American Sign Language Fingerspelling Strategies and Techniques

Using American Sign Language for fingerspelling can be difficult to master. Most people who learn ASL seem to have a problem receptively and expressively with fingerspelling.  Also, many times when a person starts to fingerspell, he/she tenses up and becomes unable to use it properly, while others avoid using fingerspelling altogether, and instead, they invent their own signs (which is not an acceptable habit to develop).

Here are some tips on how to improve your fingerspelling, both expressively and receptively:

Tips for Expressive Fingerspelling:

1.   Make sure you form each letter clearly. Don’t be sloppy. If you are, the other person will not understand you.

2.   Make sure you don’t bounce your letters. The last thing you want is for the person you are conversing with to get dizzy and lightheaded from your hands moving all over the place, like watching a fly buzzing around.

3.   Make sure your hand is close to your cheek. For proper nouns, you want to mouth the word while you are fingerspelling it.

4.  Try not to “sound out” each letter while fingerspelling it. You don’t want to distract from your message.

5.  And relax.  You’ll be far more proficient at communicating that way.

Tips for Receptive Fingerspelling:

1.   Try and catch the first letter of the word. If you have any chance of understanding fingerspelling, you have to read that first letter.

2.  Now, since you have understood the first letter, you need to get some letters in the middle, and at the end. Fingerspelling is almost like Wheel of Fortune…guessing letters that you don’t see, or missed.

3.  Use context clues to figure out the fingerspelled word. What is it you’re talking about? What is a likely word that person is spelling? You will get the gist of the spelled word, unless your entire conversation is being fingerspelled. Then, you might have some problems.

4.  Ask the person fingerspelling, to slow down, or repeat it. Some deaf individuals have a tendency to “fly” with their fingers, and so their messages are being lost. They want to communicate, so they will not be offended if you ask them to slow down, and if you’re new at it, ask them to slow WAY down. Then, grab that first letter, and you’ll improve as you continue to read fingerspelling. It does require a great deal of both effort and practice.

On our website, ASLdeafined, we have plenty of fingerspelling activities that will help boost your ability to read fingerspelling. Watch, as Jonelle fingerspells a series of words and sentences, slowly at first, and then increases the speed, as the lessons advance.

As a way of introducing you to Jonelle, she was born deaf, and is a Fifth Generation of Deaf in her family. She brings so much talent and expression to our web site. Just recently, we added her fingerspelling lessons for you to learn from.  Your task is to recognize the word within a given sentence. Once that word is identified, you need to type it in the blank provided. And remember, Jonelle will start off very slowly in the beginning lessons, but then she gradually builds up speed as the lessons progress.  This will dramatically improve your ability to read fingerspelling.

Enjoy these new lessons, and please welcome Jonelle as one of your new instructors. ASLdeafined is making a huge impact on the lives of so many people around the United States, and the World, in their quest to learn American Sign Language. Thank you for being a part of our wonderful group of friends.