When I meet parents who are learning to sign I notice often they avoid finger spelling. I know that it is hard to learn and the receptive side can be taxing on the eyes but I would encourage folks to jump in and try. There are so many times where spelling is necessary. I don't mean spelling out whole concepts but there are so many things that need to be spelled. Serious if I, the worlds worst speller with the attention span of a rabid ferret, can do it so can you.
One of my son's first words was Elmo. He was about 12 months old and loved the little red monster. We didn't know a sign for Elmo and didn't want a home sign that wouldn't be understood by others so we would spell it. We were also nervous that if we made up a home sign we would find out it meant something else. I will leave it to your imagination the mistake we made with milkshake.
First he would sign a shape of the word, small closed hand shape, splayed fingers extended then closed handshape. Try it, first spell Elmo. Now do what my son did. See how the shape of the word is there? Over time he was able to spell Elmo. Before he could recite his alphabet he could finger spell several words.
I am not the type of person to just sit down and practice spelling. I am a lousy speller, yes I know this is a shock, so that is close to slow torture for me. I found ways to just add it to daily tasks.
So when learning to receive a word I would often look at the shape it made. Take a word like carrot. It starts small gets tall (double R) then small. I also don't label the letters C-A-R-R-O-T. Instead I sound the word out as I see it. Kind of like when as a kid I was learning to read. Sounding out the long words until it clicked.
Learning to express a word was still a challenge but I found I had plenty of opportunity to practice. In the car I would spell out every road sign, Restaurant names any thing I saw. As I got better I would turn on the radio to NPR and spell everything I heard. Of course I couldn't keep up but I would simply finish spelling a word and jump in when I was finished. I am sure I looked crazy to those who peered into my car.
I worked on a TV show and while we were rolling I would spell everything the actors said. Again I am sure they questioned my mental stability but I got faster every day.
So we finger spell a lot now because my son goes to art school and there are so many cool details about his lessons I would never get to hear about if he didn't spell it out for me. There are names of artists, styles of dance and visual art. Each art form seems to have it's own language so if I couldn't receive his spelling I would maybe loose out on sharing this with him in a natural way through casual conversation.
His sister will spell out a word she doesn't know a sign for. Then he can show her the sign and they can quickly get back to their conversation. I rarely hear her say, "Mom whats the sign for.....?".
We also finger spell about cooking, comic books, music and film. I guess my point is I would encourage everyone who is using ASL as a primary mode of communication to start finger spelling early because if you don't you may miss out on hearing about the fun stuff.
Like always this is not a research paper just my opinion about what works for us. My next post I think will be about bullies since I see a lot about that subject right now.