Wednesday, January 6, 2010

James' ASL tutor

Marco and I have been really excited about what's happened since James started being tutored in ASL two weeks ago. Although we've only had two sessions of an hour each, we've already noticed many changes, most of them after the very first time. James began to work much harder on the clarity of his signs, and made handshapes and gestures during the class that he'd never made before. James also made a few signs perfectly that he had always adapted before, including "shoes", which he made with two fists for the first time, instead of a fist and an open hand, and "car", for which he made an alternating motion for the first time, instead of both fists going in the same direction. He suddenly began to understand that there was a difference between palm-forward and palm-towards-the-body, too, and began experimenting with that, making the sign for shoes correctly (and, later, incorrectly, with a smile, before switching back), and "rabbit" with the palm facing backwards for the first time. Though James' tutor only concentrated on ten signs (and James knows many hundreds), the effects of really concentrating on these signs seems to have extended to other signs he knows--he's been more careful to make them the way he sees me do them, and is paying more attention to the handshapes I'm making. He's isolating his fingers many things! It's really amazing to me.

As if this weren't enough, he's vocalizing more, especially while signing, and vocalizing to signs he's never made sounds to before, like "m" to "farm", and articulating, though not giving voice, to consonant-vowel-consonant words like "pen". He's also started saying "r" when we talk about the letters of the alphabet. I noticed this during the first lesson, and have been thinking about why he might be doing this more when his tutor is here. His tutor went to both Deaf and oralist schools, and says words for us as he signs them. He's good at this, but the sounds of the words are sometimes simplified. I think this makes it easier for James to try to repeat them. This seems to go along with what Dr. James MacDonald told us to do--to often emphasize sounds when identifying and talking about objects, rather than the whole word. He says this makes us more "possible" communication partners, which is a phrase that makes sense to me. The great thing about working with just a few sounds and signing as well, is that James gets, and repeats, the simplified sounds, and is still communicating completely at the same time with signs.

This has been an unexpected benefit to what was primarily an effort to bolster the language that's worked best for James so far, ASL. I'm very happy that this is both improving his ASL and his speech. Pretty incredible. We're really excited that so little time can improve James' communication so much, and the work certainly carries over to the rest of the week. James signs more in general, and talks about his tutor in his absence, using kind of an odd sign that looks like "daddy", but at the back of his head (maybe the cochlear implant?) to indicate him, and then demonstrating the signs that he emphasized that week. He really loves it when he comes, and brings him all sorts of things for him to identify. About halfway through he gets tired from all the work, :), and his tutor teaches me so I can teach James later. I'm getting a lot of practice fingerspelling, and understanding fingerspelling, which I'm not used to having to do. I know this sounds strange, but I've always loved the feeling of total ignorance I get when I'm trying to get along in a foreign language for the first time. This liking usually fades, as I get frustrated trying to get better, but better mastery (if it ever comes) usually restores the good feeling. :)

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