Making small talk is a great way to break the ice. In this guide, we’ll look at the cultural etiquette of breaking the ice with a deaf person, so that you won’t feel tongue-tied (or should we say hand-tied?). You’ll also learn signs that will help you to feel comfortable and confident to make a connection with deaf people in any type of social situation.
When meeting a deaf person for the first time, you’ll want to share some background information about yourself. In Deaf culture, when a deaf person meets a hearing person, he needs to find out things such as who you are, where you work, where you grew up and where you live now, whether you know other deaf people, why you are interested in learning sign language, what you do in life and what your hobbies are, and learn about your marital status, your religion, and background.
The purpose of this direct questioning is to find common ground needed for communication and also for the possibility of developing a relationship. Deaf people will try to find the connection or relationship you may have with deaf people, interpreters, and the signer community. Some questions you may experience at the first meeting or the following meeting may sound too personal or direct to you. However, realize that this is the cultural means of gathering information.
English: Where do you live?
CS: WHERE YOU LIVE?
English: My home is in New York City.
CS: MY HOME N-Y-C.
English: Where are you from?
CS: WHERE YOU FROM?
English: I grew up in a house in New Jersey.
CS: GROW-UP HOUSE N-J.
Fingerspell A-P-T for apartment and C-I-T-Y for city.
When socializing with a deaf person, you’ll want to ask him how he’s doing and also chat about what you’ve been up to. You’re building a relationship with the person.
To begin a relationship, find common ground, hobbies, topics of interest, and fun things you both like to do. Once you find a topic that you can converse about, you will be able to build on the relationship.
English: How are you?
CS: HOW YOU?
English: Fine. What’s up?
CS: FINE. WHAT’S-UP?
English: Everything’s the same; nothing’s new.
CS: EVERYTHING SAME (MUNDANE) NOTHING NEW.
Fingerspell N-W-S for news, Y-S for yes (when emphasized), and N-O for no (when emphasized).
With these basic sign language phrases you can start a great conversation. For more sign language help, check out our Quick Guides Sign Language 101: Basic Phrases, Sign Language 101: How to Sign the Alphabet, and Sign Language 101: How to Sign Numbers. Happy signing!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conversational Sign Language Illustrated by Carole Lazorisak and Dawn Donohue