Negotiating meaning in sign language class

As you get more comfortable with asking a simple question "what is the sign for [a fingerspelled English word]". Now you want to improve your communicative competency even with ASL basics. An approach is to negotiate a meaning.

Contextual meanings

If it's a straightforward meaning such as "cat", "silver", etc., I'd show the signed word. But, often I'd remind them for a contextual sentence when they ask for a sign for such multiple-meaning 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?

Various simple strategies

Or, if a concept is easy to describe, I'd encourage the students to describe, use "opposite", or one of some other strategies rather than lazy fingerspelling. I'd pretend, "FINGERSPELLED-WORD IX\/ MEAN WHAT" or "IX-me NOT-KNOW MEANING" with an intonation to let the student that I do actually know the word but pretend not to know. The student then uses one of the strategies such as an opposite (DOG OPPOSITE SIGN WHAT\/).

More examples of "what sign for" are:

BEAUTIFUL OPPOSITE WHAT? I responded UGLY.

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

Negotating meanings

The following exemplary scenario of a highly motivated student "Sil" demonstrates how meaning negotiation is used.

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 (introducing a new word using the opposite of SPECIFIC to expose him to more vocabulary) ... (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, learning more vocabulary, 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, and 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.

If he were asking "fs-SPECIFIC IX SIGN WHAT". Then I'd show the sign (maybe along with a sentence). That was it. Imagine the opportunity he might miss out if it weren't for the meaning negotation along an opportunity of using language, critical thinking, and a number of other benefits.

Later, the same student "Sil" at the end of other class asked me, HEY, HMM, YOU KNOW WHAT SIGN, OLD INTERGRATE-with SMART, YOU? He has another great strategic and creative solution. I replied, WISE/WISDOM with an elaboration to make sure he got what he expected. He replied, YES, THANK YOU and left the classroom.

Related posts

How students can do cooperative and collaborative learning in ASL class.

Practice no voice policy in ASL classroom.

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