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Is there a right way and a wrong way to sign?
Recently in an online group someone posted a phrase to the effect of:
"If the other person understood you -- you signed just fine."
I realize the intent of the person posting was to be encouraging and supportive to beginning signers who tend to stress over ASL grammar. The idea put forth was that students and late-deafened adults are each on their own personal ASL journey.
However, even with such reassurance students are still going to stress about wanting to sign "the right way."
The focus on right or wrong signing is a symptom of issues in the traditional American Education system:
ASL student waves hands in the air while mouthing.
ASL teacher gives the ASL student a bad grade.
ASL student tells the ASL teacher, "If you understood me -- I signed just fine."
Obviously the ASL teacher is going to disagree with the student. Doing mime, home sign, excessive mouthing, voicing, or Signed English in an ASL class on your own personal journey to "ASLhood" won't get you an "A" grade (or at least it shouldn't.).
Of course students want a learning environment where others are kind, flexible, & accepting of variety. Yet ASL teachers have a responsibility to the general Deaf Community to teach sign language in a way that is representative of the type of signing done by local, socially active, Deaf adult signers.
There is difference between being supportive and encouraging of late deafened individuals versus expecting and requiring tuition-paying ASL students to learn at least one strong, specific, documented version of a set of signs in order to be assigned a grade on a transcript.
In the mind of a student there is a very real and rather strong need to identify what is the "right" way to sign something in the opinion of their teacher. In the mind of a student -- learning and doing the "right" sign is vitally important. "Vital" being defined as important for life. Think about it. If a student does a (so called) "wrong" sign (in the opinion of the instructor) it will affect their grade, their graduation, their ability to pass an interpreter certification test, get a job, earn money, and eat. Eating is rather important for life.
There is also a vital responsibility to the Deaf Community for teachers to teach their students "right ways" to sign things. If a student goes out and signs "9" when they should have signed "3" and a client takes nine pills instead of three pills -- someone may die.
Knowing your role in a given situation is important.
Lawyers (or at least certain types of lawyers) should go to the courtroom and litigate. It is their job.
Lawyers should take off their litigator hat when they sit at the dinner table with their family -- that is if they want to stay married and have their kids come visit when they grow up.
It is the job of an ASL teacher to tell their tuition paying students how to sign in a way that is reflective of the signing being done by socially active local Deaf native adults.
It is not the job of an ASL teacher to tell a Deaf person how to sign -- unless that Deaf person has specifically and clearly declared that they are choosing to be in the role of a student. (For example: I tell other Deaf people how to sign rather often -- AFTER they sign up to take a workshop and they have paid me.) Joining an ASL-centric group like this one is a less specific way of declaring that you are choosing to put on the student hat.
It is not the job of a Hearing ASL student to tell a Deaf person how to sign.
It is the job of a Hearing ASL student to learn to sign in a way that is reasonably close to the center of the target of how native Deaf adults in their local region are signing.
However, students (and their teachers, and the people in the online forums they visit) should keep in mind that the center of that "signing" target is rather large, moves around a lot, and has a very fuzzy outline.
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