Negotiating meaning in sign language class

Negotiate meaning beyond "what is the sign for [a fingerspelled English word]?".

Whenever an ASL student asks me for a sign for an English word, usually in an English-grammar sentence. A very common sentence is HEY, WHAT SIGN (mouthing an English word "for") (fingerspelling an English word)? This approach is usually the quickest way to ask and learn an ASL word. My response depends on the contexts and situations.

Scenario: A student raises her/his hand and asked, WHAT SIGN (mouthing "for") (fingerspelling an English word)? Typically I'd ask them to rephrase it in ASL, "Recently you produce a sentence which is English. Try again in ASL."

(fingerspelling an English word) IX WHAT SIGN?

That's better, I encouraged. When a student doesn't get it, I'd give them a demonstration: (fingerspelling an English word) IX WHAT SIGN?

If it's a straightforward meaning such as "cat", "silver", etc., I'd show the signed word. But, often I'd request for a contextual sentence when they ask for a sign for such words as, "after", "run", and "finish". I typically reply, DEPEND-ON SENTENCE WHAT to encourage the students to elaborate it or give a sentence in context. This implicitly reminds the students that a meaning of the same word may change in sentences or translation between English and ASL. I'd ask SENTENCE WHAT?

Or, if a concept is easy to describe, I'd encourage the students to describe, act out, use "opposite", and other strategies rather than lazy fingerspelling. I'd pretend, "FINGERSPELLED-WORD IX/\ MEAN WHAT" or "IX-me NOT-KNOW MEANING".

An exemplary scenario of a highly motivated student "Sil" is as follows:

During a break one day in early ASL 112, the ASL student "Sil" asked what the sign was for a certain concept using his own idea, producing his own sign which was equivalent to ASL sign what looked as "EXACT/PERFECT." As the break time ran out, he put it on hold.

At the end of the class, he came to me, REMEMBER PAST BREAK, TWO-US DISCUSS WHAT? I FORGOT, UMM.. AH! PERFECT/EXACT.

T: YEA, RIGHT.
S: DEER STATUE IX EXACT/PERFECT, YOU KNOW?
T: HMM? NO?
S: FOR-EXAMPLE VARIOUS OPPOSITE WHAT?
T: ALL-SAME (two-handed "Y" handshape in circular movement in netural space)
S: NOT THAT, HMM, ME WANT EXPLAIN WITHOUT FINGERSPELLING
T: YEA OK, AVOID FINGERSPELLING (I suggested or recasted. The sign AVOID was introduced in that same-day class and it was a good contextual teachable moment).
S: THINGS GROUP, THAT ONE DIFFERENT
T: AH, I THINK YOU MEAN SOMETHING.. FOR-EXAMPLE, THINGS SAME-SAME ONE/\ IX SO-DIFFERENT. UNIQUE?
S: UNIQUE, NO, NOT THAT. HMM, ME TRY THINK HOW EXPLAIN WITHOUT FINGERSPELLING.
T: (recasting) AVOID FINGERSPELLING (quickly intervening)
S: FOR-EXAMPLE, ME WANT-TO BUY SCRAF. ME HAVE CL:LONG-LIST SCARF, BLACK STRIPES, FRINGE, THICK RED CL:BAND. I WANT (em)THAT ONE(em).
T: AH, SPECIFIC! SPECIFIC?
S: YEA! THERE! SPECIFIC
T: THINGS IX-PLU GENERAL ... (further explaining)
S: (smiling) ME FEEL #SO GOOD. ME NOT USE FINGERSPELLING. (feeling proud)

This is a wonderful example of the meaning negotiation and a high degree of language acquisition, building and using the language, negotiating meaning and exchanging information. This meaning negotiation is a fertile opportunity for language acquisition. He has an exemplary communicative and strategic competencies - explaining, asking question, figuring out, using strategies.

This type of communicative technique is what students are encouraged to use to develop their communicative competency that includes linguistic competency and strategic competence.

Later, the same student "Sil" at the end of class asked me, HEY, HMM, YOU KNOW WHAT SIGN, OLD INTERGRATE-WITH SMART, YOU? He has another great strategic and communicative competence. I replied, WISE/WISDOM.

More ordinary examples of meaning negotiation are:

BEAUTIFUL OPPOSITE WHAT? I responded UGLY.

Another, one asked "TRAIN/\ CL:1-under CL-surface IX SIGN WHAT?" SUBWAY.

Related posts: cooperative and collaborative learning in ASL class.

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.