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ASL on Memrise – a plan of a dream

By Memrise Blog

“Me having a crack at the sign for Sign Language”

American Sign Language has long been one of the most requested new wikis to start on Memrise. Memrise is in fact pretty much perfectly set up to learn ASL, and we are super keen to get the wiki together. The only thing that has held us back in the past is how to go about generating the content: primarily the videos of how to make the signs. But although this might seem like a deal-breaker, it turns out to not actually be very hard to do, and with the new wiki-building infrastructure coming along soon, integrating content creation is going to become a BIG advantage of Memrise for learning ASL as well. More of that later though.

Before I go any go on, let me first make something very clear: I am terrible at ASL. However I do know a lot about the way that Memrise can be used to collaborate on building wikis and to learn just about anything. I also know a quite lot about content creation tools, and I believe that Memrise can be used in conjunction with other tools to learn Sign Language really, really effectively. Here’s my dream of how we can do it:

1 – Memrisers can record videos themselves. This might sound like a big ask, but its not. Actually it is very easy, and pretty fun. I just recorded 14 videos in about five minutes. I think you could even do it faster, particularly if you actually know how to do the signs without having to strain your eyes to watch the video playing on your computer screen (as I did, notice the way that I am looking slightly off to the side in the .gif on the right. Watching the instruction video as I do it). I recorded the videos using “photo booth” on my Mac, but I am sure that PCs have an equally simple tool for recording from a webcam. Or you could use a video camera, or your phone.

Just in case you are worrying about mistakes – I’ll talk about the way that we cope with errors later on – and why they may actually be benefits to people making mistakes!

2 – Convert the videos to a gif. A gif, in case you are not familiar with the term, is an image that can be an animation and can look just like a slightly jerky video, with no audio. The great advantage of a gif is that, rather than needing to be played in a video player (as a video does, which makes it slow and clunky to use), a gif just loads like a normal image, fast and painlessly. This means that they can be used in multiple choice tests etc.

To convert the videos into gifs, I used an app that I bought to $5, called gifBrewery, which was excellent – though I am sure that there are others, and there are probably free options available. But gifBrewery is just about the simplest piece of software I have ever used. You just open up the app, then click “set video”, and select the video that you want to turn into the gif. I then shrank the size down to 349 wide, and lowered the frame count to 15, to stop it from being too big a file. Then click “Create Gif”. Done.

3 – upload the image to Memrise. At the moment, this is done using a bit of a hack, described here – it is going to get much easier in the future, but that works ok for now.

So that is how you get the gifs of the signs into a course on Memrise – its not that hard, is it?

But how does the wiki add to this, and why might mistakes be a good thing? Well, the new wiki infrastructure is going to have a much richer and easier way to feedback between people who add items to the wiki, people who suggest edits, and people who check items. So this will allow for a situation where, if the main gif shows the sign being done wrongly, or is not sufficiently clear, then other people can comment on that, and can add their own gifs as a “sample” mem. then other people will be able to comment on and rate the new version. If the new version is agreed to be better, then it can be switched, and the old version moved to the “samples”.

The key here is feedback: anyone who is learning ASL can add gifs of themselves doing the signs. They can then get feedback from other people who can tell them when they are making mistakes. We will end up with the very best gifs as the main images, and lots of well annotated examples in the “samples” section, which will often show some common mistakes etc. We will also have a situation where the more people there are learning ASL, the more content will be created, and the better the resource will become.

This of course requires us to have a very supportive community of people learning and helping others to learn ASL on Memrise.  But the Memrise community is a very supportive and helpful one, and I think that the potential power of this tool, and the enjoyment that one gets from learning ASL mean that this is something that should succeed. The prospect of its success is just too wonderful for it to fail.

I have put up those first 14 gifs in a taster set to show you what might be possible. So please do take a look; if you are a beginner like me, then enjoy starting to get an understanding of ASL, if you are an ASL expert, then please let me know how my signs could be corrected and improved!

And please get in touch with me if you would like to help work on and learn ASL – until the new wiki is released in the next week or son, I need to give you curating permissions to be able to add to the lists etc. And please spread the word and get more people involved!

And why not give the first ASL course a try now!