Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Don't Sautee Your Hand

In a few (short) weeks, I will be making a short speech in front of a few hundred people.

No problem, there.  I've made similar short speeches in front of similar groups before, and I've survived relatively unscathed.  Particularly when I've practiced in advance.

This time, though, my audience will include some Deaf people, and I thought it would be a nifty idea to sign my speech as well as read it.

Actually, I'll likely have to memorize the damn thing, too.  Because I'm short, our podium is tall, and if I'm standing behind the podium reading my speech, I'll have a very small area in which to sign.

So.  Standing in front of a mic.  No podium.  No note cards.  Without a net, as it were.

This calls for writing the speech in advance and learning to sign it. 

I am not a complete novice at signing. 

I am a partial novice.

I learned to fingerspell when I was about 10.  When I was about 20, I spent a summer working for a deaf boss, and managed to learn a couple hundred signs, mostly out of a book.

Now, nearly 20 (ack) years after that, I am out of practice, and armed with the same book, and a few ASL websites.  (And a QuickTime player that crashes every freakin' time I open one of the websites.)

I am, as it turns out, the very illustration of "a little knowledge being a dangerous thing."

I really thought I could accomplish this without professional assistance.  I thought I could rely on my old knowledge of sign, and look up the stray words that I don't know.

I can tell you the moment I realized I needed help.  It was right when I was trying to look up the sign for the word "passionate."  As in, "I'm passionate about theatre" or something like that.  It wasn't in my book, so I went to the website.  The website gave me a sign.  I knew this sign.  It's a sign I remembered from when I was 10, because they told us not to sign it.  See, the sign for "very happy" is made by repeating the sign for "happy" enthusiastically.  But if you repeat the sign for "hungry" enthusiastically, you're talking about a hunger of a rather different kind.  THAT's the sign they gave me for "passionate."

Yeah.  "I'm horny for theatre."  That'll go over real well.

I poked around on Craig's List and found myself a sign language tutor.  Reasonable rates and she lives in the next city over.  I had my first lesson today.  We made it through the first third of my speech -- she taught me the signs for all the words I didn't know.  And, as an added bonus, corrected me on all the signs I thought I knew, but had wrong.

Instead of "any," I was signing something rather like "sculpture"; for "can" I was signing -- well, nothing in particular, but it was kind of petulant; for "something," I was signing "where," and, yes, for "share," rather than making like I was dividing something up with my hand, I was instead sauteeing it, signing "cook."

And let me be perfectly clear here.  EVERY SINGLE ONE of these wrong signs was EXACTLY the way this stupid book told me to sign them.  (I just checked.)  This is what I get for working from a book written in 1963.  I've been signing these things WRONG for 20 years, and I've got about three weeks to unlearn all of my bad habits.  And stop sauteeing my hand.


rdautumnsage said...

I've been deaf for 3 years now and believe it or not I'm just now starting to learn to sign. (I'm quite capable of reading lips rather well)...I've found this to be the case rather often with signs from books. ASL is the most widely used sign language. Believe it or not there are a few different versions, making it difficult to know the difference and learn without a tutor. I'm delighted your going the extra mile for those individuals who are deaf in the audience. If your still unsure of yourself, perhaps the tutor you have now would be willing to sign for you while you give your speech. At this rate, what's a few extra hours of payment. Although it does sound like you have a handle on things.....(Hugs) Indigo

helmswondermom said...

That is hilarious!
My eldest sister is a speech pathologist and learned to sign many, many years ago.  I picked up a little from her and even now she will sometimes sign something to me from across a room, and I'll have to wrinkle my brow and cudgel my brain to try to figure out either what she's saying or how to answer her (or both).  But I do remember some things.  And I DO know the sign you're speaking of that means a hunger of a different type.  I hope your speech goes well.