungrily at the menu until the
message gets through, should do the job very nicely.
When the pizza maker looks the other way, toss on copious condiments
and sauce, bingo, mission accomplished.
Personally, I am waiting for celebrations to get "a real New York pizza."
I once went into Manhattan and bought a pair of running shoes and
decided to have a slice, so I asked for a vege slice with eggplant,
being from New Zealand he didn't get my accent when I asked for
Eggplant, pronounced plant as in Aunt. We dont got no "eggplaunt"
came the reply, it took few seconds of astonishment to realise that I
had to ask for Egg Plant, as in ant, Sheesh, oh well now I know
better. I am certain Rupantar, also being Italian would have got it.
Bon appitite, Nicholas--Auckland.
Thank you for throwing down the gauntlet!
It's nice when people set up realistic challenges for you, like
"Learn to fly by flapping your hands and jumping in place"
"Control the weather with a tuning fork."
"Have an intelligent conversation during the Superbowl"
Truthfully, I'm not watching the Superbowl this year (gasps of
horror). Actually, I never have, I never plan to and the whole thing
seems pretty pointless to me. I mean, who cares about who the catcher
is, or how many widgets it takes to add up to a whozit or under what
conditions the winning team has to make a human pyramid before the
losing team can fold the necessary number of origami chipmunks? I
mean, gosh. I'd rather watch a quilting bee.
Seriously, if I ever meet a bee that can weave quilts with good taste
and artistry, then I'll know it's time to form my own Yahoo group!
- Hi Mahiruha
The challenge was based on my faith in your abilities! You are quite
capable of it, I believe.
Most things bees do are done in good taste and with artistry, so
that quilt would be amazing. Woven in hexagonal patterns, I assume.
As for the origami chipmunk, Google 'origami chipmunk' and you will
see someone has made one!!
PBS TV in America a couple of years ago used to do a fantastic
program called 'Signing Time' for children to learn signing in a fun
way. I don't know if its still on PBS but maybe the DVDs are
Go to YouTube, type in 'Signing Time the alphabet' and you will find
the signing alphabet there in a very manageable way!
While you are on YouTube type in 'Signing Time silly pizza song' to
see how the whole thing is put together.
And there's your segue to my challenge!!!
- Nice one. I have a deep affection for my New-Zealand family. Working
with them in the Housing Team over many happy years the NZ accent
caused a lot of hilarity. We stopped in the van outside the stores one
day because someone needed a pin. - yes you probably guessed. It
turned out that they did not want a pin. They needed a pen.
On another occasion we had finished cleaning and were singing and
'raising the consciousness of the house' while waiting for the van to
come. There were several Czech girls in the team and they sang very
sweetly. Someone commented on the singing and one NZ girl expressed
her view as to who sang best. The girl was mortified. 'Why do you
think I'm the beast?' she asked.
I wonder if anyone else can remember more of these New Zealand-isms?
On the deaf-signing question, a close friend is a qualified
signing-interpreter and works in a deaf school. She learned the
British Standard signing method but found that there are regional,
cultural and even family-versions. There can be ten or fifteen ways of
signing one thing. She's worked there for several years now and is
familiar with most of the variations but it was quite difficult at
first. Like any language it takes time and effort and then a lot more
practise to become expert but I guess it would be good for everyone to
learn some of the basic signs while at school just to be able to be
polite and show oneness our with deaf brothers and sisters around the
- Very funny, Nicholas!
When I traveled to Germany, seven years ago, I made a remarkable
discovery: that, oddly enough, Germans who live in Germany for some
inexplicable reason speak German, not English. I went there not
knowing how to say anything except "ich essen kein fleisch" (I'm sorry
if I'm misspelling anything here.) That means that I don't eat any
meat. When my waiter asked me if I wanted "gemuese" I didn't know
that gemuese meant vegetables!
During my trip, I went to a guitar/zylophone concert in Berlin. It
was fun. The guitarist was very skilled and talented, but he kept
getting drowned out by the maniacal zylophonist. Anyway, during the
intermission, I had a very nice conversation with an Ethiopian
gentleman who had immigrated to Germany many years previously. I
asked him at one point when was the last time he had had a
conversation with somebody in English.
"Oh," he said, after a pause,"about twenty years ago."
I mean, my English-speaking pride evaporated!
Anyway, come visit me in Chicago so that you can enjoy some sloppy
totally-to-die-for deep-dish pizza!
- Hi Durga Mata,
I had to chime in on the New Zealand isms as I had a cute experience
in Annam Brahma.
I was on the clean up crew in Annam Brahma with some lovely New
Zealand girls, and I asked one of the girls what still needed to be
She replied, "oh you can clean the benches."
So I got some sponges and hot water and soap in a bucket, and I went
into the dining room and immediately started scrubbing what I
understood to be benches; the wooden seats that are up against the
walls. In Canada we would call a wooden seat like that a bench.
My friend saw me and immediately started laughing. She asked me what
I was doing and I said I was cleaning the benches. Then she laughed
even louder and took me into the kitchen to show me the benches.
They are what we would call counters or countertops in Canada.
We all had a good laugh at our language miscommunications and agreed
that at least tomorrow the workers would have very clean seats to
PS Speaking of sign language, have you ever been in a house in
housing where almost nobody speaks the same language? It's a lot of
fun once you get past the initial frustration:)