To be or….nope, not to be

One of the most interesting and unique parts of ASL is the fact that the verb “to be” is absent from the language.  This is something that you have already learned, but may not be aware that you know.

For example:

The sentence “I am going to the store” is signed as “STORE I GO”.  “I am” is missing and is only added when we translate the sentence in to English.

This is true for every conjugation of the verb.  “I went to the store” becomes “STORE I GO FINISH”, “We are going to the store” becomes “STORE WE GO”, and so forth

This affects much more than you would originally think.  The statement “This is who I am,” becomes simply a gesture to your self.

“Who are you?” Becomes “WHO YOU?” “That will be fun!” is “FUN FUTURE”.

In order to understand what is being signed, you need to have a clear grasp of the ASL timeline, which, luckily, is the next grammar lesson!

Deaf Culture #13

NTID stands for: National Technical Institute for the Deaf?

True! NTID is located in Rochester, New York, and is one of nine colleges within RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology).  Started in 1967, the school’s mission is to give Deaf and Hard of Hearing students a quality education in technological fields.  According to the website, nearly 1,400 of the 1,529 students enrolled are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and in the last five years an astonishing 91% of graduates that pursue employment have found a job within a year.

Gallaudet University is located in Washington D.C.?

Gallaudet University is, in fact, located in Washington D.C.  We have previously discussed the history and implementation of Gallaudet, but what it is most known for is the “Deaf President Now” movement.  In 1988 the University found itself in need of a new president.  They began interviewing candidates and narrowed it down to two Deaf men, and one hearing woman who did not know sign language.  In a move that I’m not sure anyone, including those involved, understood, they chose the hearing woman as the president of a Deaf university.  This sparked an intense 3 day protest in which the students chanted “Deaf President NOW!” and blocked access to the university, effectively shutting it down.  After 3 days, the administration relented and selected I. King Jordan, a well-educated Deaf man, to be the next president of the University.

DPN (Deaf President Now) is a moment in history where the whole nation was focused on the Deaf, and their needs.  As a result (and rightly so), DPN is a huge point of pride for the Deaf Community.

NTID is located in Rochester, New York?

True! To be more specific, NTID is located at:

52 Lomb Memorial Drive

Rochester, NY 14623

However, if a road trip is not in your future, you can go to and take a virtual tour of campus.  While you are there, check out their calendar of awesome campus events and schedule your vacation time accordingly.  It will be the perfect way to practice everything that you have learned at!

 Gallaudet University was founded by Edward Miner Gallaudet?

True!  In 1857, Amos Kendall donated the land for Columbia Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and made known his wish for Edward to become it’s leader.  Mr. Gallaudet jumped at the chance and became the school’s first principal.  Gallaudet, however, had bigger plans for the school.  He wanted to see it become a college.  To do this, he appealed to the higher powers, even going so far as to request a bill be signed in to law, which was an unnecessary move.  He was appeased, however, when the president at the time, a Mr. Abraham Lincoln, signed such a bill, giving the authorization for the Columbia Institute to begin awarding college degrees.  Gallaudet remained active in the college, both as President of the University and then later, President of the Board of Directors, until his retirement in 1911.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was instrumental in bringing ASL to America?

It may be difficult to understand the motives of Edward Miner Gallaudet without first speaking of his father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet dreamed of becoming a preacher.  That was until he met nine-year-old Alice, the deaf daughter of his neighbor, Dr. Mason Cogswell.  Alice befriended Thomas, who began trying to teach her the names of objects by writing in the dirt with a stick.  As you can guess, this effort did not reap the desired outcome.  Alive with new purpose, Thomas abandoned his dreams, as well as the master’s degree that he received at the age of 20 from Yale University, and took off for Europe to study methods for teaching deaf students.  After several dead ends, Thomas was introduced to Abbe Siccard who ran the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets a Paris (The National Deaf-Mute Institute of Paris), who in turn introduced him to Laurent Clerc, and Jean Massieu, two of his deaf faculty members.  Thomas, impressed with the advanced education that the two men had obtained by using the manual method, begged Clerc to return to America with him.  Clerc agreed, and on the three month journey home, taught Thomas Sign Language.  Upon his return to America, Thomas took Clerc around the eastern seaboard, campaigning and collecting money to begin their own school.  They succeeded and built a school that would eventually become known as the American School for the Deaf.  The first class consisted of seven students, including, of course, his young friend Alice.


Deaf Culture #12

It is not unusual for deaf people to have difficulty with the English language?

This is true.  The English language is incredibly complex.  We have words that look the same but mean different things, sound the same but are spelled differently, odd rules for pluralizing, and that’s just the beginning!  Add the fact that for most deaf individuals, English is their second language, as well as the linguistic rules of ASL being completely different to those in English, and…well…it’s pretty easy to see why deaf people may have difficulty.  They are not alone either.  Most major publications hire a “copy editor” whose only job is to correct the spelling, grammar, and syntax of the writer’s work.  Many native English speakers, born and raised into the language, and taught how to use it at every stage of their schooling, still struggle to follow all of the complex, and seemingly ever changing, rules.

Deaf people prefer to use the TTY than a videophone?

This is the perfect follow up to the previous question.  It is true that the majority of the deaf community prefer to use a videophone to a TTY because, when using a videophone, they can use their native language of ASL.  Using a TTY requires the user to be able to write, read, and comprehend English.  While this is certainly possible, it would be rare to find anyone, deaf or hearing, that would feel more comfortable conversing in his or her second language.

Another reason that the videophone is preferable is for linguistic nuances and non-verbal cues.  Head nods, eyebrow movement, and eye gaze are a few examples of “non-manual markers” and are extremely important to the meaning behind what is being said, and are how ASL users display prosody, or voice inflection.  If you think about your own English conversations, you will notice that you use the speakers voice inflection to understand if their comment is rude, sincere, sarcastic, or even funny.  These nuances are lost when the conversation is in text, and the speaker’s intent can easily be skewed.  Anyone who has ever opened an email or received a text and thought “What do they mean by that?” has had first hand experience as to the clarity that inflection can add to a message.  Videophones can add back in the meaning that simple text is lacking.

Deaf people use flashing lights to indicate a knock or noise?

They sure do!  Many Deaf homes have lights that will flicker to indicate that someone has pushed the doorbell or that the phone is ringing.  There are also lights installed on the smoke detectors to indicate when there is a fire, and many Deaf have a pillow or pad on their mattresses that will vibrate when their alarm goes off in the morning.  The world that we live in is very much centered around sound which means that accommodations must be made so that the Deaf have equal access to the information that Hearing people receive through their ears.

American Sign Language is becoming more popular under World Languages?

True.  With advances in diversity requirements, more and more members of the Deaf community are gaining access to equality in both the educational and professional worlds.  Because of this, more of the hearing population is becoming familiar with both ASL itself as well as ASL Interpreters.  The extra exposure has created an interest in the language, which in turn, has led to schools adding ASL to their foreign language offerings.  This change in attitude towards ASL is a huge advantage for the Deaf because the more people that know ASL and understand Deaf Culture, the more equal access there will be for the Deaf.

American Sign Language is more popular than Signing Exact English?

This is true for many reasons, and those who use ASL will likely share their opinion with you, loudly and vehemently.

The main difference between ASL and SEE is that ASL is a language, while SEE is not, nor was it ever intended to be.  SEE is a system that was devised to help Deaf children learn English.  The system is cumbersome, requiring nearly twice the number of signs as the same sentence in ASL, as well as adding hand shapes to indicate some words and word endings such as: the, is, -ing, -ed, etc.

Not only does SEE remove the beauty of ASL, it also changes the structure.  SEE, like English, is a linear language.  One thing leads to another, and you must wait until the end to get a clear picture of the concept.  ASL begins with the picture, or the concept as a whole, and adds to it.  Here is and example:


“The boy is climbing the tree.”

TREE-BOY, and show him climbing up the tree.


(Words in bold are signs or movements that do not exist in ASL)


As you can see, a lot of the magic is missing.

SEE should not be confused with PSE (Pidgin Signed English).   PSE is ASL in English word order.  While it is not a language, nor is it as beautiful as ASL, it is accepted as a mode of communication in the Deaf Community.


Deaf Culture #9

Deaf people should wear contrasting colors in order for people to see their signs?

Not necessarily.  In general, this rule applies to an interpreter, or a Deaf individual that will be giving a presentation to a large crowd.  As you can guess, it is usually easier to see signs with a solid, contrasting background when watching from a distance.  Those times, however, are somewhat rare, and normal clothes are perfectly fine for everyday interactions.

How do people become deaf?

There are lots of ways that a person can become deaf, and the most common ways are illness and injury.  Because neither illness nor injury has any effect on your genetic material, you can imagine that heredity is the least common way for a person to become deaf.  As previously discussed, 90% of deaf children have hearing parents.  The remaining 10% are deaf children that were born to deaf parents, and most are deaf due to a genetic abnormality.  This being the case, there is a fair chance that they will pass their deafness on to their own children.  This type of hereditary deafness is somewhat of a legacy in the Deaf Community.  Those involved in multi-generational deafness are seen as a “dynasty” and regarded as superior.  This hierarchy is much like the “old money” families in the South.

How do people learn American Sign Language? (From other deaf, from a book, from

The easiest, and by far the best way to learn ASL is from, of course!  Learning ASL from other Deaf is also quite effective, and learning ASL from a book is possible, but much more difficult.  ASL is a 3 dimensional language, and it is difficult to get a feel for the movements of the language from the pages of a book.  It is also nearly impossible to start to understand someone else that is signing without seeing them physically use the language.  Learning from other deaf is a wonderful way to learn, as you gain exposure to both the language, and the culture.  However, in our busy day-to-day lives, is the best of both worlds.  It offers the ease and accessibility of a book, as well as the exposure and culture of language interaction.

Text messaging is a popular way to communicate among the deaf?

Text messaging is the single greatest advantage that has come to the Deaf community in recent memory.  Now, with texting being so prevalent, Deaf individuals can do everything from conversing with friends and colleagues, to talking to their child’s teacher, to scheduling a doctor’s appointment.  Video phone is wonderful for a long chat with a friend, or something that cannot be completed via text or in person, but is often inaccessible outside of the home.  This was a distinct disadvantage to the Deaf community until the implementation and widespread use of texting.  Now, members of the Deaf Community are equally as accessible as those in the Hearing Community.

The term, “Deaf and Dumb” is not acceptable?

This is true.  The terms “Deaf and Dumb”, “Deaf-Mute”, or referring to someone as a “Mute” are all unacceptable by today’s standards.  Most people prefer being simply “Deaf”, or depending on their hearing loss, “Hard of Hearing”.  If you have a hard time remembering the correct term, simply ask yourself if you would like to be referred to as “dumb”.  The answer, most likely, is no.

Deaf Culture #8

How do you reference a person who is not in the same room while you are signing? (Point to a specific location in front of you)?

If the person that you are referring to is not in the room, you can point to a specific location in front of you.  By doing so you “set them up” or assign them that spot.  This makes it easy to continue to refer to the person by simply pointing to the place where you set them up.  Wherever you put them is where they will stay until you change topics in the conversation, or you assign them somewhere else.  You can also set up more than one person at a time.  A cautionary word, the more people you set up, the harder it is to remember who was where!

All deaf people sign ASL?

All of those who live in America do not speak English, those who have lost a limb do not always have a prosthetic, and all deaf people do not use ASL.  Each person adapts to their environment differently, which is what makes us all unique individuals.  The decision to use ASL or any other form of communication is partially that of those who raised or are raising the deaf individual, as well as the individual’s personal preference.  Some may begin their lives lip reading, or communicating by writing, and then eventually decide that they would prefer to learn ASL.  The opposite is also true.  Some people may never master the art of ASL and find it easier to follow different avenues of communication.  There are also many different styles of ASL, as well as different skill levels.  So it is important to remember that just because someone is deaf, does not mean that they can sign.

Most deaf people attend a residential program?

Much to the Deaf Community’s dismay, this is not true.  The residential programs are by far the preferred method of learning in the Deaf Community, but due to tuition constraints, location, and parental preference, attending a residential school is often impossible.  Most students attend what is referred to as a “mainstream” program.  This usually consists of the student being enrolled in a special education program, (hopefully) supplied with an interpreter, and given other accommodations to aid in their education.  In areas with a larger Deaf population, the school may have an HI (Hearing Impaired) classroom.  This functions as a place for students to get extra classroom help, improve their signing skills, learn about the tips and tools that they may need to function in a hearing world (such as how to care for their hearing aids, or how to use an FM system), and to socialize with other deaf students.

Deaf schools tend to be the cultural hub of the Deaf Community?

Schools, in general, are a cultural hub, however Deaf schools are even more so.  While hearing children are exposed to different cultural norms throughout their everyday lives, many deaf children are surrounded by hearing people and know few, if any, other deaf.  This makes the attending a residential school even more important.  Not only are these children getting a quality education in their first language, they are learning to socialize with others, learning independence and self-advocacy, “how” to be deaf, and also have access to positive adult Deaf role models.  Like any school, many lasting friendships are formed as a young adult, and even more so at a residential school where you actually live with your classmates.  Although there may be some downfalls, attending a residential school has a huge positive impact on the rest of a deaf child’s life.

Cochlear Implants are not acceptable in the Deaf Community?

As discussed in the Deaf Culture Quiz #4, Cochlear Implants are not widely accepted among the Deaf community.  It is worth reiterating, however, that the person with the Cochlear Implant is not looked upon negatively, or treated as an outcast.  Instead, it is the idea of the implant in general, and the parent’s tendency to force their children to get the implant.  Aside from being an unaccepted practice, the surgery is extensive and painful, and it is documented that most people who receive an implant are plagued with headaches that do not ease until the implant is turned off.  It is also worth noting that this is a touchy subject within the community.  Much like discussing politics or religion, it is usually unwise to enter in to a discussion with a Deaf person about Cochlear Implants until you know that person quite well.

Deaf Culture #7

The signs for male “gender” are:

The “masculine” area of the face is near the forehead.  There are mixed theories on the reason for this, some saying that it is because men tend to be taller than women, and others say that it starts with the sign for “boy” (resembling the brim of a baseball cap), and continues from there.

The signs for female “gender” are:

The “feminine” area of the face is near the chin.  There are also mixed theories regarding this, some saying (you guessed it!) that it is because women tend to be shorter than men, and others say that it starts with the sign for “girl” (resembling a tied bonnet string), and continues from there.

A person’s signing space is:

Generally, a person’s signing space is from the waist to the top of the head.  This gives ample room to set up the different 3-D elements of ASL.  As with anything else, signing space can vary somewhat from person to person.  Some of this is due to personal comfort, and others because of the type of signing that they are doing.  If you are on stage, signing for a large crowd, your signs and your signing space will be much larger.  Conversely, if you are signing on a TV or computer with a limited screen, having an intimate conversation, or signing with someone who has a limited field of vision, your signing space would be smaller.

The signs for niece and nephew are:

“Niece” and “nephew” are initialized, as are “cousin”, “aunt” and “uncle”.  These are also great examples of the gender division on the face, as gender is specified (and therefore the correct English word is chosen) by the signs location.

Which word is a natural gesture (Book, Train, Plane, Bike)?

If you didn’t know ASL, which gesture would you use in a game of Charades?  If you are like most people, you probably chose “book”.  The sign for book is “iconic”, meaning that it is a visual representation of an actual book.  You are miming opening a book to begin reading, which makes this a natural gesture.  Other examples include: “phone”, “listen”, “baseball cap”, and “hair”.

Deaf Culture #6

90% of all deaf children are born to hearing parents?

Surprisingly, this is true.  The other 10% are called DOD, or Deaf of Deaf, meaning that they are the Deaf children of Deaf adults.  DOD tends to be a title that is somewhat coveted in the Deaf community.  It is a source of pride that they are able to carry on the “legacy”.  DOD, both children and adults, have been known to be more confident, prone to becoming leaders, and have a better linguistic command of both ASL and English than their DOH (Deaf of Hearing) counterparts.  This may be due to their immediate inclusion in the Deaf community, and the encouragement to learn ASL and to take pride in their Deaf title.  DOH children are often sent to oral schools, given Cochlear Implants, and encouraged to speak rather than sign, in hopes that they will fit in with the Hearing community.  There are exceptions of course, Hearing parents that encourage ASL and other aspects of Deaf inclusion, but by and large Hearing parents tend to try to assimilate their children to the Hearing culture.

75% of all parents with deaf children do not know sign language?

Sadly, this is also true.  This is a baffling statistic, as it means that 75% of all parents with deaf children have an extremely limited ability to communicate with their children.  The reason behind parents not learning ASL is unknown.

10% of Americans know ASL?

This is false.  In truth, the current number is unknown.  The census that is generally referenced when speaking of ASL users was completed in 1970 and included everyone who signs, whether or not they are fluent in ASL.  It is known that the use of ASL is on the rise, so there is hope a new census will be completed in the near future. The results of that census would prove to be both interesting and encouraging for people who wish to learn.

60% of the English language is visible on the lips?

Though many who rely on speech reading wish this were true, unfortunately it is false.  As discussed in Deaf Culture #3, only about 20% of words are visible on the lips, and even that number is contingent on specific elements.  Words may be difficult to read for many reasons.  Anything in or around the mouth will distort the message.  This could be a beard or mustache, chewing gum, or even braces.  There can also be problems if the speaker has a speech impediment, is a fast talker, or tends to mumble.  Also, if the speaker is aware that someone is trying to read their lips, they may attempt to help, which usually ends up being a hindrance.  By attempting to speak more slowly and clearly, they will distort the natural cadence of the words, making it more difficult to understand.

It is acceptable to bounce your letters while fingerspelling?

Imagine trying to read a book while driving down a bumpy dirt road…that is the equivalent of bouncing your letters while fingerspelling.  Mastering the fine art of fingerspelling requires infinite amounts of both practice and patience and it would be a shame to blur all of your hard work by bouncing your hand!  Often, the bouncing of letters while fingerspelling is the result of fierce concentration and the wish to form the letters correctly.  Thankfully, the cure for a bouncing hand is simply practice and confidence!

Deaf Culture #5

When signing a “yes” or “no” question, your eyebrows are always up?

True.  Also, your body is leaned forward slightly and the duration of the last sign is extended.  This sounds complicated to remember, but if you take note of your body language each time you ask a “yes” or “no” question in English, you will probably notice that your body does this naturally.


When signing Wh-questions, your eyebrows are squeezed?

Also true.  When asking a Wh-question (who, what, when, etc.), your eyebrows are lowered and you take on a “quizzical” expression.  Again, this is something that you often do without thought.  To make it easier, think of your facial expressions when asking a young child a question, as this is when our facial expressions tend to be the most exaggerated.


Fingerspelling is used for proper names and words that do not have a sign?

Yes, this is the proper use of fingerspelling.  It can also be used in conjunction with a sign when explaining the use of a specific word.  For example: the word “ambivalence” may be fingerspelled followed by signing DON’T CARE.  Explaining a fingerspelled word is important because, as previously discussed, for native ASL users, English is a second language.  Simply fingerspelling the word does not translate it to ASL.  If they do not understand the word when it is written in English, fingerspelling the word will not make it any more clear..


When fingerspelling, it is okay to mouth each letter?

This is false.  Think of how you are reading this passage.  Are you reading each letter individually?  Or are you reading the letters as whole words?  The same is true of and ASL user.  The word is not seen as individual letters, it is seen as a complete word.  In fact, many words can be recognized simply by the shape they make when fingerspelled.  Just like when you learned to read.  You began by sounding out the individual letters and the more you progressed, the more words you recognized on sight.  This is not a phenomenon that is reserved for native ASL users though.  As you become more proficient with fingerspelling, you will begin to notice that you are recognizing more words and spending less time sounding out letters.


In American Sign Language, regional signs do exist?

Absolutely.  ASL can be regional just as English can be regional.  Whether you say “soda”, “pop”, or “coke” varies by where you are in the US, and the use of “sweetheart” and “honey” is more prevalent in the south than in the north.  The same is true for ASL.  A good example of this is the sign for “store”.  In Flint, Michigan, there is a store near the Michigan School for the Deaf that has a statue of a Native American outside.  The children attending the school began signing a variation of “Native American” when talking about the store.  This sign stayed fairly local, and can be used to identify people who attended the school, lived nearby, or learned ASL from someone who attended the school.  It can be fun and interesting to learn the different regional signs, as well as the stories behind them!

Deaf Culture #4

Cochlear Implants are widely accepted by the Deaf community?

This is false, but it can be a confusing issue.  While people with Cochlear Implants are widely accepted in the Deaf community, the decision to implant yourself or your child is not accepted.  The practice of getting an implant is rejected because of what it represents.  The Deaf community views being Deaf as a privilege, something to be celebrated, and an implant shows just how far a person (or their parents) are willing to go to not be “different”.  The Deaf community sees the implants as someone trying to become part of the hearing population, and thus rejecting the Deaf community.  This is because, in most cases, the parents (usually Hearing) decided to have their child implanted at a young age, before they could make the choice themselves.  This is perpetuated by the fact that most doctors do not inform hearing parents of the supports that can be found within the Deaf community, or the successes of someone who uses ASL.  Instead, they offer a “cure” for deafness.  Often, the Deaf see implanting children as taking away their choice, forcing them to be hearing and never letting them experience Deafness.

“Sound and Fury” is an excellent documentary about this very issue that can give you a better insight into the thoughts, feelings, and even politics, behind this controversy.


Deaf people do not consider themselves as handicapped?

True!  As previously stated, being Deaf is a badge of honor.  In almost every city that houses a Deaf community, you will also find a Deaf Club.  This is a place for Deaf to gather to celebrate their deafness, make friends, air complaints, even hold events such as campouts, bowling and card tournaments, or fundraisers.  The pride in being Deaf even goes so far as to be proud when it is continued for another generation.  As strange as it may sound, while hearing parents anxiously await the results of the infant hearing test, praying that it’s positive, Deaf parents generally feel the opposite, hoping that their child is Deaf.  A common phrase in the community is “I can do everything except hear.”  Deaf children are taught to be proud of themselves, and to see their differences as a benefit, rather than a hindrance.


Gallaudet University is the only liberal arts college for the deaf?

True! Gallaudet University is a federally chartered establishment located in Washington, D.C. and is named for Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, one of the founding fathers of Deaf education in the US.  The school was established in 1857 as a grammar school and was given the ability to grant college degrees by Congress in 1864.  It wasn’t until 1986 that it’s name was officially changed from the “Columbia Institution for the instruction of the Deaf and Dumb” to “Gallaudet University”.

Today Gallaudet University houses approximately 2,000 students both here and abroad, and, while Graduate Studies are open to Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Hearing students, only 5% of the incoming undergraduates accepted may be Hearing.  As such, Gallaudet University remains the only university in the world to teach exclusively to the Deaf community.


The huddle in football was invented by deaf football players?

Interestingly enough, this is true!  The quarterback of the Gallaudet University football team in 1892, Paul D. Hubbard, invented the huddle.  Hubbard realized that using Sign Language to communicate the teams plays could be understood by the opposing team, especially because they often played other Deaf teams.  He created the huddle as a way to communicate to his teammates while shielding their plans from the other team and the spectators.


The Deaf community believes they can do anything except hear?

This is true.  As previously stated, deafness is not seen as a disability.  Because of this belief, most self-imposed limits have been dissolved and, consequently, success rates for the Deaf have risen.  The Deaf have become very adept at problem solving to overcome any obstacles that are put in their way.  The biggest obstacle that is currently being attempted is convincing the general population that the Deaf community is as able as they believe themselves to be.

Deaf Culture #3

The term “Hearing Impaired” is offensive?

“Hearing Impaired” was once considered to be the politically correct term for someone who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing, but has since fallen out of favor. The word “impaired” is being used less and less to describe people, and rightfully so as “impaired” is defined as “weakened, diminished, or damaged” (  I don’t think anyone wants to be described in that way.  Deaf” not only describes a hearing loss, but also the culture and community that goes along with it.  It is a label of pride and belonging.


The majority of deaf people have deaf parents?

Interestingly, about 90% of all Deaf people are born to hearing parents.  Unfortunately, only about 25% of those hearing parents take the time to learn ASL.  The other 75% of hearing parents either neglect to ever learn the language, which makes communicating with their child nearly impossible, or they force their child to learn to speak and lip read.  Neither of these options provides effective communication, and many times leads to a lifetime of roadblocks and frustrations.


Facial expressions are an important part of ASL?

Facial expressions could arguably be the most important part of ASL.  There is a saying in English that holds a lot of truth, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”  And in ASL, facial expressions are “how you say it.”  They convey meaning, feeling, tone, and intent.  And maybe even more importantly, they keep the listener from getting bored!  Think back to the best public speaker you have ever seen.  Part of what makes them such a successful speaker, is how they use their voice.  They use lots of inflection, change the volume for emphasis, and may even add an accent or change the tone to indicate another speaker.  In ASL this is all accomplished using facial expressions and body movement.


Lip reading is an easy skill to master?

It is an all too common misconception not only that all Deaf people can read lips, but that this is sufficient communication.  Lip reading is not only very difficult to master, it is also largely ineffectual.  The best lip readers can obtain on average, 20% of the spoken information.  That means that in a sentence containing 10 words, they may understand 2.

Here is an example:

The ____ ___ _ _______ lunch ____ __ ___ ____.

Did you understand the message?

You should have gotten:

The other day, I bought lunch meat at the store.

The reasons why lip reading is so difficult often has very little to do with the skills of the lip reader.  Most often, the problem lies with the speaker.  Anything in or around the mouth will distort the message.  This could be a beard or mustache, chewing gum, or even braces.  There can also be problems if the speaker has a speech impediment, is a fast talker, or tends to mumble.  Also, if the speaker is aware that someone is trying to read their lips, they may attempt to help, which usually ends up being a hindrance.  By attempting to speak more slowly and clearly, they will distort the natural cadence of the words, making it more difficult to understand.  If this does not make it difficult enough, by design, lip reading only works when the speaker is looking in the direction of the lip reader.

Add all of these problems together and it is clear why even the best lip readers obtain so little of the message.


A professional interpreter is someone who is certified?

True, although each state has it’s own laws or guidelines regarding what makes an interpreter “certified”.  In some states this means passing a standardized test, others may require a certain amount of continuing education credits each year, and some may require both.  However, in all states, the interpreter must know, and abide by, the Code of Professional Conduct.  Part of this code says that, when asked, an interpreter must provide documentation of their certification.  This allows for the client to take charge of their communication and make sure that the person representing them is adequately qualified to do the job.