Recommended DVD Series: Sign with Robert

I have been writing reviews of ASL materials for School Library Journal for several years now.  Whenever I get a new one, I tense a little with worry – there are some frankly awful sign language DVDs out there.

That’s why it’s such a thrill when I get to review a series that I can review as enthusiastically as this one.  Sign with Robert is well-planned-out, well-executed, and always mindful of the needs of its audience.

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Here’s some of what I had to say in my review:

“This excellent series goes far beyond the usual introductions to American Sign Language (ASL) to create value for multiple audiences. Deaf actor and educator Robert DeMayo brings his native ASL fluency to the demonstrations of signs and discussion of culture, and the series features a clean visual style that keeps the focus on the language. The vocabulary segments go into far greater depth than most ASL materials, making the series valuable to advanced signers and interpreters as well as beginners.”

Sign with Robert is available as a 10-volume series, or by individual discs or streaming episodes.  Voiceovers and open captions are used where necessary to make sure everyone has access.

 

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Language and Culture in Other Worlds

Sword And Verse_cover revealFor the past ten years, while pursuing my career as an American Sign Language interpreter and storyteller, I have also been quietly pursuing another dream: to become a published novelist.  A little over a week ago, that dream became a reality when my debut young adult novel, Sword and Verse, was published by HarperTeen.  Sword and Verse is the story of a land where writing is restricted to the nobility, and a slave girl who learns the language of the gods and finds the key to saving the kingdom.  Though the story does not explicitly mention signing, it is absolutely soaked in my love of language and informed by the lessons I have learned from the Deaf community.

I am excited to share with you an interview about the book conducted by Ruth Lehrer, a fellow American Sign Language interpreter and the author of the forthcoming middle grade novel Being Fishkill (Candlewick, 2017).  We decided to do the interview in American Sign Language to make it completely accessible to our friends in the Deaf community.  (Don’t worry, nonsigners – we also provided an English transcript – mostly.  There’s a bonus, untranslated question for signers only!)

I loved the thoughtful questions Ruth asked about the role of language in the book, and I loved the opportunity to share how my experiences in the Deaf community impacted the story.  I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I did!  Watch the interview in ASL or read it in English at the Swanky Seventeens Blog.

Sword and Verse is available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.  Read the first 9 chapters for free at Epic Reads!

Review: ASL Tales

ASL Tales: RapunzelASL Tales: Annie's TailsASL Tales: The Princess and the Pea

ASL Tales: The Tortoise and the HareASL Tales: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Click on the covers above for previews of each story and purchase information.

ASL Tales proclaims itself to be “a new way of experiencing American Sign Language and English” and these engaging DVD/picture book sets truly deliver on that promise. Each DVD features a story told by a master ASL storyteller, incorporating illustrations from the accompanying picture book. Viewers can choose to engage with the story on many different levels – by watching the story in ASL only, in ASL alternating with the book illustrations, in ASL with voiceover and/or captions, or in multiple combinations of these options. Voiceover narration is available in 11 different languages – English, Cantonese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Spanish, Bosnian, French, and Portuguese – making this product an ideal learning tool for families from many different language backgrounds. The ASL storytelling itself is absolutely masterful, with native signers providing beautiful language modeling.

But where ASL Tales really stands out from the pack is its “ASL Clues” feature, which allows viewers to see each individual sentence of the story in slow motion, with relevant ASL grammatical features explained on the screen. These features include use of role shift, classifiers, nonmanual signals, directionality, and nuances of vocabulary – but you won’t see linguistic terms like these on the screen. Instead, you will find user-friendly explanations of the grammatical features that can be understood easily by all. The producers have pulled off quite a feat here – making big-picture language information accessible to a wide range of learners, while at the same time providing detailed, hands-on information about the nuances of the language that will aid even upper-level ASL and interpreting students.

This feature takes ASL Tales far beyond the typical list-of-vocabulary approach (though each DVD also features a useful video glossary of relevant signs) and helps viewers understand how to put sentences and stories together in ASL. The producers have created an incredibly flexible product that is both enjoyable and enlightening, one that can be enjoyed by hearing and deaf audiences alike, and one which manages to support written, spoken, and sign language development all at once. Bravo!

A Place Where Everyone Signed

For over 300 years, the tiny island of Martha’s Vineyard, located off the coast of Massachusetts, was something of a Deaf utopia – not because it was the bastion of a strong Deaf culture, but because it was the home of a bilingual community of hearing and deaf people, where deaf islanders participated fully in all aspects of life.  That’s because the small, self-contained society had a high incidence of deafness – in the town of Chilmark, 1 in 25 residents were born deaf.  This led to all members of the society using Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (one of the seeds of modern ASL) alongside English.

Find out more in this great post from REDEAFINED: Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (Sign without Stigma).

Or check out Nora Groce’s remarkable book, Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: 516cnGOIy1LHereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard (Harvard University Press, 1988).

 

It just goes to show: when communication is present, our differences no longer divide us.

 

Learning American Sign Language Online

picture of computerLooking for a great site to help you learn American Sign Language, or to supplement an in-person class?  Here are three sites that fit the bill:

ASLOnline: Maintained by the University of Texas at Austin, this free online tutorial features three levels focusing on vocabulary and sentence structure in American Sign Language.  Instruction takes places through videos and written text.  The organization of the units mirrors the critically acclaimed Signing Naturally curriculum, making this site an ideal supplement to in-person classes.

ASL University: Maintained by Bill Vicars, this site features clear, well-structured lessons with a mixture of print information, video, and photos.  It also includes lots of activities for practice and an online ASL dictionary, making this a great stop for someone looking for a casual resource or a serious student looking for structured lessons.

Start ASL: This site offers three levels of free online ASL courses, as well as a fingerspelling course.  Students download a free workbook in .pdf form and use it to work through the video activities in each unit.  The free courses are quite robust, but the site also offers a more in-depth paid class option for those who want to access the courses free of advertisements, with the option to submit assignments for feedback and access additional material.

Got a great ASL instruction site to recommend?  Tell us about in the comments, or send an email to info@storiesbyhand.com!

Seeing Voices

Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf by Oliver Sacks. New Seeing Voices coverYork: HarperCollins, 1989.

There’s a reason this book is a classic in the field of Deaf Studies: Sacks weaves together history, linguistics, and a deep understanding of culture to create a compelling introduction to American Sign Language and Deaf culture for the uninitiated.

How to Communicate with Someone who is Deaf

  • Don’t assume that every deaf person speechreads. Speechreading is a very difficult skill to master, and many deaf people don’t find it effective beyond common phrases such as “How are you?”
  • Keep your face and lips visible.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Make sure the deaf person is looking at you before you speak, sign, or gesture.
  • Speak naturally. Don’t exaggerate your mouth movements or speak too slowly. And don’t shout!
  • Be careful not to stand with your back to a window or other light source – this makes speechreading and getting information from facial expressions difficult.
  • Offer pen and paper to write notes back and forth, but be aware that English is a second language for many deaf people. When writing notes, use short sentences and plain language, and avoid idioms and slang.
  • Repeat the question to make sure you understand.
  • To get the attention of the deaf person, tap his or her shoulder or arm or wave in his or her line of sight.
  • ATTITUDE is the most important thing! Most deaf people will appreciate your efforts to communicate.

ASL Resources for Teens and Adults

Beginning American Sign Language Videocourse, Volumes 1-15 (Sign Enhancers, 1991, 1992)

This is a comprehensive videocourse designed for middle and high school students (and adults), but elementary students interested in ASL will find it just an enlightening and easy to follow.  Each video introduces new vocabulary, then shows an entirely signed segment with the “Bravo family” that uses the vocabulary and also introduces Deaf culture concepts in a seamless and entertaining fashion.

Communicating in Sign: Creative Ways to Learn American Sign Language by Diane Chambers (Fireside, 1998)

Especially appropriate for those who want to explore the language in-depth, this book offers vocabulary, grammar, ASL structure, and activities and games.

D-PAN Deaf Professional Arts Network – It’s Everybody’s Music, Volumes 1&2

American Sign Language videos of popular songs by The White Stripes, Carly Rae Jepsen, and more.  Videos are also available online at http://d-pan.com/

Sign-Me-Fine by Laura Greene and Eva Barash Dicker. (Franklin Watts, 1995.)

This title goes beyond the basic information available in other books on sign
language to provide an in-depth examination of American Sign Language.