Deaf Culture



English vs. American Sign Language (ASL)

When a deaf individual is born into a visual world he tends to be left out of all daily routine conversations. Therefore he has limited understanding of spoken jokes, poems, plays on words, and innuendos. Interpreting is paraphrasing and such jargon is made clear by intent of a message instead of word-by-word account. Time does not allow to an interpreter to "teach" jargon, therefore most deaf people are unaware of simple sayings such as, "Sue is really on the ball today." That would usually be interpreted as, "Sue is really doing a great job today or working hard!"

Vocabulary is chosen by the intent of the message, and often an interpreter will wait until the message is clear before he begins interpreting. Interpreters are provided ONLY for interpreting. Teaching jargon and such is up to teachers, family members and friends. Some jargon is understood and the deaf community has various forms of jargon of its own. It is most important for instructors to know that due to the language barriers and the interpreter's responsibility to sign spoken English into a visual language of ASL, word by word verbatim will vary with your deaf students. Even the most talented interpreters are still challenged to transmit the point of the speaker. Please be aware of this interpreting procedure and look for a breakdown of communication between you and the deaf student. If your English words were signed verbatim then the intent would surely be lost, and the deaf student would be most confused!

Deaf and hard of hearing people vary in their abilities with the spoken language. Hard of hearing students may tend to more fluent with English, however, the more a person is submerged into a deaf environment, the more he tends to struggle in the English language, and you will notice his written language is set up similarly to students who study "English as a second language."

Being deaf has its advantages and disadvantages. Deaf individuals are usually very intuitive when it comes to reading expressions or body language. However they tend to be naive in common situations. Should a deaf individual have been mainstreamed in hearing classes, he tends to be more understanding of hearing culture as opposed to those who have been submerged in a totally deaf environment, which results in the latter having the tendency to be very strong in deaf culture.

The culture of deafness is a very real thing; based on an individual having to learn to depend on visual communications. We also witness cultural differences. Most hearing people think: Since this person is born in the USA he must be of our culture. One common misunderstanding is that deaf people are strong readers. On the contrary, the more immersed in deaf culture they are the more they use ASL. ASL is a visual language that interprets thought into a form of English from gestures, signs, and motions. When telling stories or conveying ideas, there is little need for connective words. Suffixes and prefixes are interpreted through motion and expression. Therefore attempting to take a visual thought and put it in writing becomes an enormous struggle for the deaf. Exceptions to the rule depend on whether a student is hard of hearing with good basics in English or if the deaf student was raised to use oral, spoken language.

Deaf Culture: As US citizens we are known as being the melting pot with a vast array of cultures we come in contact with daily. However, we never consider the American born deaf of long time generations of citizenship to have a culture of their own. It is all so true; deaf people tend to communicate, socialize and rationalize much differently than the average citizen. There are so many reasons for this and hopefully we can enlighten you to some of the reasons. One such reason is that a deaf person may be the only deaf in a hearing family.

Contrary to today's technology, in the past deafness was often overlooked -- sometimes for years. The deaf child would be intelligent, but unaware he had a disability. He would of course respond to expressions, until finally the deafness was discovered. Even today, when his disability is discovered, the family must learn sign language, and often only minimal signs will be used. Casual conversations are rarely interpreted to the deaf family member due to the family's signing limitations. Such events as deaths of family members are rarely brought to the attention of the deaf family member.

Basically, to lessen the confusion of interpreting all things to the deaf family member. often the hearing family members become accustomed to making decisions for the deaf, and common information is not conveyed to the deaf person. Later this can result in conflict when the deaf individual learns that well-intended family members acted without his or her complete understanding and approval in major decisions.

Then in some situations, the deaf child will submit to this practice due to trusting the hearing family members to act on his behalf. He often has conversations minimized and therefore tends to be blunt. We may tend to soften our comments in hopes not to offend where a deaf person may bluntly say anything in public. These comments are never intended to offend; it is just the deaf person being upfront and honest, and this is all he knows. The deaf are often unaware of common knowledge, situations and definitions. The highest of IQ's may appear naïve in some situations due to much information lost in daily conversations that surround the hearing. Nationally, educators struggle to find a resolution to help deaf people excel in English vs. ASL. The hearing can easily be distracted in conversations by the call of their name or environmental noises that surround them. The deaf individual tends not to break eye contact when enmeshed in conversations, unless an emergency occurs.

Trusting those who can hear is a problematical factor with the deaf. This is due to rampant miscommunication: what is thought to be agreed upon through writing notes or gestures or not using a professional interpreter creates future havoc between the deaf and hearing. This is another reason the interpreter must keep all learned information confidential. If the interpreter leaves the deaf person to step outside, obviously to discuss the deaf consumer, this action can create a backlash on the interpreter, and is therefore highly discouraged. Keep in mind that the deaf person may blurt out obscenities and the interpreter is expected to voice to the intent of what is being said. Consequences will be left up to the leadership of the class or assignment. In addition the role of the interpreter is to sign to the deaf all spoken conversations, even if it is inappropriate.


We hope this information helps you to better understand the interpreter's role, sign language vs. English and deaf culture. We trust this will be a rewarding experience for you and your deaf student. We realize that the interpreter attracts the attention of your hearing students, however such fascinations will be short lived.

Please feel free to contact our offices at any time; we are here to help you to make your experience with your deaf student a pleasurable one. Our office hours are from 9-5 Monday through Friday and can be reached after hours through our answering service. Our number is 254-745-SIGN (7446).


Sign of the Times

254.756.SIGN (7446)
100 N 6th St, Ste 503
Waco, TX 76701
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