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Fingerspelling 11:   "Sight Reading"

Fingerspelling 1:  Introduction  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8   |  9  |  Lexicalized  |  Font  | Quizzes  |  Practice


In a message dated 11/1/2007 1:10:16 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, Julie writes:
Good afternoon Dr. Bill. I contacted you several years ago when I first became interested in learning ASL. Since then I have taken ASL I and II and a Finger spelling class at Gallaudet. I did not go on to ASL III because when they evaluated me, I could not understand signing and finger spelling at the speed they use in ASL III. I practice on my own and use websites like yours, but not having anyone to practice with, has kept me from being able to go back to Gallaudet. I'm getting ready to get back into studying using dvds, cds, whatever - and would like to ask a question or two.

I know you are not suppose to focus on each letter that is being signed, so do you actually learn by sounding out the word as the letters are being signed - like you would when learning to reading a book? Any secrets to reading learning finger spelling would be greatly appreciated. I honestly can't say why I've had such an interest in signing for so many years - I don't even know any deaf people other than the few teachers I had at Gallaudet, but I have a real desire to learn it and eventually use it.

I read somewhere that learning to sign without someone to practice with is like learning to swim without water :-) Makes sense to me!
Thanks for any suggestions.

Honestly I think you will get better at fingerspelling if you will spend sufficient time at practicing your receptive skills and spelling along on your own hand as you practice.
Some people get great results by sounding out fingerspelled words. I suggest you sound out the words as you would voice them (instead of saying individual letters) --pronounce the sound (in your mind) that is commonly made by the letters instead of saying the names of the letters.
Then start practicing two-letter word combinations, then three-letters then four and up.  After sufficient practice seeing and doing "letter combinations" you will get to the point where you can recognize small words "on sight" without having to sound them out.  Then you keep it up until someday you can recognize larger words on sight (in context).
This whole process is very similar to learning how to type by touch rather than "hunting and pecking."  And just as it takes time to learn to read by sight and to type quickly by touch, it also takes time to learn to spell fluently and to recognize fingerspelled words by sight. 

In a message dated 11/2/2007 5:00:03 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, Julie writes:
Thanks for the quick response. I actually have been using for the past week or so and I am working on sounding-out the words rather than "reading" individual letters. I just wanted to make sure that was the correct way to do it. I had a do-it-my-way (and if you didn't you were marked down for it) deaf teacher at Gallaudet for ASL I and II (I ate a lot of aspirins during those 2 semesters :-) and I recall him him "saying" we should be able to look at the hand/word and automatically read it like we would a word in a book. Seems to me that skill would come later, but isn't possible when you're a beginner.
Thanks again,

Ah yes, "sight reading" is "one" approach to fingerspelling, but with "beginners" it only works in extremely high context situations where the words are embedded in familiar vocabulary and/or the potential selections are very limited.
For example, I can write two words on the board and show complete beginners (people who do not know fingerspelling) how those words are fingerspelled. I can do so at high speed without slowing down. I can then select a student and have him come to the board. I spell one of the two words to the student and he or she can point to the right word almost every time. This is because the student only has TWO choices and the "flow and form" of each word is unique enough that the fingerspelled word is perceived as a "sign" (a single unit) and not a string of individual letters. After the student becomes very familiar with those two "flow and form" patterns (words) I can then write a third word on the board. Then without ever having shown the student how to fingerspell that word, I can spell it at very high speed and the student can "magically" point to the right word. How is this possible? It is because the word "looks" different from the other two words and thus it couldn't "be" one of those two words and the only choice left is the third word. I can repeat this process continually adding new words to the board until the complete beginner can recognize the form and shape of a dozen or more words. One day I did this to a group of absolute beginner students and we had around 20 concepts on the board. It took me about an hour and the vast majority of the students could point to the right concept with a very high accuracy rate (over 90%).  I could do the same thing with printed words on a page. I could write the words "cat" and "dog" onto two cards.  I could show the words "cat" and "dog" to an illiterate person and tell him "This one means 'cat' and this one means 'dog.'"  Then I could mix the cards up and show him the cards and say, now tell me which one spells "cat?"   He would get it right without ever having learned the individual letters for those words. He would not even know how to "sound out" those words.  I could then tell him, "I'm going to add a third word to the pile.  I won't show you what it looks like yet, but it means "fish."  Then I stick a card with the word fish into my pile and mix it up and then show him the three words and say, which one means fish?  Of course, again, he will identify the right word using the process of elimination.
So "sight reading" can work.
Even though it "can" work, I don't recommend that method as a "main" approach to teaching students fingerspelling.
Why not?
It takes a lot of work to do it right (by providing sufficient, efficient, and consistent context or what I call "scaffolding").
If done "wrong" (as apparently in your case, it creates high stress in certain students.
It is hard for two students to practice that method together since they can't "whip out" fingerspelled words as whole units like their instructor can. 

Unless those same words are constantly drilled, they will soon be forgotten.
There are always a couple students whose learning styles do not mesh with that approach.
Note:  I do believe that "sight reading" makes an excellent "activity" or classroom event. It is fun to do once in a while for the sake of variety and to show the students that they really can understand long fingerspelled words at high speed (even if it is only in high context situations).
Dr. V


Section:  Fingerspelling 1:  Introduction  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8   |  9  |  Lexicalized  |  Font  | Quizzes  |  Practice


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