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