Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#40 My Favorite ASL Resources – Dictionaries

on September 5, 2012

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How do I know some of the signs are outdated?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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