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SIMCOM: simultaneous communication

"Bi-" (the prefix) means "two."

"Bilingual" means being fluent (or at least competent) in two different languages.

"Mode" means a "way" or "method."

"Bimodal" means being expressed or received through two different modes.  In terms of language use some examples of modes are: speaking, listening, reading, writing, signing, and watching.  That is not intended to be a complete list. Just some examples. (You may want to try to  think of more examples such as: Braille, tactile signing, typing, etc.)


"Simultaneous" means happening at the same time.

"Simultaneous bimodal bilingual communication" means using (or attempting to use) two different languages in two different modes at the same time.

"SIMCOM" is shortened way of referring to "simultaneous bimodal bilingual communication."

An example of SIMCOM (or rather an attempt at "simcomming") happens when people attempt to sign ASL while speaking English. 

The word "attempt" is added to the above example since using SIMCOM for more than very short bits of communication typically results in one or both of the languages being negatively impacted.




Recently a very kind, generous, helpful member of the [Lifeprint-ASLU Facebook] group posted a nice, well-intentioned instructional video with advice for a beginning-level student.

The presenter chose to “simcom.” The word “simcom” is a portmanteau (a word that blends the sounds and combines the meanings of two other words) of the words “simultaneous” and “communication.” Simcom is occasionally written as “sim-com” or mistakenly labeled as “TC” (total-communication -- which is a larger overall approach to communication that includes simcom as well as other methods of communicating).

Do NOT think that I’m upset in any way about the intentions of the individual. No. I’m thrilled each time someone reaches out to share and help others. In that vein I share the following information as a “coach”:

I would like you to reflect on how posting a simcom video in an online ASL classroom discussion space is an example of "Hearing privilege” and subtly undermines the ability, authority, and passion of Deaf ASL instructors.

The simple fact is: Voicing for Hearing "ASL 1" students is like catnip for cats.

 If two people wanted to pet the kitty and one holds catnip -- guess which person is going to get to pet the kitty?

At my day job, we have a policy -- and have implemented it in the catalog descriptions of our ASL classes -- that our (ASL) classes are taught in "ASL." Not kidding here. In the course description it literally says:

"Note: Taught in ASL without voice."

Suppose there are two instructors -- one is Deaf and the other is Hearing and the Hearing person uses their voice to create an unfair advantage in instructional processes, creation of student rapport, and provision of non-ASL-yet-class-related supplemental information (for example, by quickly, easily, and in a timely manner voicing complex information regarding course homework assignments, deadlines, extra credit opportunities, tutoring options, etc.).

The Deaf instructor of beginning-level students must instead type out such information (or attempt to communicate it painfully slowly via rudimentary signing and eye-stabbingly slow fingerspelling), which takes longer, and thus takes away from lesson-related instruction time. Of course the non-voicing instructor can also provide such information asynchronously (at a later time) via electronic messaging but in doing so lose spontaneity and/or timeliness and then much of the text-based information is often not read in full by the students as in: “too long didn’t read” (TLDR). The extra time required for text-based or beginner-level-ASL-based communication can be considered a form of friction or “drag.”

At the end of the semester that friction or drag manifests when the students of each instructor must fill out an end of course teacher evaluation. The students of the instructor who voiced do not know that they missed out on a massive amount of “skill growth related to processing of visual stimuli.” No, all those students know is that they had a fun and easy time in class with an instructor who was highly relatable. They rate the voicing instructor as being excellent.

The students of the instructor who did not voice had to develop areas of their brain (involved with priming the reticular activating system to notice and process visual stimuli) which was “hard.” They do not know that they are now significantly better able to actually perceive and understand signing as done by Deaf signers. No. Instead what the students of the non-voicing instructor know is that the class was “hard” and at times “confusing.” They rate the non-voicing instructor as average or poor.

Then here is the “kicker.” When it comes time to hire for next semester and budget constraints are tight -- the Hearing Administrator looks at the evaluations and decides to hire the instructor who voiced (who also has a great relationship with the Hearing Administrator due to being able to voice to the administrator and easily develop a rapport).

The above is an all too real example of how the use of voicing during the instruction of beginning-level students actually harms the financial (and emotional / psychological) well-being of Deaf people.

I once watched a fellow Deaf instructor explaining a game to his students in ASL. His Hearing assistant kept jumping in and simcomming to “clear things up” for the students. While this did indeed allow the game to get underway more quickly – it robbed the students of the chance to develop their decoding skills and it robbed the instructor of control and authority. It “diminished” him and drew attention away from his teaching process. Later when those students find themselves needing to decode a Deaf person’s instructions (such as the instructor of the following class) the students will be looking around for a crutch (in the form of “voiced” assistance) and frustrated when it isn’t available.

Let me give you another example. One of the most popular instructional ASL videos online is that of a young lady with an enormous ring on her finger who voices while teaching various signs. The fact that she messes up approximately one in 15 signs is lost on the millions who have viewed her video. Rather than doing the “hard work” of first learning ASL to an advanced level and figuring out how to teach without voice – she instead put on make-up, a large ring, and sat down in front of a camera and started waiving her hands around and talking. The provision of such catnip simcom videos harms the Deaf Community via the corruption of that “one out of fifteen signs she messes up” (as well as distracting viewership from legitimate / skilled ASL instructional videos).

Let me share a personal story: I recall inviting some friends over for a game night. One of the friends is the Hearing spouse of a Deaf person. During the game I (and/or other Deaf) would occasionally start negotiating (via sign language) with one of the beginning level signers. The Hearing spouse would then frequently interrupt my negotiations via voicing and signing at the same time. The voicing was like catnip for the beginner who would then totally stop paying attention to the hard work of communicating with the Deaf signers and instead do the easy thing and negotiate with the Hearing person doing the simcom. The Hearing person thus gained resources and advantage over the Deaf players. This happened repeatedly until I pointed it out. The Hearing person was gracious about it, realized their misuse of power, turned off their voice, and we had an excellent rest of the game.

Since not everybody can “do” (or attempt to do) simcom -- the use of simcom often creates an unlevel playing field. When we choose to use simcom in a mixed environment -- it is Deaf people who typically end up on the lower end of the field.

Am I saying that simcom is "always" bad?

Woah. Please, let's avoid thinking in such polarizing terms.

I have a Deaf/hh daughter with no (2nd and 3rd) knuckles in her hands and for whom simcom is a godsend.

The fact is that some environments are inherently "mixed." In some situations simcom functions as a form of "sign supported speech" and allows for more effective communication than sign or speech alone.  Until you have "inside" information you simply don't know and shouldn't judge.

I encourage all of us to "not" do three things in regard to simcom:

1.  Don't go around using simcom without thinking. 

2.  Never use simcom as a way to benefit yourself at the expense of others.

3.  Don't go around condemning other people's use of simcom until you actually understand when, how, and why they using it.

Life is situational eh?

- Dr. Bill


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