Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

Omake #12 – To continue or not to continue…

Hey everyone.  I know it’s been a while since my last post.

I actually had everything that’s been posted up until now saved up – I’d written them all while still in Japan, and just had them doled out in pieces – published one per week.

Since moving to Portland I’ve been very busy settling in.  Add to that, this week classes at my community college have started up and I suddenly find myself with a lot of things on my plate.

Not to mention the fact that I’m no longer in Japan.  Portland is a very cool place, yes, but does what I have to say about my life here interest the current readers of this blog?  Maybe and maybe not.

I am considering starting a different blog that will be more language-learning centered.  As a linguaphile and linguist, I study languages on my own all the time.  So I thought it’d be neat to write about what podcasts I listen to, what books I use, what dictionnaires are helpful, what websites I’ve stumbled upon, what TV shows I watch in a certain language…things like that.  Interested?

I’ll publish a link to that blog once it’s up and running.

Until then, read some of my archives if you haven’t yet.

Or, find another blog to follow.  Or do whatever it is you like to do!


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#40 My Favorite ASL Resources – Dictionaries

Last week I posted about two resources I like to use for learning ASL.  Though they’re meant for children, or for learning signs to interact with children, they have the very strong benefits of A) repetition, and/or B) spoken explanations about what the sign means.

I wish there were more video resources for learning ASL.  So far I haven’t been a fan of the limited selection on youtube, from amateurs that are probably doing signs subtly wrong.  That’s like someone who’s studying Chinese themselves making a video about how to speak Chinese.  They’re probably trying, and making a good effort, but they’re probably making mistakes that you don’t want to pick up yourselves.  Better to learn from a more direct source if you can.

Very fortunately, in at the end of September I will be taking an actual ASL class at Portland Community College (PCC for short).

Until then, if there’s a word I want to know in ASL, I look it up in a dictionary.

Here are the 3 dictionaries I mainly use:

1) http://commtechlab.msu.edu/sites/aslweb/browser.htm

This website has been produced by Michigan State University.

A strong benefit of this site is that it gives very simple written explanations of what a sign is trying to represent, and/or if a sign is a combination of, or based on, another sign.

The downside of this site is that it was created in 1997.  ASL is a language, and all languages change over time.  I sometimes find that the woman in the videos uses the old sign for something, when there is a newer sign currently in circulation.  I don’t think it’s wrong to use older signs, and if you learn one by mistake other people you talk with will probably understand you, or be familiar with it anyway, but just keep it in mind.

How do I know some of the signs are outdated?  Two ways.

One – I compare all 3 dictionary sites that I use, and if this is the only one using it a different way, I figure it’s because it’s an old sign.

Two – because the next dictionary I consult often also tells you the old way to sign a word, though they point out that they don’t recommend you learn this version.  Which brings me to…

2) http://www.lifeprint.com/

This is actually a very extensive sight.  In addition to the dictionary they offer, on the left hand bar, they also offer some basic online lessons as well as lots of other practice and learning resources.

I like that the person who runs this site often gives detailed information about signs – such as hand placement, meaning, variations, older versions, links to similar words, etc.

What I don’t like about this site is that sometimes word entries in the dictionary simply have a series of pictures showing how a sign is made, instead of a video of it.  I much prefer seeing a continuous sign in a video, to make sure I’m mimicking it correctly.  Some words have videos though, and some words even have a short sample sentence.  Sample sentences can be either useful or frustrating, depending on your knowledge of vocab up until that point (since other vocab is used) and depending on whether or not the webmaster provides a written translation of what he’s saying.  Sometimes he just puts up a sample sentence video and no explanation and so it can be useless for a more beginning learner.

The site also has the downside, as does the first website I mentioned, of not having all the vocab words you’re looking for.  Though, I think it’s generally a rule of thumb in ASL that if you don’t know how to say a word, you just finger spell it.

3) http://www.signingsavvy.com/

This website has the most extensive dictionary I have found so far.  You can find most words here (though sometimes after finding an obscure word, you’ll find that they’re just fingerspelling it in the video anyway!)

The site is free, and you can watch all the videos as much as you want.  If you pay for a subscription though, you get a couple of benefits which I find would be useful, but I’m too cheap to pay for it.  If you get a subscription, you can see written explanations of what the words mean (which I usually just look up on the Michigan State University page), as well as apparently being able to see the videos in a larger, clearer size and having access to some other learning tools like flashcard creators, word list makers, memory aids, and the like.

This site also plays videos on a loop, which can be both useful as well as annoying, depending on your preference or mood.

And there we have it!

If you know of any other good sign language dictionaries, or other sign language resources in general that you like or use, please share!

Happy signing.

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#39 My favorite ASL Resources – Baby Signing

So I posted an entry a long time ago about how I became interested in sign language through a TV show called Switched at Birth:

Switched at Birth: Volume One

Since then I have become much more serious about studying American Sign Language, and have compiled a few resources that I like to use. This is the first of 2 posts I will make on the subject.

The very first videos I used to learn sign language I found on youtube, but they have a website called My Smart Hands

The lady who explains the videos is very down to earth and explains what the signs mean when she does them. She then cuts to a video of her daughter signing the same word she just introduced.

I first found these videos through a much-watched clip showcasing her daughter at a young age demonstrating the signs she knows. I was suitably impressed:

The website has a very small dictionary. It’s geared mainly towards teaching your baby signs, so that it can communicate with you. It’s a proven phenomenon that babies can communicate with their hands and bodies before they can speak, so teaching your baby some basic signs (like eat, more, milk, cookie, diaper, up, down, potty, etc) can enable them to tell you what they are wanting without having to resort to pointing (which you may not follow completely) or crying.

I think it’s awesome to teach babies sign language because it eliminates frustration for both you and your baby. I’m definitely teaching ASL to any kids I might have in the future, and I encourage others to do the same! The above resource is a fabulous one for learning the most basic of signs.

Sometimes I also like to watch youtube videos from a TV show called Baby Signing Time

Though to be honest, the host annoys me a bit. She’s unnervingly and unnaturally perky.

She also wears these ridiculous bands on her fingers which makes her hand looks so unnatural. I realize she’s trying to do it so you can see her fingers more clearly (her thumb and pointer are labeled with blue, while the rest of her fingers are labeled with red bands.) However, I find it more distracting than useful. But then again, the show is intended for babies and children, not adults, so maybe the extra visual does help them.

I put up with her incessant perkiness because it’s one of the better teaching resources I’ve found online so far. She signs new words a few times each, and explains what it’s supposed to represent (like with “Spring,” it’s flowers coming out of the ground). I find that extra explanation (more than just the visual) is useful to commit the sign to memory. Then she’ll show some footage of toddlers and young kids signing the same sign, which is also a good reinforcer. Sometimes though she’ll throw in a self-written song at the end which usually is not my cup of tea, but she will sign the words again while singing it and it’s helpful to see things multiple times (repetition!).

She sells tons of DVDs and educational packages. I don’t personally own any, as I’ve just been cruising the clips I can find on You Tube. If I ever have a baby some day, I’d seriously consider buying some though. They’re pretty good, all things considered. Here’s one you may be interested in to get started.

Signing Time Volume 1: My First Signs DVD

There’s even some youtube videos talking about a set of parents who found out their little girl had way above average reading skills, and they attribute some of this to her early exposure to ASL with Baby Signing Time. They argue that being exposed to sign language gives babies extra visual cues to stimulate them and prepare them for reading. For Baby Signing Time, the written word is shown along with a picture of it, at the same time that a sign is introduced. That can definitely reinforce word recognition from an early age. I have often heard that signing to babies improves their language skills in general, whether or not reading is included. I certainly think teaching them can’t hurt!

Though when they explained that both the parents of this gifted child are Speech Pathologists, I go “well duh” – anyone who works with speech as their field is going to make sure to reinforce language skills in their child. Still, I do believe that ASL has a lot of benefits for babies to learn (and adults too – learning a language is a great way to stimulate the brain).

So here’s my suggestion for you. Go out and teach your babies sign language!

But first, teach yourself.

Good luck!

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