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Conversing in ASL

Strategies for confirming information and asking for clarification

  1. When you miss a whole statement:
    Avoid using the signs "again" and "slow". Deaf people see ASL students use these all too often. Just as hearing people don't just say to each other, "Again" or "Slow" when asking for clarification, that's not how Deaf people sign to each other when they don't understand. Instead, use the same language Deaf people use when conversing with each other. Rather than signing, "again" or "slow" when you miss an entire sentence, sign "What?" with a questioning facial expression.
     
  2. When you miss some signs or want to confirm understanding:
    When you catch some but not all signs in a statement, repeat back the signs you think you understood to the signer with a questioning expression. This will show him or her not only that you need clarification, but it will also let the person know what you understood so that he or she does not need to repeat that part of message.
     
    To confirm that you understood a statement or concept correctly, restate the message back to the signer with a questioning expression. This will allow the person the opportunity to confirm that you understood correctly or clarify parts you misunderstood.
     
  3. When you miss a finger spelled word:
    Sign "finger spell" with a questioning facial expression to ask the person to respell the word. Simply signing this one sign with a questioning facial expression is the equivalent to asking, "What did you just finger spell?" or "Could you finger spell that again?"
     
  4. To slow down finger spelling:
    In order to avoid having the person spell a word you missed over and over again, finger spell the word with the person. This allows you to control the speed of the finger spelling because the signer won't move on to the next letter until you sign the letter he or she is currently signing. Spelling with Deaf people significantly slows down their finger spelling to a pace you can read!
     
  5. To improve your finger spelling speed and comprehension:
    Both while finger spelling yourself and while reading finger spelling, rather than spelling out the word letter by letter in your mind, sound out the word. To improve your comprehension when reading finger spelling, it also can help if you catch the first and last letters of the word or if you have a foreknowledge of the topic being discussed.

  6. Don't fake it:
    Do not pretend you understand what a person is signing to you if you don't really understand. This will only get you in to trouble when the person you are conversing with realizes you do not understand. It shows you don't really care when the person has to say. Take the time to ask for clarification. One technique to help you understand the general feeling of the conversation is to mimic the facial expression of the signer. This can help engender feelings relative to what the signer is trying to convey.

 

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