Giving the actual dimensions of the ESL ASL bridge

I just finished reading LeAnn Nash's article, "ESL in a Different Light: Can You Hear Me Now?," in WLN 32.9. I enjoyed the article and think if offers some useful points and insights, but I feel that she did not go quite far enough on one point: ASL may directly translate to Standard American English, but the words do not always mean the same things.

By this I mean that an ASL sentence can be translated directly to a SAE sentence, but that the exact words do not have the same meanings. For example, I worked with a Deaf student a few months ago. We did not have an interpretor for the first meeting, so we worked on the computer, each typing questions and answers. I thought the session went well. However, for the next appointment we did have an interpretor and when I started to work with through the interpretor, the paper took a different direction. The interpretor understood that some words mean different things in ASL, but the words are written and use exactly like SAE words. For example, the writer used the word 'building.' I envisioned one of the buildings on campus and worked with him to revise his paragraph following that idea. But when the interpretor translated for me, the writer did not mean 'building' in the way I was thinking, but rather the organization that was housed within the building. After that was translated, the entire paper made far more sense and I was able to help the writer better.

I agree that we need to understand that working with Deaf writers is difficult and different, but I think it is also important that we understand that the words may be the same, they do not mean the same things.


  1. Zach-I wonder how many words do not mean the same things in ASL. Could the 'building' example be one of only a few? If so, that may be a minor roadblock, as certain words have different meanings in different regions of the country. If a large percentage of ASL doesn't translate to spoken or written English then I think you're definitely right, and it should get some academic attention.

  2. Anonymous8:59 AM

    I haven't seen Nash's article yet, but it sounds interesting.

    Some of the grammatical structures in ASL don't translate either, for instance the lack of pronouns in ASL. There is a great article by Margaret Weaver, called "Transcending Conversing," which I would definitely recommend. It does a great job at looking at ASL/ESL concerns from a tutor's perspective.


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