Teaching Signwriting to deaf children in Tunisia A PROPOSAL FOR ALL

Valerie Sutton signwriting at MAC.COM
Sun Dec 22 17:31:05 UTC 2013

SignWriting List
December 22, 2013

Hello Stefan!
What a brilliant teacher you are … Your Deaf students are so fortunate to have you as their teacher. I appreciate your detailed description in your message below, explaining how you teach your Deaf students. I don’t believe most people realize that the Osnabruck School for the Deaf, where you teach, mostly is an oral school, isn’t that true? At least that is what I understood, and I believe that you are one of a few teachers who use sign language at the school... Because of your amazing use of sign language, SignWriting, and your development of Mundbildschrift, which uses Facial Expressions to teach the movements of the mouth while speaking, which in turn has helped Deaf children to learn to speak (and this is documented), you have been able to give your Deaf students a truly deep education that not even all hearing child receive in this complicated world of ours - The personal attention you give to your students is remarkable, and they are lucky to have you as their teacher.

There are many photos of your students from a decade ago, using SignWriting on the blackboard, posted on our SignWriting web site:

Classroom Photo Gallery starts here and continues for many web pages…

and there are tons of other photos on the web showing how your students work. I happen to love this photo, showing how SignWriting is used to teach students to read and write spoken languages...

above photo posted here:

The above web page is the first message you posted to the SignWriting List in 1999!

And the SignWriting work you have done since then is absolutely mind boggling - Really Stefan, hats off to you, that you have been able to accomplish so much with your Deaf students…and your work has also greatly helped the SignWriting system spread around the world.

There is a video that Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway briefly showed me last summer, of your students writing so fluently in SignWriting …I do not know if you or Erika can give me permission to see that privately, or even post it publicly, but whatever we can do, I would like to see that video - It just stunned me and I love to see your amazing students write so fluently!

So thank you for all you are doing everyday and please know that it means a great deal to everyone that we keep documenting your work -

Thank you also for encouraging the DELEGS team - it is wonderful to have coordinating software with SignPuddle Online…

And thank you for your animated SignWriting…Recently I received a private email from someone who loves the animation you created on this web page:


Your animation also is here:


And thank you for offering to Skype with Tunisia, and I hope that happens - and I would love to Skype with you too, Stefan - It is Christmas time and we used to share Christmas or Holiday cards written in SignWriting…shall I show the List the old cards? or do you have some that are new?


Happy Holidays to you and your students!

Val ;-)


On Dec 21, 2013, at 6:10 PM, Stefan Woehrmann <stefanwoehrmann at gebaerdenschrift.de> wrote:

> Hello friends of the SignWriting-list
> it is my job day by day to support deaf students on their way to develop
> Spoken Language Skills. 
> Yes - all my efforts concentrate day by day to enlarge the vocabulary,
> grammar, pronounciation of Spoken Language for my deaf students. 
> In order to allow them to reach this goal I incorporate Signwriting or
> GebaerdenSchrift as we call it here in Germany in my curriculum no matter
> what. 
> I agree with James  that the first step has to be communication. There is no
> doubt about that. You have to make sure, that the deaf kids understand the
> Signlanguage performance. So we comunicate in Signlanguage. I ask questions
> and wait for the students answers. Again and again and again. 
> We start ... we always start with the sign names of students and teachers
> and important persons of our school life. Just point to a person and sign
> his name-sign ... or show a foto of the person and sign the name - sign. 
> Once the student understands his own sign name  - it is very easy for him to
> accept the written Sign name in SignWriting. It is so much fun every time to
> see this process of one-shot learning. Just show to him or to her her
> written Signname and she will identify this very important "pictogramm"
> within a percentage of a second among hundreds of other pictogramms. 
> Pictogramms I call the written sign. Since I do not ask my students for a
> long time to write SignWriting but only to understand to read the signs they
> do not look at this combination of different symbols as I do as an
> experienced scribe. In fact - it is so much fun to just accept that the
> students and beginners focus on this or that but catch the idea ob the
> meaning that this written symbol stands for. They would not be able to
> create such a sign with the SignMaker option in the SignPuddle. This is no
> problem at all ... relax!
> There is a big difference between reading and writing SignWriting. It took
> me such a long time to understand that this writing system is very, very
> easy to read but at the same time pretty difficult to write. Adult beginners
> get a good chance to develop writing skills within a reasonable time if they
> ask constantly for feedback and if an experienced scribe can support them.
> No serious teacher would ask a child at the age of 3 to 6 to start to write
> SignWriting. I cannot think of this. On the other hand - experience shows
> that already my very young son started to read or to understand , to
> identify the meaning of  signs written in Signwriting long before he would
> have been able to read written German.
> At the age of 3 years Gordian was able to read and sign written sentences in
> SignWriting/GebaerdenSchrift as long as they were written following the
> grammar of Spoken German. 
> Well that is exactly what I am looking for if I support  a ten year old deaf
> student. I would be happy if this student would be able to write the words
> that go along with a sequence of written signs. But this is only the first
> step. The ultimate goal should be that he/she understands to express an idea
> that is understood in both systems- Sign Language  and Spoken Language. 
> I am confronted day by day by day with this difficult situation. While
> hearing children just have to learn the facts and ideas of any subject my
> deaf students are in the difficult position to learn the contents in a dual
> manner. First of all they have to understand the content, the facts ...but
> that is not enough. They have to learn the terms of Spoken German as well.
> They have to be able to read the texts - written in German. They have to
> understand the questions of written tests and to be able to answer the
> questions in written German. 
> This is not fair since they have to perform way above the level of hearing
> children - but this is what life asks them to do. 
> With the support of bilingual documents (written in German and signed German
> (GebaerdenSchrift as Signed German) they get the chance  to achieve this
> level of competence so much better. 
> I will always be grateful to Valerie Sutton for this brilliant invention.
> Well - reading about this project in Tunesia I asked myself - what are they
> going to do. What are their goals? It is strange that there is a scientific
> project in the first place and deaf (???) children who deserve the best
> support you may think of to achieve literacy will just kind of serve/
> volonteer to deliver data to allow a scientist to get his study done? 
> Contrary to James I am very eager to combine Spoken Language and Sign
> Language as early as possible. 
> Once the deaf child understands to communicate a concept, an idea, a
> question in Signlanguage I would love to show to him or to her that this
> same process can be run in a written form via SignWriting. So I write this
> same dialogue in GebaerdenSchrift - very often simple questions and answers.
> We read and sign these documents together and share our happyness that
> SignWriting allows us to read, to think, to sign, to understand so easily. 
> But this is not the end. Next step is to make sure that the students accepts
> the task to read and understand the same idea in written Spoken Language. 
> In the end it would not matter what kind of document (Sign Language or
> Spoken Language) is shown and understood. 
> In former times when there has not been the option to offer SignWriting
> documents deaf students had been confronted only with documents written in
> Spoken Language. The students had to copy these documents but it took them
> so tremendously long to develop a higher level of competence to read and
> write. 
> On January 6th 2014 a new deaf student from Rumania will start in our class
> at the age of 14.. So far as I know he will have to start  from scratch. He
> has to learn everything - our way of fingerspelling, our way of writing,
> German Sign Languag signs, German words... 
> I do have a lot of experience in this field. This time I will try to
> document his progress every day and it is so amazing again and again and
> again that if there are not several other handicaps at the same time deaf
> students from everywhere understand to communicate in Sign Language so
> quickly. They read the first SignWriting documents the very first day - with
> a big smile in their faces. They understand questions and answers and start
> the process to develop Spoken Language skills.
> Regarding this project in Tunisia I would offer to contact me via Skype.
> Maybe I can explain in a face to face situation much better what would be a
> a promising approach.
> At any rate I would not teach single symbols, the meaning of arrows or other
> SignWriting issues. I would simply start on the basis of "Pictograms" as I
> explained before. 
> Starting with a piece of paper showing the name of a student - you can sign
> his name-sign and put it in front of this student on the floor. Same with
> all the other students and teacher of this group. Now take all the sheets
> away, mix them up and ask a student to find the correct match of a student
> and his written sign-name. 
> Same matching - game with numbers, colors, animals, ... 
> Reading stories in SignWriting is a wonderfull thing as long as students get
> the chance to translate these stories in a correct way into Spoken Language.
> ...
> Wow ... a long statement ..hope you got the time to read it till the end. -
> smile 
> All best 
> Stefan 
> -----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
> Von: SignWriting List: Read and Write Sign Languages
> [mailto:SW-L at LISTSERV.VALENCIACOLLEGE.EDU] Im Auftrag von Valerie Sutton
> Gesendet: Samstag, 21. Dezember 2013 23:17
> Betreff: Re: Teaching Signwriting to deaf children in Tunisia A PROPOSAL FOR
> SignWriting List
> December 21, 2013
> Hello James, Dali, and everyone who teaches SignWriting around the world…and
> there are many people who do now… and each country, and each teacher,
> teaches differently and uses different materials… I hope to post these
> materials on the web for download...
> Thank you for this email, James, and I agree that the materials you describe
> below sound excellent and are needed - and thank you also for the books and
> literature you have written in Nicaraguan Sign Language already, in
> SignWriting…I have barely been able to keep up with posting all the
> documents - There are sooooo many documents that have been sent to me
> privately that have not yet been posted on our web site, it is a true
> shame…So I will try to rectify this in 2014 if I can… Maybe if I can keep up
> my strength we will have more and more materials posted in 2014 -
> Regarding Tunisia, I just want to explain that we are all blessed with
> Professor Mohamed Dali Balti, who is diligently translating some of our
> books and materials into Tunisian Sign Language and Arabic and French - the
> languages of Tunisia. There are two such books that Dali has just sent to me
> in the past two weeks…one a textbook on SignWriting Hand Symbols used in
> Tunisian Sign Language, based on Adam Frost’s work, and the other is a
> beautiful translation of our Beginner’s Workbook in SignWriting…the
> Goldilocks coloring book…that we use in the SignWriting Literacy Project.
> Both books are large enough that I think I need to post them on our web site
> first, and then write again with the links to download the books, rather
> than post them directly here on the List. Also, Dali has written other
> children’s stories in SignWriting in Tunisian Sign Language, and I believe
> one of them is Little Red Riding Hood, which you mention, James below…. so
> Tunisia is one country that is moving towards your goals, James -
> I will write again with the links to the Tunisian documents -
> And there is now a book from Slovenia - Slovenia is also teaching
> SignWriting to Deaf children - more on that too -
> Val ;-)
> ---------
> On Dec 21, 2013, at 9:15 AM, James Shepard-Kegl <kegl at maine.rr.com> wrote:
>> Fellow Signwriters, educators, linguists and signers,
>> I continue to mull over the request for materials for the little Tunisian
> project.  I am ignoring the notion that SignWriting will help Deaf children
> with sounds (?????) or their "mother tongue"  (unless their mother is Deaf
> and signs and this means their "mother hand").
>> However, the request for materials to teach SignWriting is a valid request
> IF the request is really to teach signing, using SignWriting as an
> orthographic tool (which is what SW actually is.)  I am sure that many of us
> have been developing such materials in one form or another for years.  Maybe
> we could pool resources and efforts to produce something that many people
> will find truly useful.
>> Let's begin with a premise:  Signed languages tend to be grammatically
> similar (not the same, but not all that different, either.)  Vocabulary
> varies a lot, but all signed languages use classifiers and classifier
> clitics a great deal.  All these languages follow syntax rules using spatial
> and locative verbs.  This is the reason that natively fluent Deaf signers in
> one country pick up other signed languages so quickly, even when these
> signers themselves cannot articulate their own grammar rules.  (You don't
> have to know what a "predicate" is to use one properly in your sentence
> structure for your own language.  On the other hand, it is very useful to
> know grammar labels and rules when you are trying to learn the language of
> somebody else.)
>> I keep making a big deal that you can't teach SignWriting unless you have
> developed reading material that is FUN to read.  But, what I mean is that
> you want fun and engaging reading material to help teach signing -- and not
> just to Deaf children, but to their hearing siblings and
> parents/grandparents, as well.
>> I am picturing in my mind a text, divided into sections:
>> 1) A RULES section that explains in detail the common grammar terms of
> signed languages.  This section would use illustrations from many signed
> languages.  And, this section would be translated into many spoken
> languages.  (That is, there would be an English version, a French version,
> an Arabic version, and so forth.  The educator then purchases or is
> furnished with the specified version.)  You will note that this section is
> intended for literate educators.  An ASL version, or translation in other
> signed languages, would be really cool, too.  Publishing something that will
> be understandable and helpful will not be easy.  However, please bear in
> mind that the reason that most hearing administrators do not accept that
> signed languages are bona fide languages (and the reason that so many Deaf
> people don't believe it either is that publications like this are rare.)
>> 2)  A VOCABULARY section -- perhaps 1,000 signs -- again, specify the
> signed language you want.  Each sign is depicted in photos or diagrams,
> SignWriting, and "the mother tongue".  A cute illustration would be nice,
> too.
>> 3)  A SIGNWRITING WORKBOOK to accompany the vocabulary section.
>> 4)  A READING section:  20 illustrated children's stories, to be practiced
> and enjoyed by all.  If you produce a simple illustrated version of Little
> Red Riding Hood in German, it does not take a lot of effort to reproduce the
> same story in English.  This should be even more true for signed languages.
>> This concept will take a lot of work -- several years, I expect.  But, in
> the end, when someone somewhere asks for materials to teach SignWriting, we
> will have something really impressive, fun and useful to offer.
>> -- James
>> ________________________________________________
>> Valerie Sutton
>> SignWriting List moderator
>> sutton at signwriting.org
>> Post Messages to the SignWriting List:
>> sw-l at listserv.valenciacollege.edu
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>> http://www.signwriting.org/forums/swlist
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> ________________________________________________
> Valerie Sutton
> SignWriting List moderator
> sutton at signwriting.org
> Post Messages to the SignWriting List:
> sw-l at listserv.valenciacollege.edu
> SignWriting List Archives & Home Page
> http://www.signwriting.org/forums/swlist
> Join, Leave or Change How You Receive SW List Messages
> http://listserv.valenciacollege.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=SW-L&A=1
> ________________________________________________
> Valerie Sutton
> SignWriting List moderator
> sutton at signwriting.org
> Post Messages to the SignWriting List:
> sw-l at listserv.valenciacollege.edu
> SignWriting List Archives & Home Page
> http://www.signwriting.org/forums/swlist
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Valerie Sutton
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sutton at signwriting.org

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