Tech — July 15, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Giphy wants to help you learn American Sign Language through these new GIFs

by

Image: Ambar del Moral/Mashable

GIFs can do more than add a sassy quip to the end of your tweet. Now, they can even help you learn a new language.

Giphy released an extensive GIF library on Thursday with more than 2,000 words and phrases in American Sign Language. To create the GIFs, Giphy cut videos from the popular educational series Sign With Robert, adding text descriptions to make the GIFs look like looping flash cards.

At first glance, the GIFs might seem a bit unremarkable — they simply show Sign with Robert creator Robert DeMayo, who has been deaf since birth, signing a word over and over.

But these GIFs weren’t created to showcase the same theatrics we’re used to seeing in the most captivating animations. They were designed to teach hearing people ASL — and to empower the Deaf community.

Image: Giphy/sign with Robert

Image: Giphy/Sign With Robert

"GIFs, as a visual format untethered from audio, makes them a perfect medium for sign language," said Hilari Scarl, director and producer at Sign With Robert.

"The GIF format has the ability to loop infinitely, so it’s perfect for learning new signs. [It] doesn’t require the back and forth of hitting play, rewind or repeat," she said.

Users can find the GIFs by searching "Sign With Robert" within Giphy. They’ll also appear in regular search results — so if you search "Hello," for example, a Sign With Robert GIF will show up.

The series was first conceptualized by Wallis Millar-Blanchaer, a video artist at Giphy, and Stephanie Weber, a Giphy studios coordinator. They were interested in exploring how GIFs could help facilitate a more inclusive type of education.

"Wallis suggested sign language GIFs in an initial brainstorm, which we immediately stuck with, as it’s such a visually engaging language and would be well expressed in GIF form," Weber said. "And the looping format makes it a perfect tool for learning through repetition."

Image: GIPHY/SIGN WITH ROBERT

Image: GIPHY/SIGN WITH ROBERT

Giphy then connected with Sign With Robert, which already had a 30-episode educational ASL series used in classrooms around the country.

The team at Giphy worked to cut down these existing videos into individual words and phrases to create the expansive collection of GIFs.

Image: GIPHY/SIGN WITH ROBERT

Image: GIPHY/SIGN WITH ROBERT

Though Giphy plans to continue growing the library of GIFs, the team chose to include words and phrases by looking at Giphy users’ top search terms. They also worked with Sign With Robert to pinpoint gaps in what they found, relying on them to make sure they had the most comprehensive content.

One of the biggest challenges in putting the collection together was ensuring the accuracy of each sign.

"In our initial cut for the GIF for ‘bachelorette party,’ we unintentionally and unknowingly had edited it in a way that looked like the women were being called ‘bitches,’" Miller-Blanchaer and Weber said via email.

To avoid snafus like this, the Sign With Robert team reviewed each GIF for approval.

One thing hearing users may notice when first looking at the GIF library is DeMayo’s seemingly exaggerated facial expressions. But it’s not purposeless theatrics — these expressions essential for proper signing.

"Many people misunderstand the facial expressions of sign language users and think of them as being ‘animated’ or ’emoting,’" Scarl said. "Facial expressions are an important part of grammatical information and the linguistic structure of ASL. Facial expressions distinguish between interrogative and declarative sentences, modify adverbs, convey emotional tone, define spatial relationships and much more."

Image: GIPHY/SIGN WITH ROBERT

Image: GIPHY/SIGN WITH ROBERT

Though Sign With Robert videos are already popular in educational settings, Scarl hopes the the series will reach a new audience through the Giphy partnership.

With an estimated 1 million deaf people living in the U.S., having even the most basic understanding of ASL can help enhance the community’s well-being.

"This not only benefits millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans who utilize sign language, but also doctors, nurses, police and emergency workers who could save someone’s life by knowing a few signs," Scarl said.

Image: Giphy/Sign With Robert

Image: GIPHY/SIGN WITH ROBERT

But the GIF library isn’t just noteworthy for the educational potential it grants the hearing community. Though the GIFs may seem straightforward, they go beyond stale instruction to empower the Deaf community in an unprecedented way.

"I think the Deaf community will be able to have fun with the GIFs and use them in emails, texts and social media to add humor, clarification or emphasis," Scarl said. "Giphy included over 2,000 signs so there is something for everyone."

Comments are closed.