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Settling in, first impressions of American Sign Language & video tour of my house

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

I've been in Austin a few days and I can already see that it's going to be a fun month here!!

I have actually intentionally not been out so much, in order to do some writing and ASL learning in preparation before the city explodes into a social frenzy from next week when the immense SxSW takes over the city! Quite a lot of people I know will be here (I'll actually be hosting several friends who have similarly sized blogs to mine) and there will be far too many fun things to do every day!

Settling in

My first days are always about sorting out all the things necessary for living in a place over several weeks or months. The process involved in doing this can be very different between countries.

Since I've lived in the states before nearly everything I've been doing (such as settling into the house, finding good food, getting my bearings in the city etc.) has been very simple here and Austin is turning out to be a perfect place to settle in for a month!

But there have been challenges and frustrating expenses.

Based on my experience, the states has the worst prepaid mobile phone rates in the world. For example for data here, the same 2GB data limit plus a SIM card typically costs me $15-30 in Europe, South America and Asia, but here it was $96. Since I couldn't sign up to a contract, I could only use one carrier (T-mobile). There were other options, but they were actually much more expensive believe it or not!

The plus side is that it comes with unlimited texts and calls. Normally I wouldn't care about that at all, since I only use my phone to receive calls, but I was shocked to find out last time I lived here that you have to pay to receive calls! I ended up spending over $60 in credit and I only made one phonecall in my entire month last time. From a European perspective this is nothing short of ridiculous. So at least I'm covered on unlimited received calls this time(!!)

Buying a second hand bike has also been a big headache – I usually get a sturdy second-hand one in most countries for the equivalent of $30-50, but no functional decent bike on Craigslist seems to be going for anything less than $120; and even those are very basic and tattered looking. Although I've been told that this may be because of SxSW hikes. Luckily the bus system here is very good and a comfortable $30 for the month.

Then again there have been some cool benefits to the likes of Craigslist!! Once Apple announced the iPad 2 there was a predictable frenzy of sales of the iPad 1 to trade-up for it. I took advantage of people's silly need to have the absolute latest device and haggled an iPad1 down to $350 (about €250 to me), including a case with bluetooth keyboard worth $100. With the case & keyboard, it actually looks like a mini laptop!

The amount of activity on Craigslist here meant there were loads of people selling the same thing. Copying and pasting the same haggling e-mail was like shooting fish in a barrel.

I'm not a fan of Apple's interface (preferring Android by far), but after jailbreaking (or un-fucking-up the OS as I prefer to call it) it's much more bearable, and this price beats the $1000+ I'd currently have to spend on a new Android system the same size with an external keyboard. I got an iPad since my laptop is actually too bulky to do anything with but leave it on the same desk for the duration of my stay anywhere. The size of it makes it very easy to work on, but I won't be home much for most of this month and it will be good to have a ‘computer' when I'm out and about.

American Sign Language – attempt two: Tour of my house!

OK, I'm sure you don't read the blog necessarily to hear me rattle on about my shopping highs and lows! What about the language??

Well, you'll be glad to hear that things are going very well so far! This is turning out to be one of the most fascinating languages I have learned, and I'm amazed to see other polyglots don't include this one in their list (Although Stujay made a fantastic and clever video with some ASL and Morse code!)

The first video I made myself in ASL was based on just trying to mimic someone else, and I was doing it with zero feedback. Lots of people gave me some tips and after a few days (I've been getting private lessons to start me off), I feel a bit more confident and you can probably see that as I give a tour of the Austin house I'll be sharing with my friends from next week. Check it out and see how I do!

It's important to keep in mind that this whole video is scripted and I prepared what I was going to say and got feedback on how I was signing it so that I could improve. I'm hoping to be able to sign to a level similar to what I have in this video, except for the crucial part of doing it spontaneously (i.e. genuinely communicating with people) by the end of the month.

First impressions of the language

After just a few days of exposure I have the following first impressions of American Sign Language

  • What I apply to spoken languages will definitely work with sign language. I'll have to adapt certain techniques to fit with signing obviously, and have indeed have brand new challenges, but so far nothing major seems to be holding me back.
  • As many people might, I imagined sign language was all in the fingers, hands and arms. In fact, you have to put your whole upper body into it. Not including emotional facial expressions and many other features are like a spoken language's natural rhythm (compared to speaking it monotone) and actually essential to distinguishing the meaning.
  • One example of non-arm communication is how you use your eyebrows. If I furrow my brow this is an indication of a wh- question, so the same sign you see me do in the video for “here” would actually become “what”. Squinting, raising your eyebrows, pursing your lips and even twitching your nose can all change signs or be meanings in themselves. This will take some getting used to.
  • Remembering signs is not hard at all – yes, some are pretty obvious in retrospect (like the sign I did for house), but I have been applying a form of my image association used for vocabulary with unfamiliar signs.
  • Signers are much more expressive than hearing people are. They move their whole body and show extremely distinct and varied facial expressions during an entire conversation. After using sign language, communicating in spoken language can almost seem dull and emotionless in comparison. This is something I'll have to work on since I'm still too expressionless when I sign. I can imagine someone reserved and with little personality as having great trouble getting past the basics in sign language.
  • One interesting side-effect of learning sign language has been that when I talk with non-signers and they use body language in some way, I associate what they are doing with a sign that has nothing to do with what they are actually trying to convey (since they don't know sign language). This is very confusing! I feel like I'm going to start reading into people's normal arm movements as “signs” and I'll have to learn to “switch off” ASL reading when not with signers, because most of a speaker's arm waving is actually meaningless. Not reading people's arm & hand movements is harder than it sounds when you are trying hard to do it other times!
  • While I am still using a form of “pidgin ASL” in the video, most of the time the word order is not necessarily that close to English.
  • There are features that make ASL more like non-English languages than English. For example signs for male/female are similar but stem from different parts of the face. This is like -a/-o in Spanish.

These are just some random first impressions. I'll continue learning and hopefully I'll be able to give a much better initial overview of ASL by the end of my time here!

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Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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