Learning TSL Day 5: Technology, English Dominance, Onomatopoeias

Today was one of the most interesting days of Taiwanese Sign Language class so far. Partly because by now, we’ve learned enough vocabulary words to make sentences. Also, for the first time, the instructor had us do pair work, practicing scripted conversations using vocabulary we’ve learned. It’s nice to have some time to just practice what you’ve learned while also having someone watch and help you at the same time. We covered quite a variety of subjects today, of which I’ll write some of my thoughts about below:

    • Facial Expressions: Today, the instructor gave us a mini-lesson on the role of facial expression in TSL. It’s important to use facial expressions that portray what you mean alongside signing with your hands. Both the face and hands are equally important in TSL communication. We went over different types of facial expressions, such as questioning, being sure of something, feeling confused, and being skeptical. The instructor pointed to each of the students in class to do a facial expression (which really put us on the spot and was pretty nerve wrecking) but apparently, I’m good and showing a skeptical, judgmental kind of face. Go figure.
    • Technology: The main lesson was about technology and communication. We learned how to sign “phone”, “laptop”, “email”, “iPhone”, etc.  We also learned some words that helped us talk about technology, such as “can/can’t”, “a lot, a few”, and “add (an account)”.
    • English Dominance: We were given a chart with the hand signs for the English alphabet on the first day, but we never went over it in class. I’m familiar with them from learning ASL but I wondered when the instructor was actually going to go over it and how it’s applied in TSL. It was introduced today because so much of technology uses English brand names, such as “iPhone”, “HTC”, “Sony”, and “LINE”.  In seeing everyone in class learning how to sign the ABCs, I realized that English is so prevalent globally that even Taiwanese signers need to learn the English alphabet to sign something such as “app” or “MSN”. Maybe that isn’t so surprising for most people but imagine a signer of American Sign Language having to learn Mandarin Chinese in order to talk about something as commonplace as our cellphones. That just doesn’t happen. English is everywhere, whether you are hearing or deaf, and the power dynamics of English and it’s role in societies and people’s lives all around the world is reflected in its embedded presence in other languages (even spoken languages) around the globe.
    • Onomatopoeia: Onomatopoeias are hard. But they’re so fun and satisfying to learn. Satisfying because it makes me feel like a more fluent user of the given language. Learning the written form of Chinese onomatopoeia has been difficult for me, mostly through chatting with people online and guessing based on context. I just learned my first TSL onomatopoeia that can be interpreted as “哦…” or “Oh…” Can’t wait to learn more!

2 thoughts on “Learning TSL Day 5: Technology, English Dominance, Onomatopoeias

  1. Did you notice that many deaf Taiwanese people sign “A” and “S” differently than ASL users do? Maybe your teacher signs them correctly because he’s teaching it to others, but most deaf Taiwanese don’t.


  2. Ah yes. I remember when watching the TSL channel on TV, they were teaching the sign for AIDS, one of which is finger spelling the acronym. They signed “a” as a thumbs-up, rather than sideways.

    There was also a bit of confusion today in class because the instructor mentioned that there are different ways to sign letters such a “a” and “t” in American and Europe.


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