If You Can See It, Don’t Sign It

Sign language is not the same as English words. Spoken languages use different words to express different ideas. Sign language represents ideas visually.

Signs can be modified with mouth and/or eyebrow movements, facial and body expression, and other factors. For example, the sign “I Love You” (ILY) can mean many different things. If “pursed” lips are used, it may mean “I like you a little bit,” but if the “SOW” lip movement is used, it could mean “I love you very much.”

Do not sign every word, but allow your signs to express what is meant. The English word “very” is a good example. Instead of signing the words “The house is very large,” sign a very large “House.” One sign, showing the size is all that may be needed.

Recently, while preaching to Deaf people in the Philippines, I told a story about a mother bird feeding and caring for her chicks. Then she pushed them out of the nest to “force” them to fly. When I finished, my wife, Diane, said, “You really looked like the bird.” She was saying that the audience could actually see the illustration, although not many signs were used. I smiled and took her “bird” comment as a compliment.

When you interpret or teach, show what is being said. Act out the story as much as is reasonable. Sometimes fewer signs can communicate more, especially with stories. When you are signing about Moses and the Red Sea, show him stretching out his arm, the crowd walking into the divided water, everyone looking around at the walls of water on either side, what it looks like to walk on dry ground versus mud, etc. Think, “What does this look like?” Then sign a visual representation of the idea. Remember, deaf people listen with their eyes, so show what is being said. When you do, you will also observe the listeners attention and understanding improve. That’s it! If you can see it, don’t sign words, sign pictures.

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