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What to do when you don't know a sign:
Dear Dr. Bill,
I'm taking an ASL class at the local college and according to my teacher and the book we are using* there are six basic strategies for when you don't know a sign:
1. point to the object ask for the sign
2. draw a picture
3. list other things in the same category
4. use opposites
5. describe or act out the concept
6. fingerspell and then ask for the sign
Do those seem right to you?
-- [name removed to protect the student's privacy]
Seems to me it might be good to update that "What to do when you don't know a sign" list to the current century:
1. Whip out your phone and look up the sign online in seconds by typing ASL and the word you want to sign. (1)
2. Fingerspell it. (2)
The above two methods pretty much take care of it.
If the two methods above don't work then do an image search and show a picture of it.
In the very unlikely event that you are one of the few people in America still without a smart-phone and communication still hasn't occurred - use other vocabulary to discuss the topic.
Sure, if the topic is easily describable in physical dimensions or usage -- then use mimetic depiction (or in other words act it out with mime and/or gestures). Who knows? You might get lucky and use an established / common ASL depiction (sometimes referred to as "a classifier").
Separate but related:
I would suggest that if any particular "textbook" is teaching outdated, (some might even say silly) ideas, (like "draw a picture") -- we should not adopt those ideas but rather consider it a reason to question the validity and/or usefulness of the textbook.
Notes and references:
(1). The basic fact is most people have smart phones these days.
2020 U.S. smartphone ownership for ages 18 - 29 = 96%
(Source: Pew Research)
(2). The basic fact is that here in the U.S. "most Deaf people are bilingual to some extent."
(Source: Ann, J. (2001). Bilingualism and Language Contact. In C. Lucas (Ed.), The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages (33--60). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)
* Apparently the book being used in the class the student is taking is "Signing Naturally."
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