Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#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How do I know some of the signs are outdated?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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Omake #11: Personal Update – Leaving Japan Soon

I’ve said most of my goodbyes. I’ve had pretty much all of my goodbye assemblies and parties.

I have 2 more days left of work – the rest of today, and Monday. My contract is technically through Wednesday, July 25th, but I’m using my last two vacation days to take off the last 2 days (Tuesday and Wednesday), so I can have some more time to pack, clean up my apartment, and just laze around a bit before I go through the strenous endevaor of getting myself up to Kansai International Airport and then onto my flights home. I’ll be traveling first to Beijing to change planes and then on to Chicago. The first flight is 4 hours while the second is a whopping 13 1/2 hours. I’m going to be exhausted by the time I get back home to my mom in the Chicago suburbs, but I can’t wait to be back in the US again, arriving Saturday July 28th.

As for this blog, I still intend to post some things relating to Japan and Japanese culture. I still have a lot of ideas for posts so I hope you can continue to enjoy reading them.

I intend to gradually switch my focus from Japan onto my new life that will be in Portland, Oregon. After 2 weeks spent back in Illinois the first 2 weeks of August, I’ll be moving in with my boyfriend, soon to be fiance (we’re going to exchange rings the day I leave town when he sees me off, which will be a few days before he leaves as well). We’ll be living with his parents in their condo for about a month, and then they will go off to teach English in Costa Rica while we hold down the fort in their absence. His parents also have a cat and a cockatiel and I’ve been so pet deprieved that I’m really excited to have pets again. I’m also excited to go back to the West Coast since I think it’s a wonderful area and suits me much better than life in Illinois (with the exception of my time in college down in Urbana-Champaign which is a very vibrant community with people from all over the world and other parts of the USA as well). I think I will really like Portland, which is a very liberal, health-conscious, artsy, bohemian sort of city. Also after having lived in a tiny rural town of 7,000 people here in Japan (my island having only 2,000) and being very constrained by boat and ferry schedules, it will be a breath of fresh air to have access to all kinds of restaurants, to go see a movie or go shopping more easily, and to have more opportunities to meet and befriend people who speak English! There are many wonderful people living on these islands here in Japan, but there’s almost no one my age (26) except for those that are mothers and already have 2-3 kids and are thus quite busy with their family obligations. The younger (single) generation tends to flock to the big cities – Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, etc – after graduating highschool and/or college. So I wasn’t able to make many friends this year, and am looking forward to actually having people to talk to besides my boyfriend and the occasional skype call to a friend back home.

Also, I’ll be going to Portland Community College (PCC) to study American Sign Language in the hopes of becoming an ASL interpreter. It seems like a long road ahead, and I do have my doubts about whether I’ll be good enough at it by the end of the program, having only become interested in ASL very recently, but I need a goal to work towards, and would love to have some job skills to use in the US, and studying and using foreign languages has always been a big passion of mine. I’m excited to swtich from being a teacher back to being a student and learning and using my mind more actively than I have in the past year, where I’ve often felt bored in English classes, and basically just killed time at home in the evenings.

Overall life has been good here in Japan. It’s certainly had its ups and downs – fantastic highs and devastating lows, but in the end I think it’s had a positive impact on me. I know myself a thousand times better than when I came in – my strenghts and weeknesses, my likes and dislikes, and have a better idea of how I want to spend my life from here on out. I’m thankful for my experiences here, and I’m also thankful for the good salary I was given and the low living expenses of my rural life that has allowed me to save enough money so I can go back to college and study some without having to find a job right away.

So, thank you JET Program. It’s been quite a ride. And now, a new chapter of my life unfolds…