Real English for the Deaf – ASL & ESL

Posted on March 11, 2007. Filed under: Real English for the Deaf | Tags: , |

Reminder 2005 — new Real English blog at

American Sign Language and English as a Second Language

– Closed Caption Videos Used in a Mixed Class for the Deaf and Hearing

I was really happy to hear from Sandie Linn, Associate Professor at the Centre City Continuing Education campus of the San Diego Community College District. She called me out of the blue.

“Because approximately half of my students are Deaf, I only use videos that have closed captions,” she said. “When I visited the Real English website this summer, I got very excited.”

So I was indeed happy that I had put in the time to create versions of my videos with precise English subtitles.  I hadn’t ever thought about the Deaf.  I was thinking about “ordinary” learners of English as a Second or Foreign Language, who seem to appreciate the English subtitles. The results, so far, are here. Two years ago, several deaf students enrolled in Sandie’s class, which includes Vocational Adult Basic Education instruction and English as a Second Language.

Word soon got out that her class was user-friendly for the Deaf and hard of hearing, and the number of Deaf students increased. Sandie immediately became aware that she was going to have to take some classes for her own development – in American Sign Language – in order to ensure that her classes would be a success. She started taking ASL classes at Mesa College, also in San Diego.”In the classroom, hearing students have been observed making an effort communicating with Deaf students, and vice versa, employing combinations of sign language and written communication.”

Sandie explained a bit about the class dynamics: “The basic question that the students view on each Real English video can be addressed by all students, even those students at the lowest levels.  The complexity of the answers will vary, as the more advanced students will be required to give more complex answers on the Real English supplemental worksheets.”

Accompanied by two of her deaf students, ESL Professor Sandie Linn learns ASL with interpreter David Janisch.
Accompanied by two of her deaf students, ESL Professor Sandie Linn learns ASL with interpreter David Janisch.

I asked her about the fundamentals of her situation, wondering at first IF and HOW the Hearing and Deaf students worked together in the same class. “Yes,” she replied, “I teach Deaf and hearing students in the same class.  The beauty of your videos is that because they are closed captioned, the Deaf students can participate as fully as the hearing students.  The simplicity of the questions allows the hearing students to ask the Deaf students the question in American Sign Language.  While English is the language I use to teach the class, I incorporate ASL into every lesson.”


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23 Responses to “Real English for the Deaf – ASL & ESL”

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I’ve been using your videos off and on for over 5 years, according to the types of courses I’ve been taching, and especially with the low and mid levels. This year, I’m teaching higher students who need “Business English” and I don’t see any Real English videos in business meetings or negotiations. Why don’t you get your camera into a real business meeting? Sure would be useful.

This story on the deaf is inspiring. Hats off to prof Linn.

Hi John – sorry for the belated reply – I have often thought about trying to create “Real Business English” video since most of the students in my own language school need business English too (we only do continuing adult EFL for the companies in the region). However, I just haven’t been able to figure it out. It’s relatively easy to film people being themselves on the street, but when they are in a meeting, it’s extremely difficult for them to be spontaneous. My attempts have so far left me with videotape of mediocre actors making believe they were having a real meeting.

I was was excited to see the term closed captioning on the Ral English web site. I’m taking a TESOL class in teaching vocabualry and grammar online. I believe the captioning can help hearing people aquire English. The visual input is an excellent supplement to the aural input provided.
However, I expected to see deaf people signing in the videos with captions added. This would provide first language input (signing) with second language support (captions in English). As the videos appear, the captioning is a help. But the oral input is fast and the captions do not match the speakers voice/reactions on an equivacol basis for deaf people. Deaf people would simply read the captions, like you would read a book. Deaf people would not be able to attend to the people, they would be caught up reading captions. This is not a real communicative environment for the deaf. Deaf use American Sign Langugae.
Deaf people would not be able to know which person is responding. Therefore, the use and impact of the video is greatly reduced.
I will share these videos with my colleagues at Gallaudet University to get their reaction to the use of captioning in this educational environment. My 33 years experience with the deaf community indicates that the videos should have deaf people filmed signing, with captions added.

James, I understand your disappointment, and I think I understand what you mean when you write “I expected to see deaf people signing in the videos with captions added.”

As videomaker, however, I filmed and edited these clips for the general English-learning public, not for the Deaf. In fact, I simply hadn’t given it a thought since I have never worked with the Deaf.

Dr Sandie Linn, who wrote to me about her use of these videos with her Deaf students, will hopefully write to us here on the Real English blog.

Dear James Barrie,

Michael Marzio from Real-English forwarded your message to me. I am a hearing instructor teaching English to Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. I know some ASL, but I have a team of interpreters in my class to voice for me when I lecture. I use Real-English videos as part of my weekly lesson. I understand your concern about not having ASL to accompany the videos, but I use the videos as a vehicle to teach the English concept. I have made worksheets to accompany each series. They are totally interactive. If you want to e-mail me to speak further about this issue, I would be happy to reply.

The captions can help deaf people, especially those that have a lower hearing loss. But those deaf individuals dependent on sign would need the ASL with the captions.
I am not aware of the deaf population Dr. Linn works with, so the captions might be useful and accessible to her deaf students.
When I saw the word “deaf” and did not see ASL on the video, a red flag popped up, causing me to investigate the videos and captions. Having worked with deaf students at The Clerc Center, the pre-college component of Gallaudet University, for 33 years, I was obligated to offer another perspective on deaf students, video, and captioning. I did not want readers to assume that what worked for Dr. Linn would provide equal results for others working with deaf students.
My experience with deaf students is in an educational environment totally accessible through American Sign Language. For example, although I am hearing, when I teach or communicate with deaf individuals or even hearing individuals on campus I use American Sign Language with no voice. Using voice with sign tends to confuse the message, and deaf people tend to labor to decode the simultaneous use of sign and voice.
If we use interpreters in class, we use voice interpreters for hearing impaired students not skilled in sign language. The interpreter voices the sign communication for the hearing impaired student, until they acquire American Sign Language. At that point the oral interpreting support ceases.
At Gallaudet University, we use American Sign Language to teach English concepts. ASL is the first language and most accessible language for the majority of deaf individuals, while English is the second language. This follows a typical ESL methodology in teaching a second language to users of another language.
Yours….in searching for accessible communication for all.
Jim Barrie

Jim is a retired teacher from The Clerc Center, Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.. He currently tutors reading at Anne Arundel Commuity College, Maryland.

I am a teacher of English from Argentina. Unfortunatelly I have lost most of my hearing abitily. To make matters worse I have a constant tinnitus which sometimes drives me crazy. If you are a teacher, you may understand how I feel. In fact, I would say how I felt: terribly depressed and lost. I cannot work as I used to and had to re direct my career. Technology and Webheads saved me.
I feel stronger now and want to help all those who have lost their hearing ability partially or completely. That is why I have opened a blog in English and Spanish at
Please, if you have information about teaching or medical development on this topic let me know. I will upload it immediately. Thank you,
my e-mail is

Thanks a lot for your comments, Nelba.

For readers of this post who are not familiar with the Webheads,
I tried to explain who we are on the blog:

I’m not surprised that
“Technology and Webheads saved me.” as Nelba said.

Mike Marzio

Maybe you could give a little advice i have wonderful girlfriend whos has about 50 percent of her hearing with hearing aides but only speaks Spanish,and does not now signn language ,i am going to marry her but i need her to learn English please help if you can…


I don’t know the answer to your question, Michael. I hope that Sandie, or James, or Nelba
( )
will be able to give you some advice.

Sandie finds that the Closed Caption esl videos
( )
are helpful for her Deaf students.

Hi, I’m Susan from Indonesia. I’ve been teaching English for many years in college, however, I have never taught English for the deaf.
About a week ago, another of three kid came to me and asked for a help to teach her deaf – son English.
Luckily, today I opened this web and found out that you have a video for teaching and helping the deaf to learn English. How can I get it? And where?
Please let me know.

I’m looking forward for your help.

Susan Tauladan

Hi Susan,

Last year, Dr Sandie Linn found that the Real English videos online, with closed captions, could be used to teach English as a Second Language to a mixed class of hearing and Deaf students. She learned American Sign Language in order to facilitate the task.

Her story is summarized here:
which is the same as the first entry in this blog category.

Now almost all the videos have closed captions, so if her solution also works for you, you can simply go to

Please read the other posts above, especially the responses made by James Barrie, and Dr Linn’s reply.

I am simply an ESL Videomaker and online lesson maker, myself, and I have no experience with the Deaf or hard of hearing. I was happily surprised last year when Dr Sandie Linn wrote me to say that she was using the Real English closed caption videos with her Deaf students. I don’t know if other teachers will find them useful for the Deaf or not. Perhaps she made them useful by putting a lot of effort into the venture, and learning sign language.

I wish you the best in what is surely a difficult task.

Hi, I’m a university teacher of English, also an author of an English course in a form of a TV series (in pre-production stage). Now I am starting teaching to the deaf. In where I live – Poland, there are no materials here whatsoever. How can I get yours.

Greg Gzyl

Hi Greg,

You can access the closed caption videos at
and / or

Please keep in mind that Sandie Linn, who uses these videos with the Deaf and hard of hearing, learned American Sign Language to ensure that her communication with her students would be effective.

I hope this is helpful,

Best wishes,

Mike Marzio

thanks so much for this post
i’ve been interested in this point for a long time

I teach writing skills to college students (paragraph and essay structure, etc.) Right now I have a deaf student in the classroom along with ASL interpreters. Sometimes, it is obvious from the student’s written work that her mistakes are due to a “foreign first language”. (My apologies if my terminology is not correct.) Her content is good but her structure is incorrect or confusing. She may use the noun form of a word when the verb or adjective form would be correct or vice versa. I think it may also affect her reading comprehension. (I usually assign a reading and have the students write about the text – summaries, reaction/reflections, persuasive, cause and effect, etc.)
The student seems to draw conclusions that are slightly different than the rest of the students. She also writes her words and sentences in a different order than what I would expect. For example, writing about the “specific” and then the “general” rather than the other way around. (Usually the “specific” is used in writing an essay to demonstrate or explain the “general” after the “general” has been presented.) I currently have a student who is the deaf child of deaf parents so ASL is truly her “first” language.
Has anyone dealt with this?
Any suggestions on how to explain formal, standard written English to the interpreters in a way that they can explain it to the student? Are there questions I should be asking of, or anticipating from, the student?
Are there basic ASL rules somewhere presented in written English that would help me understand the structure of her language? From experience with ELL students, I know that knowing something about a language’s structure (eg., do adjectives go before or after nouns), helps me recognize the basis or pattern of an ELL student’s mistakes. This, in turn, helps me identify and explain the rules of written English so the student better understands her mistakes. Ultimately the goal is to reduce or eliminate the mistakes by increasing the student’s understanding of the rules of English.
Any suggestions on finding the commonalities and differences between written English and signed ASL? Any suggestions on how to explain them to someone who communicates in ASL?

Hello MJ,
Sandie Lynn wrote this about your post:
“Thanks for sending me the link to the comment about my program from MJ. It was interesting to read his comments as well as the other threads in the discussion about using Real English to teach English to the Deaf. Because my Deaf students read at an intermediate level, they are able to understand the topics presented on Real English. At their level, there is no need for ASL captioning. However, if a teacher has a lower level group of Deaf students, I can understand the request.”
Best wishes,

Hi MJ,

I will try to address your questions in the order in which you posed them. First, if you are teaching English grammar concepts, you can ask the interpreters to use “Signed Exact English” in addition to ASL. While it is not the first choice of most Deaf students or interpreters, signed English uses the same word order as English.
Second, there are many wonderful ASL websites where some of the rules are posted. Here is one that might be helpful:
ASL uses the same syntax as French and Spanish. The adjectives follow the verbs. Because I have many Deaf students in my class, it was reasonable for me to take sign language classes every summer. There are video courses available that you might want to look into. One video series that I found useful is Sign Enhancers American Sign Language Video Course of the Bravo Family.
Finally, my suggestion as to how to explain things to a Deaf student who uses ASL is to think visually. You might want to get the student a small white board and let him/her show you his/her written responses on the board. That way you can immediately erase and correct the sentence order to reflect proper English word order.
I hope this helps.

Sandie Linn

hola q tal donde aprender idioma ingles ( miami) para sordos y soy argentina y soy sorda quiero aprender y me gusta dame la direccion por favor urgente

i wonder how you find way on t.v show like Deaf Bachelor or Deaf Bachelorette?
It is not affair to hearing guys or ladies or Do something in furture have right equal like them.. i have hard time find right man for deaf or Hoh? i keep think ask Marlee take place trade to chris ? i notice see new one call more to love large fat, it nice thing to do but i notice deaf and hoh where is show? i want getting married right person so badly… maybe deaf too… but if they have deaf parent has coda child same thing that be great!! what you think or elsa??

hi,i am deaf from kenya,i want to asking you help me for college FEES in gallaudet,i come from poor family,I have admission letter,i will class on august,can you help me>please help me

I am deaf man fro kenya,i plan go to futher studies in gallaudet on August,2010,i want to find for help me foe college fees

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