AW: [sw-l] Teaching children signwriting?

Stefan Wöhrmann stefanwoehrmann at GOOGLEMAIL.COM
Sun Apr 27 17:06:05 UTC 2008

Hello Carl, and sw-list members, ... 

fom time to time we discuss this question: How long does it take for
children to learn SignWriting?  How difficult to learn is the system? How
many people are able to read and write SW? .... 

>>From my point of view - you cannot answer that question within two minutes -
smile - 

First of all  - it seems to be important to understand that there is a
variety of different factors involved that will lead to a different outcome:

age of children ( I started with my son 2 1/2 years, and I am working now
with children from almost 4 years old till 18 years old) 
signlanguage - competence -  (
deaf - hearing - 

- the amount of time you allow or ask for reading and writing practice
- the idea (focus) of the curriculum 
- the feedback of important people to the child ( parents, teachers,
friends) and what they think about the advantage of being able to read and
write SL, 
- the reason - why should he or she become SW-competent? (pressure or
intrinsic motivation) 

well and now we need some kind of criteria in order to measure the level of
achievement - kind of "SW - Reading - Test"  and "SW- Writing - Test" 

Well I am interested to develop such a thing. 

What is meant by "how long does it take ..."  

to identify some flashcards will be possible within minutes !  smile - 

To be able to write the same signs by hand following the rules -- oh boy -
you better don't ask! (It will take months!) 

To be able to create new dicitonary entries in the good old SW Dos Programm
SignWriter 4.4.  or in the new SignPuddle -- well you will not ask four year
old kids - 

today probably no western school would allow any teacher to focus on
SignLanguage and SignWriting in the first few months/years of school. 

So as a teacher you are faced with some kind of pressure to favor the ABC
-Writing of the spoken Language and to neglect SignWriting. 

So I have my doubts that SignWriting can be learned as fast as Writing a
spoken language under these conditions. 

My best guess would be that Shepherd Kegl is the only one in the world who
probably got the chance to focus on SignWriting with no pressur to write the
ABC of the spoken language -- but we have to ask him. If so - he should be
able to tell us, how fluent deaf students in Nicaragua had been able to
express their ideas in handwritten SW-documents of several pages (!!!) so
that this could be compared to what is expected from hearing children
writing a short story.... 

My students are able to write many, many sentences in GebaerdenSchrift in a
short time, but they are lucky to use the dictionary with almost 10.000
entries. If they are in need to write a new sign from scratch it is not easy
at all! 

My conclusion would be that already very young children are able to identify
simple flashcard - signs ( names, animals, numbers, colors) 
(But it is so interesting to see that they would identify the same
flashcards even if you change the spelling and violate some writing rules

They will not be able to write these signs on their own for a long period of

Children at the age of 11 should be abe to follow the instructions of a SW-
writing curriculum. Nevertheles they need a competent instructor, lot of
feed back and many hours of pratice to improve their writing competence. (To
analyze the various parameters of any given sign and to choose the adequate
symbols in order to express what they want to describe seems to be a
difficult task.) 

SignWriting is a very robust notation system - it is funny and amazing to
see that you can understand the message of a beginner, if he violates
several rules - and if he/she is not interested in any feedback he/she will
not even know about all the mistakes.  

OK enough for now. 

Thanks for your input -- and I will try to work on some kind of test in
order to estimate the level of competence in reading and writing. 

All the best 

Stefan ;-) 

-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: sw-l-bounces at
[mailto:sw-l-bounces at] Im Auftrag von Carl Jones
Gesendet: Samstag, 26. April 2008 09:23
An: sw-l at
Betreff: [sw-l] Teaching children signwriting?

Hi all,
First off thanks to the people who sent me the URL to the Bible in ASL

I was wondering if anyone has taught their children signwriting to
with sign language, if the kid is d/Deaf, hard of hearing or just
hearing, doesn't matter.

How long did it take them to learn if so?

Before I forget, how long would you say it takes someone to become
'fluent' or 'adept' at SignWriting? Someone asked me two days ago and
I said, "Umm.. I dunno".  Wish I could've given a better answer. :)

Carl :-)


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