When we see something, we immediately label it with a word: ‘dog’, ‘Mercedes’, ‘red dress’. This is something our brains do, automatically. It helps us remember things. BUT: we often only remember the words, the labels. We don’t remember what we actually saw! We saw a dog. Was it a big or a small dog? Eh….. A blue or a red Mercedes? Eh….
Deaf people more often remember what they have seen. When they remember the dog, they actually ‘see’ the dog again, in their mind. It is if they can replay a video, in their head. What kind of dog did you see? In their head, they replay the video and see a small brown dog on a pink leash. Or: a woman in a very sexy red dress. Or: a blue Mercedes, parked on the right side of the road, no one inside. So Deaf people make better witnesses? Probably!
To use a sign language fluently, hearing people have to learn to think in pictures. We can’t sign properly, if we can’t visualize the scene. Where was the woman in the red dress standing, to the left or to the right? Was it a big or a small dog? Was the Mercedes parked, or moving? If we don’t think in pictures, we can’t answer these questions. If we can’t answer these questions, we can’t sign what we’ve seen! You will have to teach us to switch of the thinking in words, and to learn to think in pictures.
Thinking in pictures is also important when we try to understand sign language. We have to learn NOT to translate sign language into words. Instead, we have to understand sign language, by visualizing the setting, the actors, the actions. For some of us, this is very difficult.