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General Interpreting Skill Development:

Improving ASL Comprehension

This guide enhances general interpreting skills by presenting strategies to improve comprehension of an ASL message. Resources are provided below.

One of the most effective ways to enhance your ASL receptive skills is through regular and productive association within the Deaf Community. Learning to negotiate for understanding is critical. It is easy to get frustrated and just give-up. But, there are effective ways to get at the information you missed. Merely asking to have information repeated is not enough.

Negotiation Strategies:

  • If you don’t catch a fingerspelled word, ask if it is the name of a person, place, or thing. This information, along with the context in which the word was spelled, will often help you to understand the word much quicker than having it respelled several times.

  • When there is a portion of a message you miss, paraphrase for the deaf person what you have understood up to that point. This demonstrates that you are not totally lost, but just looking for a certain piece of information.  
  • Another strategy is to ask questions about what you do understand. For example, if you miss a part of a message relating to a person’s work, ask if the part you missed was about their job or something that happened at their place of employment. Often by asking questions, you will more readily get the context and details you missed. This also indicates to the deaf person that you share in the responsibility for negotiating understanding. 

  • Ask questions about what you missed, based on the context you have understood so far. Ask whom, what, when, where, why and how questions as a starting place. Also, try to predict possible relationships between pieces of information and suggest them to the deaf person. They will guide you into the right answers when they see you are committed to helping yourself understand.

Text Analysis Strategy:

Another way to improve comprehension is to view and analyze ASL texts from a variety of speakers.  View a text and map what you understand. View again in an effort to use the mapping from your first viewing and expand your understanding of missing pieces. Keep building your comprehension of the text until you understand it all. A multi-step approach to analyzing ASL messages is presented in Text Analysis of Non-Legal Texts.

If you find you are missing the same kind of information each time - such as information that is fingerspelled or numbers or pronouns (who is speaking or who is the agent and receiver of action) or transitions between topics, then work on those pieces by engaging in activities describe in additional General Interpreting Skill Development guides in this Toolkit for the specific language feature you need to improve.


NOTE: These resources were last updated March 2021.

  • Free Online Materials

    ASL Storytime from the Department of Sign Language and Interpretation at Gallaudet University

    The series included three volumes, each containing stories with a broad variety of ASL features. The series is available on YouTube.

    TerpTalks from the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC)

    The series includes diverse ASL and English texts available for practice interpreting. The series is available on NCIEC's website. There is no charge for accessing these materials, although you may be required to register to access.

  • Purchasable Materials

    The following resources may be available for use from your local interpreter education program or through your public library. If the library does not have them, request that they purchase them for community use.

    Interpreter Practice Materials from Sign Media

    A set of 33 DVDs including 12 simultaneous texts, 12 consecutive texts, 7 one-to-one situations, 2 small groups, 6 ASL texts and 6 English texts.

    This resource is excellent for individual, study group, or classroom skill development exercises. 

A PDF version of this guide is available - General Interpreting Skill Development: Improving ASL Comprehension

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As of December 31, 2021, this grant project is no longer active or soliciting applications.
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