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Finger Spelling


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  1. For many people, their first introduction to and learning about ASL is the fingerspelling alphabet.

    Fingerspelling (FS) really needs to be mastered well, in both practical use and as a receptive skill. Fingerspelling is used a lot in ASL, we use it for:

    • Place names
    • Proper nouns
    • Words we don't know the sign for
    • For emphasis
    • Words that are just easy to fingerspell (Car, Kiwi, etc)
    • Lexicalized Signs (Job, busy, back)

    Let's say someone is describing a trip to a city:I GO BOSTON, B-O-S-T-O-N, ONE WEEK STAY. I VISIT H-A-R-R-Y, (shows sign name), HE WORK WHAT? B-O-T-A-N-I-S-T, PLANT STUDY. WE RIDE C-A-R SHOW-ME AROUND BOSTON.

    Here's a little fingerspelling etiquette to know:

    • Stick with your dominant hand while FS, don't switch hands in the middle of spelling something. For instance, if you're right handed, stick with that hand for all FS.
    • Unlearn the hand placement you learned off of ABC placards, books, posters and such. These pictures are taken for best viewing - many letters are shown "sideways" to see them better, but in actual signing they almost all stay palm out.
    • Palm is facing outwards for all letters except for "G" & "H".
    • If it feels uncomfortable to make that letter - you're probably doing it wrong. For example, trying to twist your wrist around to make a "G" palm outwards.
    • For double letters:
      • Slide - O, A, S, L, M, E, R
      • Slight bounce - B, C, D, F, G, I, N, P, R, T
  2. Fingerspelling Do's and Don'ts:

    • Don't bounce or "punch" your letters while spelling
    • Keep your hand about shoulder height, next to the face and in one spot
    • If you make a mistake, just pause and start again. Don't "erase" the air
    • For more than one word you can either have a short pause between words, or a slight move to spell the next word
  3. How to get better at FS? Here are some ways:

    • Don't worry about catching EVERY letter in a word - catch the first letter, any double letters or "special" differences in the middle, and the last letter and the context of the sentence. For example, "My friend name J-N-N-F-R" - it's pretty safe to assume its Jennifer.
    • After a while you will start recognizing shapes of words instead of the FS. This is how babies and young children understand FS without knowing their A-B-Cs. They learn that the hand movements that make N-O-S-E means nose.
    • FS daily - what you're reading, watching, doing
    • Practice with a friend - take turns FS words
    • Watch YouTube videos - enter "fingerspelling" in the Search box
    • Download a FS App such as ASL Fingerspell - All FS, no signed words

  4. But, overall, relax about fingerspelling, with practice and exposure it will become as natural as signing.