Signing Signed English: A Basic Guide by Harry Bornstein and Karen Sauliner

Learning to sign can be a daunting task, especially when it is something a person feels they needs to do, rather than something they want to do. Let’s face it, Learning a new language, can be difficult for anyone. It means learning a new vocabulary and and often a new grammar. Usually learning a new language means dealing with the same skills /senses, your first language uses, hearing and speaking. Learning to sign however, involves an often totally new set of skills, watching and hand movements. All of these things together can be very frustrating.

“Signing, Signed English: a Basic Guide” by Harry Bornstein and Karen Sauliner, removes some of those frustrations immediately. Instead of learning a new language as you must with ASL, and a new grammar you get to learn a new vocabulary of hand signs for basic English words and keep your English grammar skills ! For the Late deafened adult and the hearing signer, this can make the process of learning to sign MUCH less frustrating and much quicker !

Originally published as “The Signed English Starter”, this book starts off by showing you the “American manual alphabet” commonly called “fingerspelling”. It then explains the 14 “markers” signs which make Signed Exact English so much easier to learn for those whose native language is English. The markers are repeated throughout various chapters of the book, so that you don’t’ forget them, and don’t have to learn them all at once. It then moves on to name signs and numbers, using clear pictures and excellent directions.

Unlike many signing books, the first chapter is on people and includes pronouns. Frustrated learners of ASL, will appreciate this, because often the first things people want to say naturally include pronouns, and the SEE pronouns are more specific than those in ASL. Other chapters include: things, special verbs and function words, the body. Chapters are arranged conceptually and each has an exercise at the end.

The book contains only 900 words, and I admit I was leary of buying that for just that reason. In the past when buying language books, I’ve always gone for the ones with the most words, not wanting to go from a vocabulary of hundreds of thousands of words to one of under 1000. After collecting many sign language books and still being unable to sign. I must say that this book makes up for the number of words in it’s ability to teach the words the authors have chosen. The words are well chosen, and beginners will quickly find them selves able to sign not only entire sentences, but entire paragraphs and conversations !

Readers should note that this a a book which teaches Signed Exact English and not American Sign Langauge. ASL is a different language completely, and if you want to learn it, you’ll have to get a book that teaches it. While many of the signs of SEE are based or borrowed from ASL, many are entirely different and there are many more signs to learn. This may seem a dis-advantage at first, but actually makes SEE much easier to learn, since you can think “What did she buy yesterday?” and sign “What did she buy yesterday” rather than having to re-think your grammar and sign “She brought yesterday, what?” as one often has to do in ASL.

The only down point I have found with this book so far, is that the paper back manufacturers seem to have forgotten that signing requires BOTH hands. The paper back version simply refuses to lie flat, making it difficult to practice while you read. Rubber-bands and book holders may solve this problem, but I have found it best to work on only a page a day, and keep a list on notebook paper of what I need to practice.

Other than not lying flat, this is an excellent value with a cover price of only 12.00. For the measley price of 12 usd, a person who needs to learn to sign, or needs family and friends to, can have a working basic vocabulary, quickly and fairly painlessly. It’s a 12.00 book, but the ability to communicate is priceless.

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