Hello friends of the SignWriting-list

it is my job day by day to support deaf students on their way to develop
Spoken Language Skills. 

Yes - all my efforts concentrate day by day to enlarge the vocabulary,
grammar, pronounciation of Spoken Language for my deaf students. 

In order to allow them to reach this goal I incorporate Signwriting or
GebaerdenSchrift as we call it here in Germany in my curriculum no matter

I agree with James  that the first step has to be communication. There is no
doubt about that. You have to make sure, that the deaf kids understand the
Signlanguage performance. So we comunicate in Signlanguage. I ask questions
and wait for the students answers. Again and again and again. 

We start ... we always start with the sign names of students and teachers
and important persons of our school life. Just point to a person and sign
his name-sign ... or show a foto of the person and sign the name - sign. 

Once the student understands his own sign name  - it is very easy for him to
accept the written Sign name in SignWriting. It is so much fun every time to
see this process of one-shot learning. Just show to him or to her her
written Signname and she will identify this very important "pictogramm"
within a percentage of a second among hundreds of other pictogramms. 
Pictogramms I call the written sign. Since I do not ask my students for a
long time to write SignWriting but only to understand to read the signs they
do not look at this combination of different symbols as I do as an
experienced scribe. In fact - it is so much fun to just accept that the
students and beginners focus on this or that but catch the idea ob the
meaning that this written symbol stands for. They would not be able to
create such a sign with the SignMaker option in the SignPuddle. This is no
problem at all ... relax!

There is a big difference between reading and writing SignWriting. It took
me such a long time to understand that this writing system is very, very
easy to read but at the same time pretty difficult to write. Adult beginners
get a good chance to develop writing skills within a reasonable time if they
ask constantly for feedback and if an experienced scribe can support them.

No serious teacher would ask a child at the age of 3 to 6 to start to write
SignWriting. I cannot think of this. On the other hand - experience shows
that already my very young son started to read or to understand , to
identify the meaning of  signs written in Signwriting long before he would
have been able to read written German.

At the age of 3 years Gordian was able to read and sign written sentences in
SignWriting/GebaerdenSchrift as long as they were written following the
grammar of Spoken German. 

Well that is exactly what I am looking for if I support  a ten year old deaf
student. I would be happy if this student would be able to write the words
that go along with a sequence of written signs. But this is only the first
step. The ultimate goal should be that he/she understands to express an idea
that is understood in both systems- Sign Language  and Spoken Language. 

I am confronted day by day by day with this difficult situation. While
hearing children just have to learn the facts and ideas of any subject my
deaf students are in the difficult position to learn the contents in a dual
manner. First of all they have to understand the content, the facts ...but
that is not enough. They have to learn the terms of Spoken German as well.
They have to be able to read the texts - written in German. They have to
understand the questions of written tests and to be able to answer the
questions in written German. 

This is not fair since they have to perform way above the level of hearing
children - but this is what life asks them to do. 

With the support of bilingual documents (written in German and signed German
(GebaerdenSchrift as Signed German) they get the chance  to achieve this
level of competence so much better. 

I will always be grateful to Valerie Sutton for this brilliant invention.

Well - reading about this project in Tunesia I asked myself - what are they
going to do. What are their goals? It is strange that there is a scientific
project in the first place and deaf (???) children who deserve the best
support you may think of to achieve literacy will just kind of serve/
volonteer to deliver data to allow a scientist to get his study done? 

Contrary to James I am very eager to combine Spoken Language and Sign
Language as early as possible. 
Once the deaf child understands to communicate a concept, an idea, a
question in Signlanguage I would love to show to him or to her that this
same process can be run in a written form via SignWriting. So I write this
same dialogue in GebaerdenSchrift - very often simple questions and answers.
We read and sign these documents together and share our happyness that
SignWriting allows us to read, to think, to sign, to understand so easily. 

But this is not the end. Next step is to make sure that the students accepts
the task to read and understand the same idea in written Spoken Language. 

In the end it would not matter what kind of document (Sign Language or
Spoken Language) is shown and understood. 

In former times when there has not been the option to offer SignWriting
documents deaf students had been confronted only with documents written in
Spoken Language. The students had to copy these documents but it took them
so tremendously long to develop a higher level of competence to read and

On January 6th 2014 a new deaf student from Rumania will start in our class
at the age of 14.. So far as I know he will have to start  from scratch. He
has to learn everything - our way of fingerspelling, our way of writing,
German Sign Languag signs, German words... 

I do have a lot of experience in this field. This time I will try to
document his progress every day and it is so amazing again and again and
again that if there are not several other handicaps at the same time deaf
students from everywhere understand to communicate in Sign Language so
quickly. They read the first SignWriting documents the very first day - with
a big smile in their faces. They understand questions and answers and start
the process to develop Spoken Language skills.

Regarding this project in Tunisia I would offer to contact me via Skype.
Maybe I can explain in a face to face situation much better what would be a
a promising approach.
At any rate I would not teach single symbols, the meaning of arrows or other
SignWriting issues. I would simply start on the basis of "Pictograms" as I
explained before. 

Starting with a piece of paper showing the name of a student - you can sign
his name-sign and put it in front of this student on the floor. Same with
all the other students and teacher of this group. Now take all the sheets
away, mix them up and ask a student to find the correct match of a student
and his written sign-name. 

Same matching - game with numbers, colors, animals, ... 

Reading stories in SignWriting is a wonderfull thing as long as students get
the chance to translate these stories in a correct way into Spoken Language.

Wow ... a long statement ..hope you got the time to read it till the end. -

All best 


-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: SignWriting List: Read and Write Sign Languages
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] Im Auftrag von Valerie Sutton
Gesendet: Samstag, 21. Dezember 2013 23:17
An: [log in to unmask]
Betreff: Re: Teaching Signwriting to deaf children in Tunisia A PROPOSAL FOR

SignWriting List
December 21, 2013

Hello James, Dali, and everyone who teaches SignWriting around the world…and
there are many people who do now… and each country, and each teacher,
teaches differently and uses different materials… I hope to post these
materials on the web for download...

Thank you for this email, James, and I agree that the materials you describe
below sound excellent and are needed - and thank you also for the books and
literature you have written in Nicaraguan Sign Language already, in
SignWriting…I have barely been able to keep up with posting all the
documents - There are sooooo many documents that have been sent to me
privately that have not yet been posted on our web site, it is a true
shame…So I will try to rectify this in 2014 if I can… Maybe if I can keep up
my strength we will have more and more materials posted in 2014 -

Regarding Tunisia, I just want to explain that we are all blessed with
Professor Mohamed Dali Balti, who is diligently translating some of our
books and materials into Tunisian Sign Language and Arabic and French - the
languages of Tunisia. There are two such books that Dali has just sent to me
in the past two weeks…one a textbook on SignWriting Hand Symbols used in
Tunisian Sign Language, based on Adam Frost’s work, and the other is a
beautiful translation of our Beginner’s Workbook in SignWriting…the
Goldilocks coloring book…that we use in the SignWriting Literacy Project.

Both books are large enough that I think I need to post them on our web site
first, and then write again with the links to download the books, rather
than post them directly here on the List. Also, Dali has written other
children’s stories in SignWriting in Tunisian Sign Language, and I believe
one of them is Little Red Riding Hood, which you mention, James below…. so
Tunisia is one country that is moving towards your goals, James -

I will write again with the links to the Tunisian documents -

And there is now a book from Slovenia - Slovenia is also teaching
SignWriting to Deaf children - more on that too -

Val ;-)


On Dec 21, 2013, at 9:15 AM, James Shepard-Kegl <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Fellow Signwriters, educators, linguists and signers,
> I continue to mull over the request for materials for the little Tunisian
project.  I am ignoring the notion that SignWriting will help Deaf children
with sounds (?????) or their "mother tongue"  (unless their mother is Deaf
and signs and this means their "mother hand").
> However, the request for materials to teach SignWriting is a valid request
IF the request is really to teach signing, using SignWriting as an
orthographic tool (which is what SW actually is.)  I am sure that many of us
have been developing such materials in one form or another for years.  Maybe
we could pool resources and efforts to produce something that many people
will find truly useful.
> Let's begin with a premise:  Signed languages tend to be grammatically
similar (not the same, but not all that different, either.)  Vocabulary
varies a lot, but all signed languages use classifiers and classifier
clitics a great deal.  All these languages follow syntax rules using spatial
and locative verbs.  This is the reason that natively fluent Deaf signers in
one country pick up other signed languages so quickly, even when these
signers themselves cannot articulate their own grammar rules.  (You don't
have to know what a "predicate" is to use one properly in your sentence
structure for your own language.  On the other hand, it is very useful to
know grammar labels and rules when you are trying to learn the language of
somebody else.)
> I keep making a big deal that you can't teach SignWriting unless you have
developed reading material that is FUN to read.  But, what I mean is that
you want fun and engaging reading material to help teach signing -- and not
just to Deaf children, but to their hearing siblings and
parents/grandparents, as well.
> I am picturing in my mind a text, divided into sections:
> 1) A RULES section that explains in detail the common grammar terms of
signed languages.  This section would use illustrations from many signed
languages.  And, this section would be translated into many spoken
languages.  (That is, there would be an English version, a French version,
an Arabic version, and so forth.  The educator then purchases or is
furnished with the specified version.)  You will note that this section is
intended for literate educators.  An ASL version, or translation in other
signed languages, would be really cool, too.  Publishing something that will
be understandable and helpful will not be easy.  However, please bear in
mind that the reason that most hearing administrators do not accept that
signed languages are bona fide languages (and the reason that so many Deaf
people don't believe it either is that publications like this are rare.)
> 2)  A VOCABULARY section -- perhaps 1,000 signs -- again, specify the
signed language you want.  Each sign is depicted in photos or diagrams,
SignWriting, and "the mother tongue".  A cute illustration would be nice,
> 3)  A SIGNWRITING WORKBOOK to accompany the vocabulary section.
> 4)  A READING section:  20 illustrated children's stories, to be practiced
and enjoyed by all.  If you produce a simple illustrated version of Little
Red Riding Hood in German, it does not take a lot of effort to reproduce the
same story in English.  This should be even more true for signed languages.
> This concept will take a lot of work -- several years, I expect.  But, in
the end, when someone somewhere asks for materials to teach SignWriting, we
will have something really impressive, fun and useful to offer.
> -- James
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