When you fingerspell, you will be using your hands in a manner that you're not accustomed to. Therefore, to prevent any discomfort, it's a good idea to do some hand exercises and warm-ups, for example:
Shake your hands briskly with your fingers parted.
Stretch your hand to an open-finger “five” position until you can feel the skin stretching between each finger.
Create a piano strum, starting with your pinky, and ending with your index finger.
Ready? Now, do the previous three exercises one more time. Good! Now you are ready to form the handshapes of the letters of the manual alphabet.
Remember, you will be looking at the back of your hand so, try practicing in a mirror.
THE MANUAL ALPHA BET (A — C)
“A” HAND: Make a fist with your dominant hand, make sure your thumb is on the side of the fist and not within it.
“B” HAND: All fingers are vertical and pressed together and your thumb is curled in to your palm.
“C” HAND: Form a “C” with all fingers neatly together. Your palm is facing left.
THE MANUAL ALPHA BET (D — I)
“D” HAND: Curl your fingers down onto your thumb except for the index finger, which remains vertical. Hint: “Dump” all your fingers on the thumb except the index finger.
“E” HAND: Curl all fingers down and tuck the thumb into the palm.
“F” HAND: Pinch the index finger to the thumb. Middle, ring, and pinky fingers are vertical. Hint: Imagine the last three fingers as a mini flag.
“G” HAND: Extend your thumb and index finger facing left, position hand facing slightly left. Middle, ring, and pinky fingers are tucked into palm.
“H” HAND: Place your index finger on top of your middle finger facing left, with your thumb tucked away behind the two fingers.
“I” HAND: Make a fist, hold your pinky finger vertical.
THE MANUAL ALPHA BET (J — O)
“J” HAND: Make a fist, hold your pinky finger vertical, and draw a “J” shape inward. Hint: “J” is the same handshape as “I” with a simple movement added.
“K” HAND: Place your thumb between your index and middle fingers, which are held vertically. Ring and pinky fingers are tucked into the palm.
“L” HAND: Make a fist, leave your index finger vertical and extend the thumb.
“M” HAND: Tuck your thumb into palm, then wrap your index, middle, and ring fingers over the thumb. Hint: Visualize a lowercase “m” with its three lines thus, the three fingers.
“N” HAND: Tuck your thumb into palm, then wrap your index and middle fingers over the thumb. Hint: Visualize a lowercase “n” with its two lines, thus the two fingers.
“O” HAND: Form a nice round “O” by resting all the fingers on the thumb.
THE MANUAL ALPHA BET (P — U)
“P” HAND: Place your thumb between the index and middle fingers. Ring and pinky fingers are tucked into the palm. Drop your wrist downward. Hint: The letter “P” is made the same as the letter “K,” except, the P “points” downward.
“Q” HAND: Extend your thumb and index finger downward. Tuck middle, ring, and pinky fingers into your palm. Hint: The letter “Q” is made like the letter “G,” but with the wrist downward.
“R” HAND: Cross your index and middle fingers. Thumb, ring, and pinky fingers are tucked into palm.
“S” HAND: Make a fist, place your thumb in front of your fingers. Hint: The letters “A” and “S” are easily confused. For “A,” place your thumb on the side of your fist: for “S,” place and “show” your thumb in front of your fingers.
“T” HAND: Make a fist. Tuck your thumb between your index and middle fingers.
“U” HAND: Hold your index and middle fingers vertical. Tuck your thumb, ring, and pinky fingers into your palm.
THE MANUAL ALPHA BET (V — Z)
“V” HAND: Your index and middle fingers are held vertical and spread open, creating a “V.” Tuck your thumb, ring, and pinky fingers into your palm.
“W” HAND: Your index, middle, and ring fingers are held vertical and spread open, creating a “W.” Hold your pinky finger down with your thumb.
“X” HAND: Make a fist leaving your index finger vertical but bent into a hook shape.
“Y” HAND: Extend your thumb and pinky finger. Tuck your index, middle, and ring fingers into your palm.
“Z” HAND: Make a fist with your index finger extended, then make the shape of the letter “Z” in the air. Hint: Think of “Zorro.”
REMEMBER: Did you have the palm of your hand facing you at any time? If you did, then you were talking to yourself. One of the first rules in fingerspelling is: The palm always faces the receiver.
Now, you need to repeat and practice the alphabet two more times. When you feel you have mastered the handshapes of the alphabet, you will be ready to teach it to someone else like a family member, friend, or a coworker. If you teach the alphabet to someone else, you will have a practice partner.
In 1620, Juan Pablo de Bonnet published the first book that illustrated a manual alphabet, titled The Simplification of the Letters of the Alphabet.
Practice Session #1
Get ready! There is still a lot of practice to be done before you are able to master fingerspelling. Using this brief but valuable chart, practice forming the letters by groups:
A, E, O, M, N, S, and T
are formed with a closed hand
B, C, D, F, I, K, L, R, U, V, W, X, and Y
are formed in a vertical position
G and H
are formed in a horizontal position
P and Q
are formed in a downward position
J and Z
are formed with added movement of tracing the letter
The handshapes of the letters of the alphabet vary in degrees from closed to open, and horizontal to vertical. Memorizing the chart will help in your journey to mastering the alphabet. In order to become comfortable and familiar with the handshapes and positions you must practice, practice, practice!
Now for some more practice. “I Love You” is one of the most popular acronym signs and is easily recognized. The characteristics of this handshape are what bring forth the meaning. The vertical pinky represents the letter “I.” The index finger and extended thumb represent the “L” in “love.” The combination of the pinky and the thumb extended represent the letter “Y” for “you.”
I LOVE YOU: Combining the letters “I,” “L,” and “Y” on one hand forms the “I Love You” sign.
When fingerspelling, position your hand in the air slightly to the right of your face. Now, with your hand in this position, imagine standing in front of a refrigerator writing your grocery list on a little magnetized notepad. Use the visual clue of writing on a “notepad” to help you control your fingerspelling.
By now, you should be starting to get the feel and look of the hand-shapes of the letters. Don't forget to do your hand warm-ups before each practice session! Here are some practice ideas to build your fingerspelling skills. Fingerspell the following:
Names of family
Things on the grocery list
Names you see on trucks, billboards, etc.
The novice signer needs to see and feel these new, manual letters of the alphabet. Hopefully, you have been practicing and are acquiring the feel of each letter. Now that you know how to make the shapes of the letters, move on and find out when to use fingerspelling.