American Sign Language ( ASL ) for the Deaf
Supplementary Lesson on Numbers
By Elaine Ernst Schneider
I had to write to let you know how much I love your sign language lessons. They have been helping me so much.
There are a few of the signs that I do not understand (white – due to the graphics) but the one thing I am having the most difficulty with is the signing of numbers above 10. I do not know how to combine the hand movements to make 33. Should I first make the ten sign and then the 3 or the 3 and then the 10 sign followed by a 3 again? I would appreciate clarification on this aspect if you have the time to explain.
Thanks again for such a wonderful free resource. I am thankful for all your hard work.
Numbers are tricky! After ten, there are signs for 11 and 12. Then after I get you through 12, I’ll explain about the “10 plus” signs that apply to 13 – 18.
11 – Make an “s” hand, palm turned upward. “Flick” the index finger out. The “s” hand represents a “bundle” of ten and when you flick out the index finger, you are adding one to the ten bundle.
12 – Same as 11, but flick two fingers, i.e. the bundle of ten plus 2.
NOW – 13 – 15 can be done in one of two ways. Since you asked and since you are really focusing on numbers, I want to tell you a way that we don’t cover on Lesson Tutor but that is also an alternative.
13 – Make an “s” hand, palm turned upward, just like you did for 11 and 12, but this time, hold out the two index fingers and the thumb. Wiggle your two fingers twice. That represents the bundle of ten plus two fingers, plus the thumb.
14 – Make an “s” hand, palm turned upward, but hold out the four fingers. (Keep thumb tucked in.) Wiggle the four fingers. This represents the bundle of ten plus four fingers.
NOW – You can also make 13 and 14 another way. You can do the “ten plus” way. You make the sign for 10 (an “a” hand held with the palm facing left and the thumb on top.) You don’t hold this sign for long. You quickly twist the wrist so that the palm is turning outward; and while you do this, you change into the sign for 3. This shows 10 plus 3, or 13. The same thing works with 14. You start with the sign for 10, palm facing left. Then twist so that the palm will end up facing outward and change your fingers while you twist so that you end up with four fingers showing.
NOW (I keep saying that, huh?) Regardless of which style you choose for 13 and 14, the numbers 15 – 19 are all done in the 10 plus fashion. There are some regional differences (for instance, when I taught deaf education in Texas, they had a ‘quick’ way to do 15 – 19) but the most universal is to do the 10, twist the wrist, and end with the appropriate number, 5 for 15, 6 for 16, 7 for 17, 8 for 18, and 9 for 19.
NOW – Let’s keep going. The sign for 20 is to make an “s” hand with the right hand, palm facing downward, but with the thumb and index fingers free. Tap the ends of the index finger and thumb twice to indicate two sets of ten.
21 – Make an “L” hand and turn the palm toward the left. It should look like a little water gun. Cock the trigger of your thumb by wiggling the thumb twice. This is to indicate 2 tens (that’s why you move the thumb twice) plus one (indicated by the index finger.)
After that, the signs are easier. You make the sign for “two” for the twenties, the sign for “three” for thirty, etc. You asked exactly how to do this, so let me make a few suggestions. For 33, for example, make the three once in front of you; then move it in the air just a little to the right. You don’t refashion the three – it just stays open. You show that there are two 3’s by moving the hand left to right in front of you. Think of it as number columns, like when you teach children math – you have the ones columns, the tens columns, the hundreds column. You “make” those in the air space in front of you. If I were to sign Room 258, I would make the sign for “room,” then make a 2, 5, and 8, moving the numbers left to right.
I hope this helps. Do you have a good sign dictionary? The Perigee Visual Dictionary of Signing by Butterworth and Flodin is my favorite and it has an extensive treatment (including pictures) of numbers in the front of the book.
I think you’d find a hundred other uses for the dictionary – it’s a wonderful, wonderful book. At the back, it lists sign synonyms – words that are related closely enough in visual conception that you’d use the same sign for them. And you’ll absolutely love the section on numbers!
Submitted by: Elaine Ernst Schneider is a freelance writer and a teacher. She has been writing since high school and has published articles, songs, and children’s work. Her most recent books, 52 Children’s Moments (Synergy Publications) and Taking Hearing Impairment to School (JayJo Books and the Guidance Channel) can be found at Amazon.com. She is currently working on a project with Pearson Prentice Hall as an author of an on-line teacher’s professional development course for the Council for Exceptional Children.