Hearing People Hear Everything, Right?

Let’s set this straight right now: Ears are NOT magical sound collectors. You might think that hearing people understand everything they hear when they listen to music.

Not so!

In fact, there are only so many songs that hearing people can truly understand word-for-word on the first try. Many songs are so complex that most hearing people NEVER understand all of their lyrics. The reason is different from song to song. The speed of the singing is often a cause. Complex or competing background music can also make it hard to understand song lyrics. Some songs are written this way on purpose.

But, if most songs are hard to understand, why do hearing people seem to always be able to sing along? They’re faking it. Sure, some people take the time to learn the lyrics, but many are just mumbling along. Sometimes, hearing people completely mis-understand the lyrics, and go for years singing the wrong thing. (And you thought hearing people were so smart.)

The student projects that are part of this course are NOT meant to be clear, simple song interpretations. Students have tried to completely forget the English lyrics, and re-build the song in American Sign Language. They also tried to use elements of ASL poetry in their translations. The excellent work of the Broadcast and Cinema Arts students helped translate some English lyrics into visual images – no signs at all.

The video guides available on each video page give you the students’ explanation of their approach to their work. When you watch these videos, don’t expect to understand everything right away. Don’t expect exact English-to-ASL translations, either. These aren’t the goals, really. Watch over and over to begin seeing various layers of meaning. Start to follow along in the signing, to help you understand a bit more.

And, if others are watching, just fake it – like hearing people do.


Thanks for watching and your feedback,

Dan McDougall

Course Instructor
Chair | Sign Language Studies Madonna University